Nursing as a Second Career – The Best Career Change Ever!
- When my wife and I decided to move to this country in 2001, we had been working overseas full time since we graduated. The work culture that we were used to, and the jobs that we had, would not easily translate to the job market that existed here at the time.
Then, after 9/11, the industry sector that my wife belonged to, the airline industry, crashed. And with it, a lot of other sectors of the economy. We needed a change and we needed it fast. We had two daughters then, ages 9 and 6, and we did not want to admit that our decision to move our family here was a mistake.
What ensued was a deliberate, calculated search for an industry that was thriving in the midst of all that chaos after 9/11. We were looking for a sector of the American economy that has a potential for long-term growth and is more or less resilient to the back and forth nature of the economy.
Two sectors emerged: Information Technology (IT), and Healthcare. Since neither one of us had any IT experience, nor any inclination to be techies, Healthcare won by default.
Why Did We Choose Nursing?
There were several reasons why we chose nursing as a second career. In fact, why we chose the healthcare sector, in general. My wife has a degree in Biology, and I had spent a stint in the Army Reserves as an Orthopedic Technician. So the choice of doing something in healthcare was not altogether unusual. In fact, it seemed like a natural fit. And of all the niche that existed in the industry, Nursing stood out because it offered the quickest route to a second degree, and the biggest returns after graduating and joining the workforce.
Bear in mind that at the time we were making our choices, much of our decisions were motivated by the economic benefits that our family will enjoy. We had two kids, in a new community, with no long-term employment prospects.
Nursing was and continues to be, a job that is in demand. As people grow old, the need for healthcare professions will only continue to grow. That adds up to job security. In fact, at the time when we were in school, up to the time we started working as nurses, the demand was so high that some hospitals in different parts of the country were offering large amounts of sign-up bonuses just to get nurses to work for them!
The average starting salary for new nurses today, depending on which part of the country you start working in, is between $50K to $70K a year. So if you’re a young, single individual who is starting your first real job, this is a large salary, considering that most other new grads working in other fields usually start anywhere from $35K to $50K annually.
My wife and I, before we became nurses, were earning a combined annual salary of roughly $70K. Our first year as nurses, we each were making that much (this was 13 years ago)! And because we attended our local community college, and worked while attending Nursing night school, we were able to pay our way through college, and graduated debt free! Today, our individual annual income is in the 6 figures. That’s what a two-year associate degree course at a community college has brought us.
Finally, because most hospitals now operate on 12-hour shifts, we only work three to four days a week, with alternate weekends. That level of flexibility allowed us to spend more time at home with our kids.
This was, for us, the best career change ever!
How Did We Do It?
When we decided on nursing, the next question was which school to apply for, and what prerequisite subjects, if any, did we need to take. We settled on our local community college that offered a two-year Associates degree in Nursing.
Graduates of this course take the same board exams as those who graduate from the four-year bachelor’s degree, both become registered nurses, and both enter the workforce with the same salary. Further promotions may hinder your advancement if you only have an Associates degree, but once you are working, it’s fairly straightforward to take advanced courses to earn either a bachelor’s degree or a post-graduate program. Most hospitals will pay for your continued education. My wife earned her Master degree in Nursing with a full scholarship from her employer. It did not cost her a penny! If not for that, we would not have been able to afford advanced education as we were saving for our daughters’ college fund.
Nursing is a sought-after program, in any college. So expect to be waitlisted. It was true back then, and it’s still the case now.
This was not an easy thing that we did. We were both working full-time, and we were raising two grade-school level children. The program we both applied for was taught at night, specially designed for working students. But we could not both go at the same time. So my wife went first. And when she was halfway through her program, I started with my prerequisites.
Expect to Make a Lot of Sacrifices Especially If You Have a Family
I will not sugar coat this. Nursing is a very difficult course. Especially the two-year program that we took. They had to cram so much over two years. We spent many long hours after and before work, studying. The two-year Associates degree program, as well as other accelerated programs being offered now that gives you a bachelor’s degree after graduation, are well-suited for working individuals because you did not have to be in school for four years. But is a grueling two years!
You also need to find a place to study. A quiet place without the distraction of kids, TV, and other noises. For my wife, it was our local public library. For me, it was our basement. Wherever you might find your quiet spot, you have to find one. You need that sanctuary in order to go through your notes and your books and to study for your exams.
You must also prepare to miss many social and family events and engagements during the two or four years (if you decide on the traditional four-year degree) that you’re in school. You will need to be a virtual hermit in order to absorb the lessons and to pass the exams. They are that intense.
You Will Need a Lot of Support
You’ll never need support quite as much as you will need it while you’re taking up your nursing program. You will need to look to family, your in-laws, to help you with your children. If you have youngsters, you will need to constantly remind them that what you’re doing is temporary. Your kids need you, but they are also very perceptive. Trust them to understand.
More than daycare support, you will need people you can lean on for emotional support. Any nursing program is difficult. You need a mind that’s strong and focused to rule over your apprehensions and anxieties. If you ask any nurse, they will tell you of stories of people breaking down during this course. You will need people in your corner, pushing you up and keeping you focused and motivated.
If you ever needed a true friend, it would be during this course.
Service to Others
After reading that, you might ask yourself, why would I want to go through all that? Well, apart from the benefits I outlined above, and despite the obvious hardships you will need to endure in order to obtain this degree, Nursing is a very fulfilling profession.
You get to be part of your patients’ journey to be well. And if they are not getting well, you can help them and their families find peace and understanding, if not outright acceptance, of the inevitable.
It’s very empowering to know that through your skills, you can help save a life. It’s also humbling to know that sometimes, despite all your efforts, all your knowledge, there’s just nothing else that can be done.
In the end, no matter how difficult the tasks, no matter how well you’re compensated, you know that your time is spent serving people in need. You realize that you can make a real difference in people’s lives. You understand that you can help relieve people’s pain and anxieties, educate them when they are unsure, comfort them when they are distressed, and give them peace.
It’s not just a job. It’s more than an adventure. It’s service to others. After 17 years, America has produced 3 registered nurses in our family – My wife and I and our eldest daughter. And another nurse in the making – our second daughter who’s entering his senior year in the college of nursing in the Fall.
Reinventing Ourselves Again
And now that we’re still more than a decade away from retirement, we are reinventing ourselves again. While we have our stable nursing careers, we’ve made our extra time (after work, on weekends and Holidays) productive. We are learning a new skill of building a successful online business that, in time, would allow us to replace our income and work from anywhere in the world.
As we venture into this new learning experience, we are using the same formula we used in nursing: Focus, patience and dedication.
Not a get rich quick scheme, we are ready to learn and earn in due time. And we are having fun doing it together! Why don’t you check it out?
That is a piece of our life story in America. We’d love to read similar stories or any feedback you may have. Please feel free to write your comments below. Thanks!