Insight from a Second-Career Nurse: Tips,Thoughts, and Encouragement for Aspiring Nurses
Tag Archives: careerplanning
They say when you begin a journey (or a big project) to start with the end in mind. Before I even switched careers, I did an online job search for the job I wanted. This preliminary job search helped direct and guide what I did to prepare me for my career change.
Do this before you pursue a bunch of training and education for a career change. Look at what your dream job requires. An old co-worker of mine became a nurse while she was working full-time and tried to apply to her dream job with a government organization. Unfortunately, she wasn’t qualified because her program was not accredited. She shared how her entire motivation to become a nurse was to work for this employer, and how devastating it was to discover that she couldn’t even apply to the organization.
To be honest, I *still* search for other jobs to this day to motivate me in getting the training, certifications, or experience I need for my next possible position.
If you are a career switcher, what advice do you have for people considering changing careers? Share in the comments below!
A friend recently asked me how I switched careers as a working mom. She was considering switching careers, so she wanted to know about some of my steps before becoming a nurse after years of working as an engineer. Some advice I gave her:
Talk to others in your profession of interest.
Ask them about their experience, challenges with their work, how they like their jobs, and their favorite part of their work.
Inquire about the education or training they completed to get where they are and how they got their job.
Before entering nursing school, I did these things to get an idea of what nursing was like and what I needed to do to become a nurse. To put it simply, I networked.
Build on your connections: Talk to Others You Know.
I talked to all the nurses and people in healthcare I knew. I had a couple of cousins who were nurses. Aside from periodically picking their brains at family gatherings, I asked if we could meet for lunch to discuss nursing. I asked them what they liked and disliked about nursing. I learned how they chose and got accepted to their nursing school and how long it took them to complete their programs. They shared how expensive their tuition was. I asked their impression of the various programs and the graduates their hospitals tend to hire.
If I had any nurse acquaintances, I tried interviewing them, too. I reached out to nurses I met from my mom’s club and nurses I knew from church. I offered to have coffee with them to discuss nursing. I had an old friend from college who had a friend that went through an ABSN program, and I asked my friend if I could reach out to her. My friend put us in touch, and I was able to ask her questions about her accelerated nursing program. I reached out to EVERYONE I knew who could give me some perspective on the nursing profession or nursing school.
Form Connections: Talk to Others You Don’t Know.
I even reached out to nurses I didn’t know at all. I joined a MeetUp for nurses. I explained my interest in nursing and my desire to meet more working nurses. When I’d go to my personal doctor’s appointments, I’d talk to MA’s, phlebotomists, and nurses and ask them how they like their job, what training they went through, and if they had advice for aspiring nurses. I even reached out to a nurse in my neighborhood’s Facebook Buy Nothing group. She graduated from a nursing program to which I was applying. I eventually became friends with her and was able to request her to review one of my nursing school application essays. (Sidenote: When I experienced my first death after a code blue, my nurse friend from church recommended I view a TED Talk given by a nurse about grief. The TED talk speaker turned out to be my neighbor/friend from my Buy Nothing group!)
Strengthen Your Connections: Continue to Network.
All nurses and even non-nurses I approached to discuss healthcare and nursing were supportive of me. All were willing to answer my questions. As I started to meet more nurses or people in healthcare, I felt I was getting a more accurate picture of Nursing.
I first heard the brutal truth about nurse burnout during my second Nurse MeetUp event. The host of the MeetUp, Cara Lunsford, didn’t want to scare or discourage me, but she also wanted to acknowledge the challenges nurses face and support working nurses. Until that meetup, I didn’t realize the nursing shortage wasn’t just that not enough people were entering nursing school. Cara shared that a lack of nurses also exists because many nurses leave the profession. The MeetUp was a nurses’ week event, and Cara’s company, Holliblu, hosted a free screening of the 2014 documentary, “The American Nurse.” I thought it was excellent exposure to various facets of nursing and the potential challenges I would face as a nurse. Since then, now that the world has experienced the COVID pandemic, I think more people are aware of nurses’ working conditions and burnout. My continuation to network emphasized that it’s good to learn as much as you can about your area of interest – the good, the bad, the ugly – before deciding whether or not it’s for you.
Join Professional Organizations or Online Groups
After meeting with my nurse friend from church, she suggested I join a professional nursing organization’s Facebook group. She was part of a local chapter of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). I asked to be part of the Facebook group before I was even in nursing school. Because I was part of the Facebook group, I learned about and attended a sponsored event with AACN during nursing school, even though I wasn’t an official AACN member. I spoke with critical care nurses who provided unsolicited but valuable advice on where NOT to work after graduating from nursing school. Eventually, I became a paid member of AACN as a nursing student. (Hint: Membership fees are cheaper if you join professional organizations while still a student. Also, professional memberships are good to put on your resume as you apply to new grad jobs.)
Before I became a nurse, I tried immersing myself in the working environment of a nurse. I reached out to a former co-worker and fellow engineer who volunteered at a hospital before she joined a full-time MBA/MPH program. Her volunteer program, COPE Health Scholars, seemed rigorous and offered excellent training. It was more than simply pushing patients in their wheelchairs or bringing them water. Volunteers took vitals, assisted CNAs with patient activities of daily living, and participated in codes, as allowed by their certifications. I learned about the program through her, and I applied. I passed the rigorous application process and training and got accepted into the COPE Health Scholars program while working as an engineer. I volunteered throughout my pre-requisites, nursing school applications, and until my ABSN program started. I met many more nurses and worked with patients in various units. The program further cemented my desire to become a nurse, gave me valuable clinical experience, and helped with my nursing school applications. Perhaps even more beneficial for a handful of other volunteers, the program helped them recognize that healthcare was not for them.
Return the Favor: Give Back
Seize networking opportunities, but don’t be an opportunist. When networking, it’s not just about what you can take from others. If you want to build relationships and good faith, offer something in return. Share your wealth with others. Your wealth is not just monetary wealth – you have skills, time, knowledge, experience, connections, and resources. Some examples of how I tried to reciprocate with others I networked with:
I offered to buy lunch or coffee for nurses who agreed to meet with me.
When my entrepreneurial MeetUp host inquired about corporate sponsorship or contacts, I gave as much insight as possible about the company that employed me as an engineer. Even though my work experience was in the consumer products sector, my former employer led a campaign to support nurses and the nursing profession.
I signed up to volunteer at AACN community service events and got some of my nursing school classmates to join me. (AACN eventually canceled these Spring 2020 community service opportunities due to the pandemic).
When another mom’s club member approached me to explore nursing as a career change, I readily met with her during a study break.
I put my friend, who is exploring a career change, in touch with the one person I knew who worked in her field of interest.
I have to admit I always found the term “networking” intimidating, but it’s something I had done before changing careers without realizing it. I hope what I’ve written provides examples of how you can network – or connect with others – to explore a second career. I’d love to hear about ways you network, what’s worked/didn’t work, and what you thought was helpful! Good luck on your journey!
I have not posted in a while because I have been busy with some life changes. I recently resigned from my new grad RN job and accepted an offer to work at another hospital. What could have possibly taken me away from my #1 choice hospital and my highly pursued new grad program? A spot in my dream unit, the NICU!
It was tough for me to leave my program since I felt like the people were supportive overall. I truly appreciated the environment, community, and staff. I was learning a lot and growing as a nurse. However, my experience as a new grad RN working in the Float pool with adult patients also affirmed that my ultimate goal is to work with babies in a NICU.
My hospital has a NICU, which was a big reason I applied to their new grad program – I had hopes to move into their NICU eventually, especially after having a NICU preceptorship during nursing school. However, after working as a resident, I learned that the NICU at the hospital where I was employed does not accept inexperienced NICU nurses. The NICU manager recommended I apply to an L&D fellowship after my Float Pool residency, and maybe I could transfer to the NICU afterward. That would mean the earliest I could go to our NICU would be 2023, and that’s with the caveat that I would get accepted into a competitive year-long L&D fellowship. I would be competing with other nurses whose ultimate goal is to be an L&D nurse and other more experienced nurses previously rejected from the L&D fellowship.
After learning all this, I had the opportunity to interview during a mass hiring event for another hospital. The hospital already had my application from earlier in the year, one of the 70+ positions I applied to before starting my new grad program. I shared I only wanted NICU positions – there was no other reason I’d leave my new grad program since it was a great program in a good hospital. I interviewed with the NICU manager at the new hospital via MS Teams in between scheduled night shifts. At the end of the interview, she shared she’d like to hire me. I gave my job three weeks’ notice once I passed the background check and received a target start date. I started orientation for my nightshift NICU position at the new hospital on Oct. 1, last Friday.
I know it’s customary to give two weeks’ notice, but I felt obligated to give my old hospital three weeks. I ended up working four more shifts than if I had only given two weeks’ notice. During those four shifts, I had the most brutal shift I’ve had since coming off preceptorship and working solo. If I had left sooner, I could have saved myself from experiencing the most horrendous shift I’ve had so far. Luckily, my last shift was smooth and helped build my confidence after feeling torn down and broken from the week before – I met my patient’s needs promptly, charted everything on time, gave good shift reports, and my patients had no incidents. At my last job, I ended on a good note and had valuable learning experiences. My horrible shift in the week leading to my final shift taught me that when I’m overwhelmed, not only should I delegate, I should escalate to the charge nurse or nurse leaders. I will remember how awful my experience was on that shift to remind me in my nursing practice: “When Overwhelmed, Delegate + Escalate!”
I will remember this lesson as I start my new job. I am excited to have the opportunity to be in a NICU again. The children’s hospital where I precepted during nursing school opened its new grad program about a month after starting my previous job. Various cohort-mates encouraged me to apply, but I decided I needed to give my program and hospital a fair chance. I passed the opportunity to apply to the children’s hospital NICU new grad program before learning that my hospital would not hire me into their NICU for at least two more years. I don’t regret not applying to that NICU program because I’m grateful for my experience and feel more confident as a nurse because of what I’ve learned working with adults. I gave my program a chance and put forth my best effort, and concluded that I wasn’t willing to wait years to reach my goal to be a NICU nurse.
The earnest pursuit of career goals is somewhat new to me. For years, I didn’t know what I wanted. I knew that I was comfortable but not necessarily excited or passionate about my previous career as an engineer/scientist. During performance reviews, I would dread when my manager would ask what 5-year plan was because I wasn’t inspired by what was around me. I didn’t want my manager’s job, and other than becoming more skilled, building my expertise, and gaining more leadership experience, I wasn’t sure what else to say. Now, it’s nice to have a goal (dayshift NICU nurse) and work towards it.
It’s still a little terrifying: “What if I don’t like it?” “What if the staff is mean at the new hospital?” “What if it’s not what I thought?” “What if I’m not good at it?” “What if I can’t handle the long commute?” “What if I can’t last long enough on nightshift to make it to dayshift?”
Sometimes, you don’t know if you’re going to like something or will be able to handle it until you give it a try. I also have to be open to the possibility of failure or making mistakes with this new job – it’s those moments where real growth occurs, however. That’s how I became a better engineer or scientist. I made a mistake and remembered not to do it again. It’s like doing something wrong a couple of times before you figure out how to do it right, or in the most efficient way.
I think a terrifying part of being a novice nurse is mistakes in healthcare can have a profound and permanent impact on a patient and patient’s family. If I made a mistake as an engineer or scientist, many processes and people were in place that ensured no one would get hurt or injured. Delays or mistakes I made may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they would never hurt someone. As a nurse, I no longer have that sense of security or protection. It’s anxiety-provoking. I’ve met many nurses with high blood pressure, anxiety, or depression due to the stresses of this profession. I don’t want to develop health issues because of my chosen career. I went into this profession to help people, so I try focusing on how I can help or improve care vs. contemplating the many ways I can injure someone or how someone may injure me (a genuine consideration with adult patients).
I’m still a recent grad with less than a year of acute care experience and still developing. Fortunately, my employer views me as a new grad and is willing to train me as a NICU nurse. I consider my new position as an opportunity to learn, grow, and be a better nurse. I’m going to try to focus on that and becoming the best NICU nurse I can be. Wish me luck!