Insight from a Second-Career Nurse: Tips,Thoughts, and Encouragement for Aspiring Nurses
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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!
This past week, I celebrated my birthday. It was not a milestone birthday, and I didn’t have a big party or gathering. I had dinner at a local restaurant and took advantage of their taco Tuesday specials with my family. My celebration was gluten-free, without added sugars, and alcohol-free since these are the guidelines I’ve chosen to follow to lose some pandemic pounds. (So far, it’s been working, even though losing weight is more challenging now that I’m older). I haven’t planned any big birthday celebrations for myself since going over the proverbial hill years ago. I get more joy planning my kid’s birthdays than my own these past years, so I wasn’t expecting or wanting a big bash.
However, I had to reflect and think about how grateful I am to celebrate another year of life. Not everyone gets to live long enough to be considered old. My friend’s recent death is a reminder of how precious life is. While I may be more mature than the average new grad nurse, I am not yet “old.” I plan to spend multiple decades as a nurse. As sad as it is to have patients ill enough to be hospitalized, I’m always impressed when I meet sweet, sharp-witted 90-something-year-old patients. I don’t know that I’ll live into my 90s, but I hope to live long enough to retire and take advantage of senior citizen discounts – my birthdays bring me ever closer to that goal!
Working with sick patients in a hospital makes me thankful for my health and getting older. I’m even grateful for simple bodily functions such as urinating or having bowel movements in a toilet. I’ve noticed some changes in my body (metabolism, eyesight, wrinkles, etc.) as I age, but I’m healthy overall. I’m on the other side of that hospital bed as a bedside nurse. I am well enough to start over in a new career where I can help others. This time a year ago, I was still in nursing school and about to start my preceptorship amidst a global pandemic. I have since graduated nursing school, passed my NCLEX, and joined my new grad RN program. I may be another year older, but I can still learn new things, adapt, and make meaningful contributions to others.
I didn’t celebrate this year’s birthday with a big group of friends at the Hollywood Bowl or in a backyard movie night as I have in years past. I had an intimate dinner celebration this year – I ate no cake and had no song sung to me by strangers at a restaurant. Instead, I was with family, in good health, and spent time with people who loved and cared for me. I chose how I wanted to celebrate and with whom. Coming off a pandemic year and reflecting on everything that has happened or what could be, I consider my simple birthday celebration a bounty of blessings. My birthday wish is for us all to be able to enjoy what we have in our lives, to recognize and share our gifts with others, and for peace and courage in pursuing our calling.
I was inspired by a quote I saw in a post about life not being easy:
“Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard.
Obesity is hard. Being fit is hard. Choose your hard.
Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard.
Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. Choose your hard.
Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard. Choose wisely”
I don’t know who authored the original quote, but I thought I’d add my own spin on it.
Also, I want to tell you something I tell my daughter (and myself) : “YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS”.
I am my daughter’s first and foremost female role model. How she sees me react to struggle or hard things makes an impression on her. I am not perfect. I struggle and often make mistakes. However, I want my daughter to see me handle difficult things and be resilient. She needs to know it’s okay to try again after failure or to continuously attempt hard things. The best way to teach her that is through my own actions.
Life isn’t easy. We don’t always have easy or favorable choices. We often have hard choices. But our resiliency and how we handle hard choices is what shapes us and makes us stronger. Know you’re not alone.
Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day in America, where we celebrate and remember this great activist. Most people are familiar with Martin Luther King Jr.’s (MLK) “I Have a Dream” speech but may not be aware of his other speeches or the origin of some of his inspirational quotes. He was a great preacher and gave many more rallying and inspirational speeches promoting justice, non-violence, and people’s dignity. One of his speeches that inspired me in my career and career change was “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” I wasn’t aware of this speech or its contents until I attended a performance at my work years ago where someone had assembled parts of MLK’s speeches and presented/recited it for us during an MLK day celebration. I was lucky to have an active African American employee resource group host the presentation over lunch at our company.
Martin Luther King, Jr. presented “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” to a group of students at Barrat Junior High School on October 26, 1967. It is a timeless message that is relevant today and applies to all ages about being the best you can be. Footage from that day and video of his entire speech can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/kmsAxX84cjQ, thanks to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. In honor of the holiday, I encourage you to watch the footage, which is only about 20 minutes. Below, I have gathered some motivational quotes and excerpts from his speech that were not previously familiar to me. I hope you reference them whenever you need inspiration!
Keep striving for excellence as you pursue your future endeavors, whether it be nursing or otherwise! Have a blessed day!
For Christmas last year, I bought tickets for my husband and me to watch the musical “Hamilton” in Los Angeles during my semester break scheduled in May. I figured it would be a nice treat for us before my last nursing school semester. That was until the pandemic hit and canceled the show. While I was disappointed, I agreed with the CDC recommendations and state orders not to have large indoor gatherings. I figured I had already waited years to watch the show; I could wait a little while longer to enjoy it safely at a later time.
Once summer arrived, I was excited to learn that I could watch “Hamilton” from home on Disney+. However, I didn’t allow myself to subscribe to the streaming service until I graduated because I didn’t want to become distracted from studying. As a mini graduation gift to myself, I subscribed to Disney+ to watch “Hamilton” in August.
I know I’m years behind, but I finally watched and loved the musical, “Hamilton”! My preschooler has grown to love it too and will ask to play songs from the musical. She loves and will continuously replay the “The Schuyler Sisters,” “Satisfied,” and “Helpless.” Personally, “Wait for It” appeals to me. While “Wait for It” is the song of the musical’s anti-hero, Aaron Burr, I can identify with the feeling of waiting.
Waiting to take the NCLEX
Life after nursing school requires a lot of patience. It’s almost anti-climactic to spend all this energy in an accelerated nursing program and graduate only to wait in what feels like forever to get permission from the nursing board to take the NCLEX. While other classmates’ accounts showed they conferred their degree soon after the semester ended, I had to wait for my transcripts to show I graduated weeks afterward. About a month after graduating, some of my classmates sat for their NCLEX; I still hadn’t received my authorization to test (ATT) from the testing company. I grew anxious and started to feel like I was on hold, waiting for my life to begin while everyone else was moving forward. I had to remind myself that my life was already in motion, and I had accomplished many of my life’s goals. I could choose to be content with my life as it was or wait for some external factor (like an ATT) before allowing myself to feel content.
I received my ATT about a month and a half post-graduation. I gave myself a little over a week after receiving my ATT to study and take my NCLEX. Passing the NCLEX took a lot of weight off my shoulders and made me eligible to apply to many more jobs. However, after passing the NCLEX and becoming a registered nurse, I continue to wait for: new graduate positions to open, status updates to job applications, and recommendations or replies to recommendation requests.
Waiting for a job offer
As an unemployed nursing graduate, I miss being in a clinical setting and am eager to return. I often feel like I’m not a real nurse since I’m not working. I want to work but don’t qualify for many RN jobs since I’m a recent graduate who hasn’t worked in an acute setting. I want a new grad position so I can get proper training as a novice nurse. However, I don’t want a new grad position doing any type of nursing in any setting. I am a second-career nurse. I evaluated my skills and desires to change careers, and I know I want to work in a specialty. I want to either start in that specialty or start in a role with a clear path leading me to it. I’m older, and I don’t want to waste time. I’m willing to wait a little while for a good opportunity for myself instead of broadly applying to jobs I don’t want.
While I wait for my first RN job, I am preparing myself for my career. I studied and took certification courses for PALS (pediatric advanced life support) and NRP (neonatal resuscitation program). I reached out to early-career and mid-career nurses to ask them about new grad programs and what it’s like to work in various hospitals. I revised and had people review my resume. I targeted specific people for recommendations for different job applications.
Even though I’m unemployed, I know I’ve done and continue to do what I can to prepare for my nursing career. Knowing how to delay gratification and wait for things allows me to enjoy my free time. I’m satisfied with the work I put in during school and after graduation. I don’t feel guilty when I take breaks from studying for certifications or job hunting; I genuinely enjoy myself. I get to explore Los Angeles and venture into areas I hadn’t seen before or finally watch shows I put off watching. The pandemic has put travel plans and trips to visit family and friends on hold, but I’m willing to wait for it. I can have fun doing other things while I wait to get a job (#funemployment).
Waiting as a skill
Learning how to wait while preparing and working toward your goals is a life skill. Like any skill, it may take some practice before you are good at it. For example, I decided to watch “Black Panther” the day before an Anatomy & Physiology midterm because it was opening weekend, and I figured I could study afterward. I loved the movie, but the pre-test movie resulted in a low midterm grade. It such a drop from my usual scores that my professor asked me what happened. I couldn’t admit to him that I watched a movie instead of studying the day before. I felt terrible that I jeopardized my prerequisite GPA to watch a film I could have easily watched another time. Luckily, I recovered; my prerequisite GPA was good enough to get accepted into competitive nursing programs. I did something similar again in nursing school. Eventually, I learned my lesson, which is why I refused to subscribe to Disney+ until after graduation. When I feel burnt out from studying, it’s too easy for me to feel like I need to escape, de-prioritize school, and take an overly long break. I realized my long-term goal of becoming a nurse was more critical than watching a long-awaited musical (and maybe I needed more frequent breaks and rewards for myself so that I wouldn’t feel burnt out)!
We need the recognition that some things, whether it be goals or skills, take time to cultivate. Learning how to prioritize and determine what needs immediate attention versus what can wait is as much a life skill as it is a nursing skill. It takes years to become a nurse. Sometimes, especially during prerequisites, it felt like I was getting nothing done since I was spending all my time in school and studying but had no degree or job to show for it. I could only hope all my efforts would lead me to my ultimate goal: a working RN. I’m still working towards my goal but appreciate that while waiting to become a nurse, I developed new skills, made new friends, and pushed my limits of what I thought was capable. Waiting has given me time to prepare and develop into the person I need to become a nurse. I’m still waiting to become a working nurse, but I know I haven’t wasted my time.
Waiting as a parent
Similarly, as a parent, life requires a lot of waiting and unknown. My husband and I can only hope that the love and attention we give our daughter leads her to be a smart and decent person with a happy, healthy life. I love what my doctor shared with me about parenting, “We can cultivate and fertilize the soil, but who knows what will take root and grow?” Even if I weren’t pursuing a second career, having a child demands patience and waiting. Have you ever had to deal with a toddler insisting on putting on their shoes or clothes? Or waiting for them to pee on a potty? Trust me – Parents understand waiting! I now have more patience and grace for myself because I continuously practice patience and grace with my child.
Wait for It
The “waiting” we do in life is often the journey to our destination. We can feel stuck in “waiting” or allow for growth and development to occur. In some ways, the waiting is fun – it’s an unfolding of a story, a discovery of who we have yet to become; it implies potential. If you ever think you’re stagnant and waiting for life to happen, know you’re not alone. I feel this way from time to time. Sometimes, we need a little reminder of the power we have over the choices we make. You are the only thing you can control, so set your priorities and do what you can to move towards your goals. Other times, we need a little encouragement. When I’m doing what I can but feel I am not getting the results as quickly as I want and start to doubt myself, I remind myself of the lyrics from “Wait for It”: “I’m not falling behind or running late. I’m not standing still – I’m lying in wait”.