A man in his 40’s writes:
"I am considering a career change due to many factors, but have been interested in nursing careers for many years – I was wondering how a person in my position could start the process of getting back to college, etc……I have emergency medicine experience having served as an EMT on a volunteer ambulance service."
The nursing shortage has presented many opportunities for students to return to school and enter the nursing field. Traditional nursing programs have evolved and now offer students a wide variety of ways to take classes: hybrid classes (part classroom-part online), online classes, self-paced classes, day, evening, and weekends, to name a few. The biggest concerns that I have received from older students is, "Am I too old to be a nurse and can I handle lifting patients?" My response varies depending on the physical and mental capabilities of the student. For example, In order to get a better feel for the student’s ability I might ask some clarifying questions, such as:
1. Do you have any physical or mental disabilities that might prevent you from successfully completing this program and functioning in the capacity of a registered nurse?
2. Do you think you are too old? If so why?
3. What barriers do you see that might prevent you from completing this program?
There are certain academic decisions that need to be made, once a student decides that nursing is their career pathway:
1. Choose a college. I suggest looking in your own community first. If you go out of state you will pay out-of-state tuition that is very expensive. Compare the schools and their respective programs. Associate prepared programs are different than bachelor prepared programs in their general education (G.E.) requirements and nursing core. There are community colleges (2-yr programs) and a variety of 4-yr programs: such as state, university, and private. Tuition will vary depending on the type of college you choose.
2. Does the student currently hold a degree in another field? If so, then the student might have transferable credits available to them within that degree. In addition, if a student already has a bachelor degree they should be able to transfer all or part of their general education courses to satisfy the G.E. requirements of the nursing degree.
3. Make an appointment with a nursing advisor at each of the schools you choose. You can narrow your choices after speaking to each advisor and getting a feel for the institution.
4. Does the student have copies of transcripts for all previous college work? You will need this for the appointment with the nursing advisor. During this time the transcripts will be reviewed for potential transferable credits.
5. Meet with financial aid. Historically, students who already possessed a previous degree were not eligible for grant monies. However the nursing shortage crisis has created an avenue for financial assistance through federal nursing and local community grants, respectively.
6. Recruitment requirements will vary from state-to-state and college-to-college. Students are encouraged to contact the college student enrollment services department to obtain information on recruitment.
7. Most hospitals offer, within their benefits package, some type of tuition assistance program. However this differs from employment agreements, whereby a contractual agreement is made between the employer and the employee. This agreement states that the employer will pay for all or part of the educational program if the employee agrees to work for the employer for a certain amount of time. If employment is terminated, for any reason, the employee is required to pay all or a portion of that money back. Contractual agreements are usually made for re-entry nurses (those nurses who have left the field for a period of time and are looking to re-enter the workforce).
In conclusion, there is no better time to become a nurse. Programs are becoming more students friendly, catering to the working adult, grant monies are available through most programs, and graduates are enjoying a variety of opportunities in the field such as: information systems, mediation, and insurance reviews. So what are you waiting for?
Dr. Linda Mundorff is the Director of Health Career Programs at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood Colorado and the author of Medical Terminology: A Student Workbook, and Memories of My Sister: Dealing With Sudden Death. You can email your comments to Linda.Mundorff@rrcc.edu.