Is it too late for me to pursue a career in nursing? This is a common question that’s often asked by nontraditional students who are under the impression that their age may be an obstacle to their dreams of becoming a nurse. The short answer is ‘no’, it’s never too late to follow your dream, go to nursing school, or reinvent yourself. The only age restriction on learning is self-imposed. Even if an individual isn’t physically able to carry out certain nursing tasks, other nursing specialties might work for them.
The healthcare sector is filled with nurses who belong to different walks of life and all age groups. In fact, according to a survey from the National League for Nursing, around 24% of students enrolled in nursing programs are over the age of 25.
Unlike in the olden days, it’s likely for the average person to switch careers multiple times throughout the duration of their working life. When considering making a shift, returning to school to pursue a degree in nursing should be the ideal next step for you. With the plethora of education options available nowadays, many people are taking a shot at a second career.
Why people think that getting into nursing school might be hard later in life
Anyone going back to school later in life may feel insecure or out of place because of their age. However, opting to change your career path or acquire an advanced degree at an older age is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Here are some factors that might contribute to a person’s hesitance.
School will disrupt their stable lifestyle
Most elders have a certain routine. Between kids and social obligations, they probably have a lot going on. They think that being a student nurse will disrupt some parts of their life, even if it’s for an online degree program. While their concerns are relevant, preparing beforehand to plan the schedule and make time for classes, as well as familial responsibilities, can help in this situation.
They have been out of school for quite a while
As someone who has been out of school for a while, getting back into the rhythm of being a student after several years can seem daunting. However, giving yourself the time to adjust and get back into the rhythm will do the trick.
Feeling out of place
If you are intimidated or concerned about attending class with students half your age or decades younger, don’t be. It’s natural – every nurse who joins the healthcare field at age 30 and over feels this way at some point or another. However, it’s not something that should prevent you from going after your passion. While the age of nursing students averages around the mid-20s, you won’t be the only late bloomer opting for a degree in nursing. In fact, according to NCSBN, the median age of registered nurses in the workforce is 52.
Don’t assume that others will see you as less capable due to your age. On the contrary, they will admire your commitment and even look to you for guidance, considering that you have more life experience.
Advantages of becoming a nurse later in life
Below are a few benefits that older adults may experience if they choose to pursue a career in nursing later in life.
Wealth of life experience
Nontraditional, older nurses bring something with them that many of their peers lack: life and work experience. Regardless of the industry you were in previously, you would have cultivated the skills and experience you’ll need to lead a successful nursing career. Even though clinical knowledge is crucial in becoming a nurse, any number of ‘soft’ skills can help you through your career and enable you to reach new milestones in your new profession.
Life and work experience and wisdom can make you a more aware student and an even more compassionate future nurse. Empathy and experience are necessary to deliver patient care, comfort them, and nurse them back to health. Every person who seeks medical treatment has unique needs. When you’ve gained experience in sectors other than healthcare, it may help you understand a patient’s particular situation and connect with them better.
So, if you’re considering going to nursing school as a 40-year-old or older, your previous professional expertise is certain to help you settle into your new career as a nurse.
Nurses are always in high demand
According to a 2019 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 3,096,700 registered nurses (RNs) in the US. However, the BLS expects the rate of nurse employment to increase by 7% by 2029, which will make the demand for nurses reach up to 3,318,700. So, over the decade, approximately 175,900 openings for RNs are projected each year, on average. This is considerably faster than the national average for other professions and makes nursing a smart move for a late or second professional career.
This high demand is primarily the result of numerous factors, including (but not limited to) an increase in an aging population, chronic conditions, and a stronger emphasis on preventative care. The need for nursing professionals will continue to rise as healthcare experts predict that there will be a significant exodus of bedside nurses over the next several years as the baby boomer generation retires from bedside nursing. So, regardless of your age, this is the best time for you to return to school and pursue a degree in nursing.
You know your strengths
Think about everything you’ve been through, all the challenges you’ve overcome, and everything you’ve achieved thus far in life. Even if you’ve never held a full-time job, there are plenty of things you’ve had to do to make it this far in life.
Nursing schools can enable you to draw upon your strengths and direct them to achieve excellence. With these skills, you’ll have the ability to identify issues and find solutions more quickly and easily compared to younger students.
Age makes you more focused and disciplined
Older students don’t face the same career uncertainty and distractions that often plague learners. Students sometimes join a program to earn a degree only because they are expected to. This is clearly reflected in their performance. In contrast, older students are more driven and show greater commitment to their studies, and have clearer goals that benefit them in the future. They’ve had years (sometimes decades) of practice putting in the work required to make a project successful. So, their energy is directed toward their goal and how to achieve it.
This shows that people who join nursing school later in life are motivated and more than likely to take their education seriously, be committed to professional advancement, and devote an appropriate amount of time to their education. This helps them excel as a nursing student as well as a nurse.
Diverse career options
One of the greatest advantages of a nursing degree is that it opens the doors to many exciting career paths, not all of which have to be in hospitals. Once you pass the NCLEX and acquire a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you’ll be qualified for various specialty positions, including forensic nurse consultant, public health nurse, legal nurse consultant, and critical care nurse, to name a few. If you aren’t physically able to perform certain nursing tasks, you can opt for one that agrees with you and is to your liking.
Nursing programs make it easier and quicker to transition
Thanks to accelerated nursing programs/degrees, it is fairly easy to enter the nursing field even if you have acquired a degree in another field – one such example of these degrees is the online entry level nursing programs offered by Elmhurst University. Here, you’ll be able to join the Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice (MENP) program, which is the first of its kind in the country to be offered virtually. It is explicitly designed for students with bachelor’s degrees in other fields who wish to build a career in nursing.
Evolution of online learning
With the latest technological advancements and the astronomical success of online learning, we now have access to a large number of online degree programs for nursing. This has enabled more people to acquire nursing degrees over the last couple of years.
Nontraditional students may sometimes feel intimidated or out of place when attending physical classes among peers almost half their age. In such circumstances, virtual learning can help them attend classes remotely. They can also provide them with the flexibility to attend to their familial and social obligations and allow them to study without having to quit their current jobs.
How to become a nurse as an older adult
Before you set out on your journey to becoming a nurse, make sure that you consider the following steps.
Evaluate your physical condition
It’s crucial to carry out a realistic physical self-evaluation before you join a school as nursing is a physically demanding profession. For example, you may have to do some heavy lifting and move or lift patients at times. Moreover, you may have to stand and walk around for extended periods of time throughout the day. Therefore, you should ensure that you can handle such working conditions while considering your new career path.
Assess the financial aspect
Like any other degree, a nursing program represents a financial commitment. It is ideal to browse through the options available to help you pay for your tuition and other educational expenses. For this purpose, you can make an appointment with a counselor and learn if you are qualified to apply for a scholarship. Additionally, they can also assist you in applying for a grant or loan.
Take the emotional aspect into account
Nursing is an emotionally taxing job, and it is safe to say that it isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires certain skills and qualities, such as compassion and a will to serve others. It also involves challenging circumstances where you may come across patients with terminal illnesses or severe injuries.
Some of the patients you will administer care for may require lots of patience and empathy on your part. In critical care, you may have to act fast and execute directions from doctors or senior nurses. So, make sure to take these aspects into consideration and ensure that you are prepared for anything on a physical as well as an emotional level.
Assess your transcripts
If you have college credits beforehand, it can help you to start by looking into them and seeing whether they are transferable or not. To do so, you can get in touch with the school you choose for your nursing education and send them your old transcripts so that they can inform you which credits you can transfer.
Regardless of the school or program you choose, good grades in a nursing degree require hard work. It can be easier for you to go through school if you have study partners to help you complete your clinical training or prepare for exams.
Instructors also tend to keep an eye on their students’ social skills as it is a crucial quality for a nurse. If you can communicate information and collaborate with other healthcare professionals effectively regarding a patient’s health, especially when there is an emergency, then you’re more likely to succeed as a nurse.
Career options for older nurses
One of the most impressive aspects of nursing is its flexibility. There are plenty of nursing options available in the US. You should take advantage of this as best you can.
Here are some of the best jobs that older nurses can pursue.
Psychiatric nurses primarily work on the emotional and mental health and needs of their patients. Mature nurses may find this career path a good fit for them as this job is centered on the mental wellness patients. However, one thing to be kept in mind is that excellent therapeutic communication skills are essential for this job.
Working as a school nurse is fun yet challenging. This job is rewarding and fulfilling for older nurses as it revolves around working with children, promoting a healthy lifestyle among the student body, treating conditions as they arise, and being surrounded by youthful enthusiasm. The tasks for this job are less physically demanding and therefore will be the perfect fit for older nurses. As the population continues to grow, school nurses also remain high in demand.
Clinic nurses usually work the typical nine-to-five office hours. This career option is very versatile as you can work in a medical-surgical, family medicine clinic, or OB, among others. The responsibilities involve lots of paperwork as well as basic nursing tasks, such as dressing change, physical assessment, vital sign monitoring, and more. These tasks aren’t as taxing as regular nurse duties. However, you will get the opportunity to interact with patients and administer care.