It’s Never Too Late to Become a Nurse

By: Judy McDaniel, RN, MSN, Program Coordinator for Educational Initiatives at
Judy McDaniel RN, MSN

Judy McDaniel RN, MSN

I don’t know when I decided I wanted to become a nurse; my family says it’s all I ever wanted to be. But how I became a nurse was not the typical course you would expect. I was only 17 when I started nursing school. I had never been a patient; being a candy striper was my only experience in a hospital. Ready to work as a nurse I was not. This was the path for the majority of nurses in the 1980s.

I am an overachiever (most nurses are), so the first year in nursing school was easy. I did well although I struggled with time management, prioritization, and knew nothing about critical thinking. At the ripe old age of almost 19, I thought I was ready to talk with physicians as peers, tell patients that I understood what they were going through, and sit and empathize with someone who had lost a loved one. It was during the first semester of my last year that I realized I wanted to do more than the tasks typically associated with nursing. I wanted to care, attend to and nurture others. My goals and the reality of nursing were not the same, so I did not finish school.

Fast-forward four years — I was older, had more experience and a stronger drive to fulfill my dream of becoming a nurse. No longer did I struggle with time management, or lack empathy to help someone through a stressful situation. I went back to the same nursing program and graduated nursing school in 1982; earned a BS in 1994; and an MSN in 2007. I have also taken countless hours of continuing education courses, so you could say I am a life-long learner.

Learning is always possible — regardless of your age. Today the average age of a nursing student is 43. I read one interview of a 47-year-old male nursing student (talk about non-traditional student), who made some good points: 1. Non-traditional students bring their life experiences to nursing, which help with critical thinking and decision-making abilities. 2. They are closer in age to the current workforce, which helps them assimilate into the nursing unit. Many older students are going into nursing as a second career, so they also bring their professional experience into healthcare. We already know that many other professions have good ideas that nursing has adopted, such as crew resource management – TEAM STEPPS.

Even though I am a late baby-boomer, I still have many good years to work at the bedside and in other areas of nursing, such as education. I currently help nurses by working to provide quality continuing education for those who are looking to change their career to nursing. They can find information about many new areas in nursing such as risk management, informatics and professional development. I also train new nurses in simulation to help them transition into the hospital setting, and it has helped to keep them engaged and has reduced stress. With all the changes that are happening in healthcare today, non-traditional students can help transition these changes into practice.

Are there challenges to starting nursing school at a non-traditional age? Absolutely. Trying to juggle family, home, work and school all at once was incredibly challenging as a traditional student. I remember wondering how the non-traditional student managed all they had because I struggled just to care for myself and complete my schoolwork. But as Laurie Round, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing executive at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill., said, “These people are choosing nursing while raising a family and working at the same time and that shows perseverance, commitment and discipline.”

So if you are a baby boomer or Gen X, there’s a place in nursing for you. Your past work experience, dedication and passion are all needed resources within the healthcare arena. As Uncle Sam once said, “We Want You!”

Tell us how you became a nurse in the comments box.

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17 Responses to It’s Never Too Late to Become a Nurse

  1. Great post Judy! I myself became a nurse at the age of 35, after realizing that being an administrative support for the next 20+ years of my life was not exactly the most appealing thing.

    That quote you discussed about late bloomers “choosing nursing while raising a family and working at the same time and that shows perseverance, commitment and discipline” was exactly what worked in my favor as I switched gears and enrolled in nursing school.

    It’s now been 4 years since I graduated from the RN program and I couldn’t be happier!

    • says:

      Congratulations for reamining committed and disciplined to reach your goal of becoming a nurse. Regardless of how old we are we bring a great deal to the nursing profession! -Judy

      • Marilinda says:

        Hi, Judy, I too started my nursing education @ 18 y/o but never finished. I decided to return to fulfill and finish my dream. I have 2 more semesters to graduate with my BSN @ the ripe young age of 62 years. To God be the Glory, I am so happy and blessed I decided to finish my journey.

  2. Marie says:

    I am a 50 year young graduate nurse. I think going to school later in life made me more motivated and determined than I would have been when I was younger. I was still discovering who I was. Now, while there is still discovery, I have a pretty good notion of who I am and what I want. I also have passion and drive that I have observed lacking in some younger students.

    As I apply for RN positions, I am hoping that prospective employers will consider the maturity and wisdom that only life experience can provide.

    • Mike says:

      I am almost 50 yo also, I was hoping that my life experiences and maturity when bring alot to the table. I graduated with BSN. Unfortunately it has not been the case. I been looking over a year for a job with no luck…

  3. I was 30 when I started nursing school, my husband became ill and I had to become the bread winner. When I finished my Diploma RN program, I thought that was all I needed. I was so wrong. I decided to go back and get mu BSN 10 years later. After that I still wasn’t satisfied so I started working on my Master’s program with a dual in Masters in business administration and the second in Masters in Nursing. I completed everything except for the last 4 courses in the nursing program when I suffered a stroke! Now I am unable to finish, my stroke left me unable to think properly and I can no longer practice my Nursing. But if I had been able to, I might have gone on to get my Doctorate. Learning is something you never stop doing!

  4. Rebecca Russell says:

    I first began my nursing education journey in a diploma program rich in clinical experience at St Francis Medical Center School of Nursing in Trenton stage 21,immediately after my honeymoon.I was rich with ideals and truly believed my epilepsy was under control. A year -and a half into the program,destiny in the form of nonstop seizures intervened and I did not believe again that I could pursue the career of my dreams until 2004, after earning a BA in Sociology and working as a retail manager. It was my son who convinced me that my time was now to go after my dream,and even if I failed,the time would have passed anyway, so I began taking classes toward my degree, slowly. and deliberately, being careful to watch my sleep schedule and medications.Clinical rotations were a bit rough, yet I graduated from St. Francis,Classes 1987 and 2009 and entered the Versant RN Residency Program in San Antonio , TX. I have ben a Telemetry/ IMCU nurse for three years and am honored to be a registered nurse.

    • Melissa Martin says:

      Dearest Rebecca!
      Your post is absolutely amazing beyond belief; I am so proud of you! I am a 36 year old woman who has a certification to be an OR Tech, and I had to complete the entire 2 year course and pass the certification exam, only to realize that it is absolutely not what I want to do. So, I have 13 years background as an outpatient Physical Therapy Aide; am now employed at a Level II Trauma hospital as an Acute Therapy Aide and adore it. I am completing a 3 month rotation in the CardioThoracic Intensive Care Unit and am completely overwhelmed at the amount of lines and wires that are involved. I just do not know where to begin alot of times upon entering the room to start a patient with their therapy sessions after major surgical procedures. There is Telemetry; where we have portable monitors to carry, so we have to unhook all those wires and re-attach to the monitor; there are A-lines; Foleys; chest tubes that are taken to water seal for ambulation; oxygen that must be switched over to portable tanks; Defibrillators and pulsatiles. As an RN nurse in IMCU’s, what would be your advice as to where to even begin upon entering a patient’s room, and starting to “unhook and untangle” all the equipment? I am responsible for every line and wire as the Physical Therapist begins the evaluation/assessment portion of the treatment.
      Thank you for your time and hopefully advice!
      I have racked my brain and asked for help from peers, but nothing seems to help the situation become less overwhelming.
      Your friend,
      Melissa from Virginia 😉

  5. since a child i want to be a nurse, and i like to helping people and especially kids. Right now i’m taking my magister academy in nursing also, glad to read your story and give me spirit choosing my path as nurse.

  6. Michael Jeffcoat says:

    I will be 58 on August the 9th, I’ve applied to three different nursing schools, age is just a number…plus a little weight…plus a few aches…and pains. I will hear from one of them in August, the other two I’ll hear next February. I’ve been a Marine (retired) and a public school teacher and administrator, now I’m excited about my next career. I’ve taken my prerequisites as well as obtained my CNA. Oh yeah, I’m a male.

    • Hi Michael, Thank you first for your service in protecting our country. I hope you get into the program. Nursing can use more males in this service and with your experience in public schools dealing with people will be a piece of cake for you. Good Luck. Judy

  7. Hi Judy McDaniel
    Nurses are pretty amazing, Become a nurse is a good idea. Great nurses aren’t just compassionate and kind — they have all the medical smarts of a doctor too! Plus, a career as a nurse offers a sense of personal satisfaction that you just can’t beat.

  8. JC says:

    58 and just graduated nursing school and have landed a job on a telemetry floor. Been working about 2 months now. It’s never too late!

  9. Sandra says:

    I’ve always wanted to be a nurse ever since I was little girl. I’m a junior in high school and would still want to be a nurse and that is the career I choose. Your blog has convinced me even more that I would love to be a nurse and it will be such a good idea to be one. I love helping people out and being sure they are okay. I’m glad that I came across your blog it has given me more inspiration to being a wonderful nurse.

  10. Katherine says:

    I relate so much to what you have to say. After a life of ups and downs. Being in and out of school, I finally became an LPN at 36 years old, I’ll be 40 this year in June. I’m currently working on my RN degree. Like you, I had problems with time management and prioritization but at the end of the day I felt that nursing was my calling. It just happened at a time in life when it actually fit. I got into an inexpensive but competitive program here in Brooklyn and I’ve been on a path in life that has truly been fulfilling ever since.

  11. Marcie Kuypers says:

    I will be 60 years old at the end of April. I have been a nurse since 1990, but had to drop out for a few years because of family obligations. I’m studying my butt off right not to retake the NCLEX PN. It is difficult, but I am determined to do it. I miss nursing so much. I feel empty without it. Since I have been studying so much, I plan on going to RN school as soon as I get a job nursing. All you nurses out there, please pray for me to make it. I promise I will do you proud.
    Marcie Kuypers

  12. Lisa Menefee says:

    All of you ladies and gentlemen give me hope that at 48 years old, I can still fulfill my dreams of becoming a nurse. I would like to go into Pediatrics or OR nursing. I’m currently a student at LaSalle University and this is my last year finishing up my prerequisites. I’m hoping to be in a Nursing program by May 2016. I’m having a rough time just getting through my Anatomy class but I’m going to hang in there. At times I’m really starting to get discouraged about even pursuing my BSN because my GPA isn’t where it should be to get into LaSalle’s Nursing Program but I am looking into others as well. I’m also thinking about just going to school for LPN which is what I should’ve done from the start but I couldn’t find a program until now. I really don’t want to go backwards being as though I almost halfway moving towards Nursing School. I’m still thinking about what decisions I will make. Thank all of you nurses and future nurses for still giving me hope in knowing I can still make my dream of becoming a nurse true.

    Lisa Menefee

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