While workers in many other businesses are facing layoffs, nurses can write their own ticket. Across the country, there is an overwhelming demand for nurses. We found three women who have come to this career by three different routes. As they demonstrate, it’s never too early or too late to think about becoming a nurse. Here are their stories:
Sarah, 27, Changing Course Early On
After graduating in 2004 from a Midwestern college with a degree in Asian studies, Sarah moved to Japan to teach English. “I came home after my contract was up and wasn’t really sure what to do next,” she said. “I had trouble finding a job in New York that specifically related to Japan.”
Sarah landed an internship in the antiquities department of an auction house, but was unable to turn that into a fulltime job. “I was starting to get frustrated with how hard it was to break into the art world and how little they paid,” she said.
Encouraged by her mother who is a real estate agent, Sarah decided to try that industry. “At first it was fun,” she said. “I could make my own schedule, could be outside a lot walking around the city.” She made her first few deals pretty quickly, helped by referrals from her mother’s company. Soon, however, she found it more difficult to close deals. “I was frustrated when clients would be using other brokers behind my back, or just stopped returning my calls, or I had to deal with obnoxious landlords or other brokers,” she said. “It was just really competitive and you had to be really aggressive to make good money and that’s just not my style.”
Sarah knew that she needed to find work that was rewarding. During high school and college, she had been active as a volunteer, working at a home for abused children, Planned Parenthood, and the ASPCA. “I was drawn to the idea of working with animals first and thought about becoming a vet tech, sort of an animal nurse,” she said. When she asked her fiancé for advice, he suggested she consider becoming a nurse.
“At first I thought that I wouldn’t be able to handle the science classes or the blood and giving shots, but I overcame that fear,” she said. “When I looked into it, I realized how much a new nurse can make. Starting salaries are about $70,000 in Manhattan and I’d never made more than $30,000 at a previous job.” Sarah also knew that the work is flexible, a key factor since she knows she wants to have children.
Sarah’s main interest is in maternal care and child health. She applied to New York University and began to volunteer at Mount Sinai Hospital in the nursery. Initially she found the science courses challenging. “It was just hard adjusting to being in school again,” she said. “It’s gotten easier with every semester.” Sarah graduates this May and hopes to work in labor and delivery.
“The good thing about nursing is that you’re not locked into a specialty,” she said. “You can always try a different area. There’s lots of different things I may end up trying during my nursing career. I’ve thought about pediatric oncology, hospice nursing, working in a clinic, home-care, school nursing, psychiatric nursing or doing nursing volunteer work abroad.” This summer she will travel to Malawi for two weeks to volunteer with her church group and is looking forward to seeing health care in a developing country.
Down the line, Sarah may go on for a Master’s degree. “I want to work for a few years and really think about what I want to get my Master’s degree in before going back to school,” she said. “I’m not even sure I’ll end up doing the Masters. I might just enjoy being a nurse.”
Beth, 56, Different Route in Midlife
For more than thirty years, Beth was chained to a desk, writing for a variety of publications. Her time volunteering as an EMT started her thinking about a career in nursing. Yet she didn’t take action.
The economy intervened and forced her hand. She lost her writing job and finding another one was daunting. While there were many openings for writers starting out, possibilities at her level were limited. Then there was the issue of her investments. “I’m quite sure I will NEED to work after sixty-six, things being what they are financially,” she said. “As a nurse, I will be able to work into retirement, maybe a few days a week or even fulltime.”
Beth didn’t underestimate the challenge before her. She knew that to compete with younger applicants she had to bring her best game. Wanting to show that she could tackle the science curriculum, she took a course at a local college and got an “A.” Even thought her college days were long past, Beth had been a great student. She hoped her more recent grade would demonstrate that she hadn’t lost that academic edge.
Beth was one of 140 people applying for 24 openings in a nursing program at a university in her area. And, she was one of the oldest applicants. To her amazement, she was chosen and will begin school fulltime in the fall. “It keeps me sharp,” Beth said about returning to school. “I worry about losing brain cells, like everyone else our age! The memorization and need to think on your feet is very REAL, the stakes are HIGH, and therefore I take it seriously. I think my brain is healthier because of my continued learning of something that interests me AND is high-risk.”
Recent economic events have convinced Beth that being able to stay employed is a must. “Nursing is transportable,” she said. “If we decide to live in Arizona, I can do nursing there.” Wherever she and her husband live, she is sure she will be able to find work.
Job security is only one reason Beth knows that nursing is the perfect fit for her. “Nursing allows me to give back in a very tangible way,” she said. “I think so many of us feel blessed and want to give back at this point in our lives, and I am very lucky to have my health and strength to be able to contribute in a hands-on way.”
Lynne, 55, Returning to Nursing
Shortly after graduating from nursing school in 1975, Lynne spent nine months working in a medical-surgical unit. “I realized I did not like the restrictive role in the hospital,” she said. She took a job with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and enjoyed the independence, caring for patients that were referred from hospitals, community agencies, friends, and families. “I managed, taught, coordinated, monitored, observed, provided care and/or taught family or the auxiliary staff (I placed or the family had hired) how to care for the patient,” she said.
Each patient had to have a primary care doctor and Lynne would always obtain current doctor orders. “I kept an ongoing communication with all sources of referral and the medical doctors involved while the case was opened,” she said. “I felt as if I was running my own business.”
After she had her first baby, Lynne was offered the opportunity to continue, hiring an aide to help. “But after six months, I found the paperwork required was too demanding,” she said. “My husband was working long hours and no one was going to make it home at a timely hour to release the sitter. I quit.”
Lynne tried to work part time for a new home care unit located within a large city hospital, but found the group disorganized. “I resigned in frustration,” she said.
After being out of the job market for twenty years to raise four children, Lynne returned to school aiming for a Master’s degree in art. “The longer I pursued this goal, the more it became obvious that jobs were tight and the people involved in the business did not seem happy,” she said. “I decided to give nursing another try.”
As a first step, she took a three-month review course at Pace University followed by a rotation in a major metropolitan hospital. She found working in a hospital, as well as a clinic, limiting. A friend suggested she look into school nursing so she enrolled in a course and did an internship at a public school. She sent her resume to all the independent schools in Manhattan and was called in to substitute for a school nurse on maternity leave. “I was able to join the independent school nurse organization,” she said. When another school nurse was seeking her replacement, she came upon Lynne’s resume.
“I am doing the type of nursing I was educated to do,” she said. “It’s my perfect job.”