Nursing as a Second Career: Why & How to Make the Change

Published November 29, 2021
Nurse and patient looking at each other

If you have a passion for helping others and want to work in direct patient care, you may want to consider becoming a nurse. The fact that you didn't go to nursing school when you first entered the job market does not mean that it's too late to become a nurse now. Review some of the top factors to take into account if you're considering pursuing nursing as a second career.

Pursue an In-Demand Occupation

Nursing is an in-demand occupation, so jobs for nurses are readily available. As long as people need healthcare, the demand for nurses will be high. Hospitals, doctor's offices, urgent care clinics, nursing homes, and many other types of organizations need multiple nurses on duty at all times. This is true in all geographic areas, from the largest cities to the most rural communities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 190,000 nursing positions will need to be filled each year in the U.S.

Choose the Best Level/Training Length

There are multiple levels and types of nursing jobs, each requiring a different length of time in school. If you're looking for the shortest possible path to pursue nursing as a second career, you can study to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in as little as a year, even if you have never been to college before. If you are in less of a rush, you can prepare for a higher level (and higher-paying) nursing job by enrolling in a longer program that will prepare you to become a Registered Nurse (RN), or earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. RN programs generally take two to three years, while BSN programs are four-year degrees. No matter what kind of program you complete, you will need to pass a licensure exam.

Build on Past Education

If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you don't have to start over from the beginning to earn a BSN degree. Instead, look for an accelerated program that will provide you with credit toward some requirements, based on classes you took for your previous degree. Whether you already have a degree or not, think strategically. For example, if you want to get an LPN now but plan to add on an RN or BSN degree later, complete your LPN at a school that offers the other program you ultimately want to complete. That way, the classes you take now should seamlessly be applied toward your future goal.

Seek Employer Tuition Assistance

Because nurses are in such high demand, some hospitals and other large healthcare employers offer tuition reimbursement to employees who are going to school to earn a nursing credential. With that in mind, if any facilities in your local area offer tuition reimbursement, you may want to complete an LPN program on your own dime, then seek a job with an organization that will reimburse at least part of the cost of an RN or BSN program. Or, try to get your foot in the door with one of those facilities in your current occupation, then start your nursing training after you're on staff and eligible for tuition reimbursement.

Male nurse talking to child in hospital bed

Select an Optimal Schedule

Hospitals need nurses on staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means there are a wide variety of scheduling options available. If you're looking for a job that will allow you to work a shift similar to a spouse's so you can spend time together, or opposite so one of you can always be available to the kids, nursing is a field where that is possible. If you're willing to work ultra-long shifts, you may even be able to work full-time in as few as three days per week. Some rural emergency rooms pay top dollar for nurses who will take consecutive-day weekend shifts. A compressed schedule like this can free up a lot of your days for other pursuits.

Work in Different Locations

If you are hoping to have an opportunity to live in a lot of different places, nursing is a career that can take you there. Many nurses sign on with travel nursing agencies. These agencies contract with hospitals in places where there is a nursing shortage, and bring in nurses from other areas to fill in staffing gaps. If you become a nurse and get into travel nursing, you could have an opportunity to move around to a new place every few months. This is a great way to see the country. You may even be able to figure out where you'd like to retire once you're ready to walk away from your second career in nursing.

Prepare for a Third Career

Nursing is a good option for a second career, but it is a physically demanding job. There is no reason you can't move into this field in your 40s or 50s if you are in good physical condition, but you may eventually want to do something less physically taxing. Once you have a nursing license and gain hands-on experience, you'll become qualified for other interesting healthcare jobs that you might one day want to pursue as a third career. For example, you may eventually want to go into healthcare information technology, workers' compensation case management, or even healthcare administration. Some of these types of jobs require nursing experience; but it's beneficial even in roles where there isn't a specific requirement.

Are You Ready to Become a Nurse?

If this all sounds great and you're ready to start preparing to transition from what you're doing now to becoming a nurse, the first thing you'll need to do is choose an educational path. Reach out to the agency that regulates nursing licensure in your state for a list of approved nursing programs. The list is probably published on their website; if not, you'll need to call and ask. From there, you can begin to research local nursing programs and find the one that is right for you. The sooner you start nursing school, the faster you'll be ready to sit for your licensure exam and begin working as a nurse in the second chapter of your professional story.

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Nursing as a Second Career: Why & How to Make the Change