How to Pursue Nursing as a Second Career

Jacqueline Molina decided to pursue a nursing career after teaching for three years. Here is her experience on how she pursued nursing as her second career.
I remember my last day as a New York City high school teacher like it was yesterday. Soon, I would be embarking on a whole new adventure called nursing school, all those lesson plans and parent-teacher conferences would be replaced by physiology textbooks and clinical hours. I would go from being the teacher to a student all over again.
Little did I know, that day would mark the beginning of my rewarding, lifelong career in health care. And let me tell you, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. So if you’re thinking about nursing school but think it’s too late…think again! Here are a few tips to help guide you in your decision and transition.

Research & Test the Waters

The first step in making a career change is research. Once I overcame the initial fear of heading back to school to prepare for my new career in nursing, the excitement kicked in and nursing became my singular passion. At the same time, taking concrete steps toward becoming a nurse and transitioning into a second career required a good deal of preliminary research—like learning the difference between a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse, and a nurse practitioner.
Research is helpful, but before making a big, life-altering decision of any kind, it’s always wise to test the waters before taking the plunge. Take a class, enroll in a workshop intensive, or shadow someone in your field. Leaving your current job is a serious decision, and by immersing yourself in the industry, you’ll get a glimpse of what a career change as a nurse will actually be like.
Before making my decision, I took a job as a nursing assistant (CNA). It’s highly recommended that you either volunteer or work a job as a CNA or a nurse technician on either a med/surg or oncology floor before embarking on a full-scale career change in nursing.

Speak with Others

In the midst of such a scary decision, you may experience feelings of doubt and fear. Speaking with those who made a similar career change or work in your chosen field can really give you the support and encouragement you need to follow your passion.
Meeting seasoned nursing professionals can also yield helpful advice and insight into your future job prospects. The oncology and pediatric nurses with whom I worked as a nursing assistant, for instance, advised me to take the NCLEX and become a registered nurse, since many hospitals no longer hire licensed practical nurses.

Find the Right Nursing School

Armed with solid advice and new sense of direction, I looked up nursing programs in the New York area that seemed the best fit for me in my career change.
When deciding which nursing school is right for you, first look at school websites to see whether you already meet certain credit requirements and prerequisites. Time commitment and educational costs can also be particularly important considerations when changing careers.
In looking at programs for becoming a registered nurse, I found that most nursing schools require similar prerequisites. Typically, this involves holding a C average or higher in such basic college courses as anatomy and physiology, English, math, psychology, and chemistry. Some nursing programs require a bit more, like a biology course with lab experience or an extra math course.
For those making a career change later in life, it’s important to note that most nursing programs only recognize coursework that was completed within the last ten years. On the other hand, if you already possess robust academic experience, you may fulfill most of the nursing school prerequisites without needing to take additional courses.

Prep for the Entrance Exam

An integral part of the nursing school application process is the entrance exam. I’ve found that many schools require you pass the TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) or the NLN (National League for Nursing).
You may find yourself out of practice when it comes to taking standardized tests. When I started my test prep, it had been five or six years since I had last taken a multiple-choice test, and many of my work habits had changed.
Preparing for an entrance exam after having been out of school for several years often entails re-learning effective study techniques. I committed myself to a month of studying at the local library and working through review books before taking my entrance exam.

Keep Your Options Open

Remember, becoming a nurse doesn’t limit you to working in a busy hospital. There are various alternative nursing careers you could pursue, including working as a traveling nurse through temporary contracts with hospitals.
I worked with a traveler who was based as a nurse in Syracuse for four months before moving to a hospital in Florida for the next six. These contract positions afford flexibility with the benefit of gaining experience in different hospitals.
Other career options include becoming a nurse at a doctor’s office, school, or wound clinic. Alternatively, you could provide home nursing care or work in a long-term nursing care facility.
Whatever nursing specialty or career you choose, you can’t go wrong following your true heart and passion.

Jacqueline Molina is currently a freshman in the nursing program at SUNY Morrisville. She has recently relocated from her native Long Island to Syracuse, New York, to embark on her nursing career. She attended SUNY Albany from 2004 to 2008, majoring in English with a double minor in education and Spanish. From there, she attended CUNY Queens College and earned two master’s degrees—one in English and one in education. She was a New York City high school English teacher for three years before making the decision to change careers and follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, a nurse manager in a leading Long Island hospital. Long term, Jacqueline hopes to become a successful oncology nurse and nurse educator.