Nursing as a Second Career

By Charles Nguyen

With job security now in question throughout the United States, the dependability of employment in nursing fields is often payment enough in itself. Needs for capable employees in health care are so strong and steady that more job-seekers are joining the burgeoning flock of second-career nurses.

"Given the growing demand for health care, nursing is a secure profession," says Robert Rosseter, associate executive director of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). He highlighted recent projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found in its November 2007 Labor Review that more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2016.

"[The statistics make] nursing the nation's top profession in terms of projected job growth," Rosseter says.

The demand for nurses is so great that it attracts prospective recruits from a number of other fields in the workforce. Across the nation, accelerated academic programs for potential nurses seeking a career change are ramping up enrollment. In 2007, nearly 10,000 students enrolled in accelerated baccalaureate programs, according to AACN's annual survey. That level is a 14-percent increase from 2006 and a 21-percent increase from 2005.

The average wage for RNs is also a large attractor. Career Web site pegs the wage of an RN with less than a year of experience at $44,285.

The mid-career shift into nursing seems daunting, but most second-career nursing programs have found that students utilize their non-health care experiences.

Annie Abalos' first experiences in higher education marked her for the business world. After attaining a bachelor's degree in business administration from University of San Diego, Abalos spent three years as a marketing representative. The national need for nurses and her own need to pursue more a fulfilling, longer-term career led her to nursing. She is now 10 months into a 15-month program to receive her bachelor's of science in nursing at California State University, Bakersfield.

Abalos was particularly moved by the alarming needs of modern-day healthcare. A March 2008 report entitled The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications by Peter I. Buerhaus, PhD, RN, FAAN, et. al. found that the demand for RNs is expected to grow by 2 to 3 percent each year.

"I don't regret not pursuing nursing from the start," Abalos says. "Business school helped me become a leader and to speak my thoughts [while] my marketing job helped me to learn to deal with people from all walks of life."

During his treatment for testicular cancer, Bill Kenny, a second-career nurse at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, decided to leave his position as a television writer-producer for shows like "Blossom," "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and "Big Brother" to pursue nursing.

"After sitting behind my computer alone for years as a writer, I really wanted a chance to interact with people in a meaningful way," says Kenny. "I was drawn to the world of health care where people are dealing with very real life and death issues."

But, Kenny acknowledges his career change was not without hardships. "The biggest obstacles were all the pre-requisite courses I needed to take [during nursing school]," says Kenny, who has been a nurse for more than three years. "I had never taken science classes in college, so I had to start from the beginning."

But second-career nurses don't necessarily restart with a blank slate, according to Rosseter. In fact, they are often more appealing because of their past experiences.

"Second-career nurses possess many layers of education and experience that enrich their nursing practice," says Rosseter. "For example, nurses with a corporate background may gravitate toward positions in management where their expertise in both patient care and business are highly prized. Nurses with liberal arts backgrounds can use their creativity to enhance care delivery and better communicate with patients from diverse backgrounds. The combinations are endless, and they can all be channeled into providing expert patient care."


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