In 2006, I graduated from college with a 3.83 degree in Biology. Surely a student graduating with honors would be working at a prestigious laboratory contemplating the most complex questions in science, right?
That was not my story.
A few months after graduation, I was working at the Baby Depot at a Burlington Coat Factory making minimum wage. It was a decent job, but it was not what I went to school for.
I had a friend who had been caught in a similar situation who had gone through an accelerated nursing program, was working as a nurse and was loving it! Motivated by my love for healthcare and, to be honest, better wages, I decided to go to nursing school. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have had a fulfilling career so far. If you’re thinking about switching careers to pursue nursing, I am here to say, it is possible!
Here’s how to transition into a nursing career in 2021:
Stages of Being a Nurse
Talk to a nurse
An excellent way to learn more about a profession is to talk to someone already in that line of work. This is called an informational interview. During an informational interview you can ask questions like:
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What do you love about nursing?
- What do you hate about nursing?
- If you were starting nursing school today, what would you do differently?
- What’s your definition of a great nurse?
In my experience, people are always excited to talk about their professions and most are willing to paint a realistic picture of it.
Where will you find these nurses to talk to? Here are a few ideas:
- If your city has a nursing school, you can email the admissions office or a student recruiter and ask to have a conversation with a nurse. Schools will usually have informational sessions that include real nurses and if you reach out this way, you may learn about upcoming events.
- Use LinkedIn to find nurses in your local area. Using the search bar on LinkedIn, you can enter a query like “registered nurse” and narrow the search down to your local area. Once you find individuals you’d like to talk with, you can send them a LinkedIn connection request and take the conversation from there.
- Tell your friends and family about your goals. They may have a nurse in their network they can introduce you to.
Shadow a nurse
Nursing offers a path to many specialties. During the clinical portion of your nursing program, you will have plenty of opportunity to learn more about these specialties. However, it does not hurt to start learning about them now. Ask to shadow a nurse in a clinic or to be an observer at a local hospital.
Talk with your family/support system
If you have family responsibilities and are likely to be juggling that with your pursuit to become a nurse, it will be important to talk with your family or support system. Nursing school is rigorous. It requires a lot of study time outside class and long hours during your clinical portion.
If you have children, take care of your elderly parents, or care for your family in some way, you will need to think and plan on how you will balance this with school.
Going to nursing school is also a financial commitment. Discussing this with your family is important as well.
Consider getting a job in healthcare
There are jobs in healthcare that don’t require that you have a healthcare degree. Working as an administrative assistant or as a member of the janitorial team can provide access to nurses you can strike conversations with.
Getting a job as a nurses’ aide (you can complete most nurses’ aide programs in 1.5-3 months) will put you front and center of what nurses do on a daily basis. This type of experience will ultimately help you decide if nursing is the path you want to be on.
Consider and choose an educational path
As I mentioned earlier, going to nursing school is a rigorous educational journey. That being said, you have to decide which nursing path is best for you.
You can become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). In some states, this is also called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN). To become an LPN/LVN, you will need a high school diploma or GED and then you would have to graduate from an accredited LPN school. In order to enter an LPN program, you may need to take anatomy, physiology and math as prerequisites. Most LPN programs include one full year of coursework as well as practical clinical application in a hospital/clinical setting.
To become a registered nurse, you may:
- Enroll in a 4-year program at a local university with the goal of earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) to become a registered nurse
- Enroll in a 2-3 year nursing program at a community college or accredited health professions school to earn an associates degree or a diploma degree in nursing
- If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may look into accelerated nursing programs that allow you to finish a nursing degree in 12-18 months.
- Both the RN and LPN/LVN paths will require you to take the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN respectively in order to practice as a nurse.
Take advantages of resources at your school
Universities and colleges have career and educational resources to help students. Please take advantage of these! Once you make the decision to go to nursing school and after you are enrolled, talk to your educational advisors to make sure you are on track with your educational goals.
If you have a disability of any sort, you will be able to find out through these centers that there are resources set aside to help you succeed. Many schools have mental health counselors available to students for free. If you need the help, reach out.
Your nursing program wants you to succeed. Find out what is available to you and use those resources.
Brace yourself for an exciting journey!
Nursing school is rigorous and exciting. You may cry at times and you will experience moments of joy.
While people may quit for many reasons, I find that all things being equal (and equitable), the people who succeed in school are the people who are self-aware and see failure as a learning experience rather than a final result.
Adopting this growth mindset is experimentally proven to get people through the toughest of life’s situations.
Nursing is an exciting career path that offers a lot of opportunities. If you’re thinking of pursuing this path, it is possible and the above are solid tips to get you started.