Nursing is one of the most well-respected, rewarding and challenging professions in the world. While it is unquestionably a tough and demanding career, nurses are lucky enough to have the opportunity to help and care for people on a daily basis, making it one of the most meaningful jobs available. It is also highly in demand: the number of people seeking or requiring medical attention is increasing, yet the number of trained nurses is not rising at the same rate, and medical institutions are constantly on the lookout for capable nursing professionals. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that a number of people are looking to nursing as an attractive and viable second career.

So, what kind of people are moving across to nursing, and why? In this article, we explore the reasons why people are looking to nursing as a second career, what sort of options are open to them, and the kinds of skills they might hope to bring to their new profession. We also look at how important experience and attitude can be when embarking on a second career, and why lifelong learning is a crucial part of the process.

Nursing as a second career

While some nursing students begin their degrees in nursing immediately after finishing high school, there are a growing number of people who begin a career in another profession before applying to qualify as a nurse. Although the reasons for this kind of career move are diverse, many people are attracted by the meaningful nature of the nursing profession – the opportunity to help and care for patients is a powerful one. In some cases, this might be driven by positive personal experiences of nurses in various contexts, while in others it might reflect a drive for personal fulfillment.

Although many corporate roles, for example, might promise higher salaries, nurses are not only in demand professionally, but they can also enjoy notable job security, a marked degree of flexibility, and in many cases excellent pay, particularly in more senior positions. Nurses are employed in a variety of settings, including emergency care and hospitals, the surgeries of general practitioners and various outpatient facilities.

Many qualified nurses will also go on to work in other areas such as in psychiatric facilities, drug treatment or addiction centers, or even in businesses or schools. In each case, most nurses will likely work in more than one of these areas before later settling on a particular specialty that best suits their unique skills, interests and abilities. There are also many different roles within each of these spheres. Some nurses may prefer to focus more on practicing basic nursing and care, while others might be interested in the administrative side of things, or they may wish to look toward a leadership role, particularly as their career progresses.

People are drawn to nursing from all walks of life

People who choose to pursue nursing as a second career can come from a wide range of different professions. It is important to note, however, that each of them will be able to bring at least some aspect of their knowledge, work and life experience to make a positive impact in their new role. Someone who has worked in a customer-facing job, for example, is already likely to have developed the kind of advanced people skills that will be extremely useful when dealing with patients on a daily basis.

Similarly, previous experience in administrative matters can be crucial in the nursing profession, where many nurses – particularly more senior ones – will often find themselves responsible for various documents or maintaining patient records. Similarly, someone who has some degree of financial experience in their previous work might find that they have an edge when it comes to tasks such as balancing the budget, while experience in a range of other tasks, from supply ordering and storage organization to technological skills and social media communication, will also find its application in the world of nursing.

Specific experience of different age groups or situations may also be useful – a former teacher or teaching assistant, for example, might be more likely to go into pediatric care, while someone who has previously worked in a nursing home might find that they are drawn toward caring for the older population. Experience in leadership roles is also a huge plus and will often be useful for trainee nurses interested in attaining more senior positions later in their career.

It is also important to note that previous knowledge can come not only from work itself, but also experience in other areas of life. Whether it’s caring for a loved one, volunteer work with vulnerable people, or being involved in important projects or sports teams, there are always a number of transferable skills that may prove invaluable in nursing. The important thing to remember is that everyone’s path is unique, and that regardless of your past experience, there will always be special skills, life situations and working knowledge that you can bring to a future role as a nurse.

Diversity leads to strength

This is one of the key things to remember when looking to transfer from a previous job or role to nursing – rather than being a disadvantage, previous experience is a significant plus. Numerous studies have shown that diversity and breadth of experience can make a significant positive impact on productivity and effectiveness in a wide variety of fields, from business to public administration.

Nursing is no different. People from varied backgrounds with different points of view and perspectives, different knowledge, and different levels of experience will always lead to more significant and valuable contributions for the group as a whole. In addition, experience in other roles can also give people who come to nursing as a second career a higher appreciation of the nursing profession.

The right pathway

Of course, some prospective nursing students also have other concerns, such as how they can find the time to study for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to qualify as a registered nurse while still maintaining a job to pay their everyday expenses. The good news is that today there are specific degrees that enable you to do just that. In particular, the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) enables people who already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject to take an accelerated course where they can qualify as a registered nurse in as little as 15 months.

What’s more, the best ABSN programs also offer a significant degree of flexibility so that people who want to study in conjunction with significant work or family commitments can arrange their time accordingly. With the online ABSN program from the University of Indianapolis, for example, students can learn through online tutorials and coursework, but they will also can gain real-world experience through in-person clinical placements and two on-campus residencies. Graduates of this kind of program can expect to emerge with an in-depth understanding of holistic health, how to perform a complete physical assessment, and how to utilize clinical reasoning and physical findings to differentiate between normal and abnormal findings. The course also focuses on areas such as transitional care in primary and population health, complex nursing care, and transitioning to professional nursing practice.

The right character for the job

Naturally, someone who decides to embark on a second career in nursing needs to possess certain basic characteristics that are key to the nursing profession. Resilience, for example, is essential, given the demanding nature of not only the job itself, but also the working environment. A high level of empathy and understanding are also required to help provide patients with the highest level of healthcare, while excellent communication skills are also vital, particularly as nurses are often asked to liaise between patients, physicians and administrative staff.

In addition, most of the best nurses are highly organized – or at least capable of being highly organized – and adept at a wide range of administrative matters. Also, given the challenging scenarios that nurses are often faced with, it is important for them to be capable of calm and rational decisions even in situations of high stress, and to have the stamina to cope with times when the medical staff are overloaded or an emergency situation develops that requires an extended period of intense care.

Keep on learning

Naturally, no newly qualified nurse will possess all of these qualities and be able to apply them perfectly in every situation. While it is important to have the basic skills, knowledge, and abilities to be a good nurse, it is just as important to be capable of adapting and learning on the job. Indeed, many nurses say that they learn more in the first working year of their career than the next 10 put together. Here, the key is to be confident enough to apply theories and techniques learned during your education or previous work experience, but humble and open enough to learn as much as possible from the real-life situations you will face and the experienced professionals around you.

Indeed, a positive attitude to lifelong learning is a feature of almost all successful nursing careers. Discussing issues and cases with other nurses and physicians, for example, can be highly illuminating, while there is also a wide range of courses and other information available online. Many nurses choose to join a nursing society or association that can provide them with support and may also arrange training sessions or conferences, while there are also several further specializations available later down the line. In each case, the principle is the same: you must work hard so that you have the most up-to-date knowledge available to ensure that the patient has access to the very best possible care.

The road ahead

Overall, it is clear that pursuing nursing as a second career is a viable and excellent choice. Nurses are in demand, carry out extremely meaningful and highly valued work, and tend to enjoy a significant level of job security. Also, experience earned in previous positions is often highly prized by employers in the medical industry and appreciated by peers, while the diversity of thought that comes from employing people from a wide range of different professional and socioeconomic backgrounds has been shown to be of significant value.

This does not mean that the transition to becoming a registered nurse and embarking on a career in the medical profession is an easy one – it requires determination, a great deal of preparation and a great deal of skill. At the same time, it is a path that is increasingly popular, and programs such as the ABSN from the University of Indianapolis are specifically designed to make this journey easier and help prospective nurses find their own way. The final goal is certainly worth it though – professionals in this field will find a richly rewarding career where the primary goal on a daily basis is to provide help and care to those who need it most.

By Percy