Two years ago, Evelyn Javier was working in a research lab in Maryland and was unhappy with her career. “I liked the job, but it did not fulfill my purpose,” she says. “I felt like there was more I could do.”
What she really wanted to do, she decided, was to help people. In 2011, she quit her lab job and entered nursing school in New Jersey. Javier, now age 29, just received her RN degree and is about to launch her new career.
Many young minorities, after making false starts in other fields, discover that a career in nursing is actually the best fit for them. These career-changers—usually in their mid-20s—are attracted by the opportunity to help others, get out of an office setting, and interact with many different people. They also like the wide variety of nursing jobs they can choose from.
Nurse educators say these more seasoned students are generally more intense, get higher grades, and have a clearer idea of their career goals than their younger counterparts. After trying out something else, “they know what they want,” says Deborah A. Raines, PhD, RN, ANEF, a professor of nursing at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing. Though Javier had good grades, Raines says some latecomers to nursing were initially poor students who worked for a few years in low-paying jobs and then became more serious about their careers.
Raines, who authored the 2011 study “What Attracts Second Degree Students to a Career in Nursing?” in OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, says nursing tends to be something these second-careerists always wanted to do, but they were sidetracked into careers like teaching, business, or marketing for a few years. These students often bring skills from the previous jobs. Javier, for instance, says she brought a knowledge of aseptic techniques and teamwork skills from her lab job.
A Career Change From the Heart
While traditional nursing students often cite salary and job security as key reasons for going into nursing, Raines says career-changers tend to have “intrinsic” motivations—reasons that come from the heart. “They really want to help other people,” she adds.
Javier switched to nursing after she took a career aptitude test, showing the field was her real calling. “I realized I wanted to go back into the community,” she says. “I wanted to be the person providing the extra care for those in need.”
As with many second-career nurses, Javier already had a college degree and could shorten her nursing education. Since she had already taken all the science courses she’d need for a bachelor’s in nursing degree, she was able to jump right into clinical training at the Muhlenberg School of Nursing in Plainfield, New Jersey. To help support herself as well as decide whether she wanted to be in clinical care, she took a job as a patient care technician at the same hospital where she was training. “I wanted to see if the hospital environment was right for me,” Javier says. It turned out to be a good fit.
Having just earned her degree, Javier now plans to work for about a year and start a bridge program for a master’s in nursing degree next spring. Ultimately, she wants to be a nurse practitioner specializing in family health with an emphasis on women’s health. And as a member of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), she wants to focus on helping Hispanic patients. “I’m concerned about the cultural and language barriers that Hispanics face,” she explains.
Overcoming Family Expectations
Raines says second-career nurses often have to overcome family expectations about another line of work. “They were directed a certain way by their parents, and then they found out that nursing was what they really wanted to do,” she says.
She recalls a second-career student from Haiti whose parents insisted that she should work at a law firm. The student did so for a while, but “she always wanted to be a nurse,” says Raines. She earned her nursing degree, worked for a year as an emergency medical technician, and then went back to graduate school. She is now in a doctoral program.
Jade Curry, an African American nurse, also had to overcome the expectations of some family members who thought she should be a doctor. To see if she’d like it, she even worked in a dermatology office for a year and attended a mini-medical school at the University of Michigan, where she majored in biology. But she didn’t like it and instead considered a career as a science teacher or in public health.
Her career path took another turn when, as an undergraduate, she began working for a program to help boost minority participation in certain health care professions, including nursing.
She became a strong proponent of the profession. “There are so many things you can do with a nursing degree,” says Curry. “You can go into teaching or practicing. You can work in multiple settings, like the ER or the ICU. You can get into a specialty like pediatrics or oncology. Or you can do research. Every discipline needs a nurse because we are the gatekeepers.”
After graduating college in 2003, Curry briefly considered taking another minority recruitment job at the University of California in Los Angeles, but instead she enrolled in the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. “Basically, I recruited myself,” she says.
After earning a nursing degree in 2006, Curry received a master’s of science in nursing degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Now married with a one-year-old son, she is a nursing PhD candidate and is working at a teen health center. Her research interest revolves around how parents with teenagers communicate about sex.
Raines says many second careerists are “very focused about where they want to go.” She recalls a nursing student who came from a human resources job. “She wanted a nursing job in a certain unit, with a certain number of beds,” she recalls.
Vaneta Condon, PhD, RN, served as director of the Pipeline to Registered Nursing program at Loma Linda University in California, which recruits underrepresented minorities into nursing. She says about 30% of the students already had a college degree in areas such as science, business, and teaching, and some already held jobs before they switched to nursing.
“The biggest reason they give for going into nursing is wanting to spend more time helping people,” she says. Since they already had some life experiences, “they start off as better nurses. They can adapt more readily to a nursing program and working with other people.”
Helping people has been the life work of Suleima Rosario-Diaz, RN, who has been a minister in the American Baptist Church in New Jersey for many years. A few years ago, she decided to get a nursing degree with the goal of performing health care missionary work in other countries.
Rosario-Diaz entered an accelerated nursing program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Now age 30 and married, she works as an admissions and discharge nurse at Palisades Hospital in Edgewater, New Jersey, and is working on a master’s degree.
She is still a minister as well as vice president of the New Jersey Chapter of NAHN. “Being a minister helps me to be a better nurse, to show love to people,” she says. “I want to be a calming presence.”
Rosario-Diaz wants to combine her therapeutic education with pastoral counseling. “A lot of religious folks do chaplaincy work in the hospital, but that does not interest me,” she explains. “I want to be hands-on, to be a presence when you are in pain. I am task-oriented, so it’s a great fit.”
Minorities have entered nursing from all kinds of walks of life. From the loss of a loved one to an unfulfilling job, inspiration can strike just about anywhere—and the smallest trigger can ignite that spark to become a nurse. Here are four examples to encourage you to make the leap:
Losing a Loved One. Chrispina Chitemerere was a schoolteacher in Zimbabwe before immigrating to the United States.1 She got a teaching job but didn’t like the work, she said in the May 2013 issue of the Elms News. Chitemerere said she found a new calling while taking care of her mother, who was dying of cancer. She became a licensed practical nurse and then enrolled in the Accelerated Second Degree in Nursing Program at the Elms College School of Nursing.
Combining Passions. For nine years, Randi Simpkins taught fifth and sixth grades in elementary school.2 “While I absolutely love the field of education, I knew that there was more for me to learn,” she wrote in an essay that won a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing scholarship last year. “Daily I encouraged my students to pursue excellence and reach beyond their limits. Upon reflection, I was forced to acknowledge that I, myself, had not attained my own goals of academic accomplishment.” She “stumbled upon the opportunities in nursing” and enrolled in the Duke University School of Nursing in January 2012.
Encouraged by Others. When Christine Hernandez’s mother was dying of cancer, a hospice nurse came into their home to care for her and sparked Hernandez’s interest in nursing.3 “She was amazing,” Hernandez told RN Builder.com. “It wasn’t just my mother she was helping but all of us. She was a strength that we just couldn’t have done without.” A few years later, Hernandez worked as a nanny for a dual-physician couple. They encouraged her to get an RN degree, so she enrolled in an RN program at Salt Lake Community College in Utah. Her goal is to work in pediatrics, oncology, or hospice.
Divine Intervention.In India, Binny Varghese earned a bachelor’s degree in human genetics and worked as a researcher in the biosciences.4 But as a child, “I gained a passion to serve others,” he told the Kansas City Nursing News in 2012. After immigrating to the United States for an arranged marriage with an Indian American woman, he decided that nursing was his real calling and entered an accelerated nursing program at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. “When God wants you to do something better, he shows you the way,” he told the paper.
Leigh Page is a Chicago-based freelance writer specializing in health care topics.
1. Elms College. From Africa to Chicopee, Two Students Earn Second Degree in Nursing. Elms News. May 15, 2013. www.elms.edu/elms-news/from-africa-to-chicopee-two-students-earn-second-....
2. Randi Simpkins. “I believe this about nursing...” essay. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing. August 2012. www.newcareersinnursing.org/scholars/essay-contest/winners/randi-simpkin...
3. G. Jones. Nursing Student Interview with Christine Hernandez. RN Builder. April 11, 2013. www.rnbuilder.com/blog/education/nursing-student-interview-with-christin...
4. Nursing is second career for MNU student. Kansas City Nursing News. 2012. prewww.kccommunitynews.com/kc-nursing-news/30992401/detail.html.