Picking the career you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re still in high school is a daunting prospect – and in many cases, also an unrealistic one. So it’s no surprise that many of us feel stuck in a rut in our current jobs. Luckily, these days it’s becoming easier and easier to retrain in a whole new field. This is true no matter how old you are or what aspirations you have. 

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One sphere that has become especially popular for those looking to retrain later in life is nursing. If you are hoping to find a role that enables you to dedicate yourself to helping others, becoming a nurse could be perfect. This is a job that makes a real positive difference in the world – as we’ve all seen recently during the COVID-19 pandemic – and as such can be extremely rewarding. Plus, there are now distance learning courses available which mean you can get qualified without having to move across the country or quit your current job. 

This post will go into more detail about the role of a nurse, and also the benefits of working in this important field. If you like what you hear, keep reading to find out how you can retrain as a nurse, and also get some tips on studying at college level as a mature student.

What do nurses do?
The role of a nurse is a very broad and interesting one, with the precise tasks and duties you have varying according to factors such as where you work and what kind of patients you see. For example, you could find yourself working in a hospital, physician’s office, specialist clinic, pharmacy, school, senior living facility, or even visiting patients in their own homes. As a guide, you can expect to have many of the following responsibilities once qualified:
Taking detailed medical histories
Maintaining and updating medical records, along with other administrative tasks
Performing physical examinations of patients
Running diagnostic tests and screenings
Preparing patients for medical treatments and procedures
Assisting other healthcare professionals with certain medical procedures
Administering medications
Treating wounds
Drawing blood
Providing emotional support to patients and their families
Educating patients and the wider public about issues such as disease prevention and healthy lifestyles

As your nursing career progresses, you will have the option to specialize in a nursing area that is of particular interest to you. For instance, this could be a specific patient group (such as geriatrics or pediatrics), a specific health condition (such as cancer or diabetes), or a specific type of care (such as trauma or anesthesia). Alternatively, you could choose to move into a more managerial role or even work in academia. This means that nursing is actually a more versatile career than many people realize, with plenty of opportunities to carve out a role that truly matches your passions and your lifestyle. 

What are the benefits of having a career in nursing?
We’ve already touched on a couple of the advantages of becoming a nurse, but it’s worth going into a bit more detail here to give you the full picture. Perhaps the most obvious benefit is that nursing enables you to spend your time helping others. This is not only through providing primary medical care, but also vital emotional support during what are often the most challenging times in people’s lives. As such, nursing can give you a huge sense of satisfaction and a feeling of purpose in your life – something that’s key for our own health, happiness and longevity. 

In terms of more practical benefits, nursing is a field in which there will always be jobs available. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the job outlook for registered nurses (RNs) will grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, which may be partly due to the country’s aging population and the increasing prevalence of health conditions such as dementia and heart disease. Therefore, you can anticipate high levels of employability, job security and financial stability if you retrain as a nurse. 

In addition, as mentioned above, nursing is a varied and interesting profession to work in. You have a multitude of options when it comes to career advancement and specializations, plus you get to meet a wide range of people from all different backgrounds. This is true both in terms of the patients you see and the other healthcare professionals that you work with. Thus if you are passionate about healthcare, enjoy interacting with others, and have a desire to continue learning throughout your career, nursing could be ideal for you. 

How do I train to become a nurse?
If what you have read above has piqued your interest, then you might be wondering how to get started on this career path. Assuming that you don’t already have any qualifications in the field, the first step will be to enroll on a college level nursing program at an institution such as Elmhurst University. You could choose to take a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), or if you already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject then you could opt for a master’s program instead. Whichever you pick, you’ll complete a mixture of academic modules and practical clinical experience in order to prepare you for the role of a registered nurse.

After graduating, you will then need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (also known as the NCLEX-RN). This enables you to apply for a registered nursing license. It’s worth noting that every state has its own guidelines for licensure, so you’ll need to check the exact requirements for where you want to work and be sure that you meet them all. Once you’ve obtained your license, you’ll be able to begin applying for jobs. Of course, your training doesn’t end when you become employed, as there will always be further continued professional development courses to take and new skills, techniques or discoveries to learn about – so stay curious!

Am I too old to return to college?
The short answer to this is an emphatic no! In today’s world it’s very common – and indeed encouraged – for older adults to return to college in order to boost their skills or make a career change. Provided you have the necessary physical and mental fitness to complete the degree program and do the actual job itself, age is no barrier to qualifying as a nurse. In fact, some courses are specifically designed for those who already have a degree in another subject, so if you choose that kind of program you can be confident that you’ll be studying alongside like-minded people who are in a similar life situation to you.

Not only is being a mature student not a disadvantage, it can even have its benefits. For example, you may find that you get more out of your studies due to the fact that you have a clearer idea of your career goals and are more dedicated and motivated. In addition, your accumulated life experience will likely give you a good idea of how you learn best. You may also feel more confident approaching your professors with questions, ideas or concerns than your younger classmates. Whether you have 20 years of employment ahead of you or just five, don’t you want to spend them doing something that you are genuinely passionate about?

Study tips for mature students
Though there are many advantages to being a mature student, there are of course also some factors that can make it tricky. For example, it might have been a long time since you’ve been in formal education, or perhaps you have family commitments that you need to balance alongside your studies. Don’t let these issues put you off however, as it’s more than possible to successfully complete a degree program at any stage of your life. 

One big advantage you can give yourself is taking an online course rather than attending classes on campus. This provides you with the flexibility to set up a study schedule that fits around any existing work or family obligations that you have. You can choose to study first thing in the morning, in a coffee shop on your lunch break, late at night after the kids have gone to bed, or solely at the weekends. The key factor is to find what works for you and stick to it.

Another helpful tip is to try and link up with other mature students at your college. Most institutions have specific societies you can join, and networking with others in a similar situation can be both motivational and helpful from a practical standpoint. You can share advice, study together, or even just socialize. 

Finally, be sure to recognize the importance of self-care. Doing a degree can be a stressful experience at times, and by looking after your mental and physical health you’ll not only help yourself to cope but you’ll also ensure that your cognitive abilities are at their maximum. 

Drink plenty of water, eat healthily, exercise regularly, and try to get a good amount of sleep every night – you may just see your grades improve as a result!