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Is 51 too old to become a nurse?

Dear Donna,

I am 51 years old and wonder if this age is too old to consider a nursing career? I started about 20 years ago, but with family, etc., I never finished the course. I have condidered returning, but always talk myself out of it by thinking I am too old. Can I really keep up with the young students and others who are much younger than me? I have always worked, and work as a 911 dispatcher at the fire department. With at least 15 years until retirement, is nursing something that I can start now and continue until that time? Still Wants to be a Nurse

Dear Still Wants to be a Nurse,

At the very young age of 51 you are not even close to being too old to get into nursing. Many people are coming into the profession at every stage of life. In fact the oldest student I have met to date was 70 years old. You’ll also find that many students today are older and have had previous careers. If you’ve already been a 911 dispatcher, you can definitely hold your own in a nursing program.

It is said that on our death bed, we don’t regret the tings we did but the things we didn’t do. So end the cycle of regret that you currently carry. Stop thinking about it and just do it.

Will it carry you another 15 years until retirement? Absolutely. There are nurses in their 80s still working by choice because they love what they do. Everyone is living and working longer these days. And nursing is so diverse, there is literally something for every nurse at every stage of life.

Best wishes,


By | 2015-05-27T21:09:17+00:00 May 4th, 2015|Categories: Blogs, National, Nursing careers and jobs|47 Comments

About the Author:

Donna Cardillo
Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, is president of Known as The Inspiration Nurse, she is a keynote speaker, retreat and seminar leader, and author of "Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional" and "The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career." She brings more than 25 years of clinical, management and business experience to her role as career guru.


  1. Avatar
    Lenora Ingle December 26, 2017 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    I’m a 51 year old female and want go to college to become a nurse. What scares me is am I going to be smart enough to complete getting the degree??? Students today have received so much more education I did when I graduated.

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      Susan Williams April 14, 2019 at 6:36 pm - Reply

      Bedside nursing is an incredibly demanding job. After 33 years at the bedside I found I could not keep up with the 20 somethings I was working with. Nursing has taken an incredible toll on my body: I have had two hip replacements, two rotator cuff surgeries, a spinal fusion for spondilolithesis and I just currently found out I have another spondilolithisis at c4-c5. Years of lifting and pulling on large patients has taken a toll!
      I didn’t want to retire at 65, but I had no choice. With that being said there are many less physical jobs in nursing that you could possibly pursue.

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    Kellie July 17, 2018 at 5:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Donna…I am 51and still want to be a nurse. I was in the program years ago but moved to Flag..and family etcm. I have worked myself up to 15 year coding career in the medical field and it has paid me well. But my heart still wants to be a nurse. Should I just get LPN first?

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      Darcie July 24, 2018 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      I would advise not going the LPN route. You wont get paid as much and will have fewer opportunities to grow as a nurse. If time allows go the RN route.

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      J.Brown January 23, 2019 at 2:18 am - Reply

      Yes!! Once you’ve completed the LPN program, you can work and gain experience. Most employers will offer scholarships and/or tuition reimbursement while working on your RN. Also, you’ll have less competition while applying for LPN to RN programs. LPNs make wonderful RNs too!! Go for it! I absolutely loved being a LPN. I loved my patients & the CNAs (our eyes and ears)!!!

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    Munchkin July 20, 2018 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    I graduated from RN school at 56. I started my first job in a large hospital on a very busy Med/Surg/Tele floor. Now, at 59, I’m going back for my Bachelor’s.

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      Anthony January 6, 2019 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      I’m 43 and looking for advice from people who have entered nursing at a later age. Can I ask you for your opinion on your own recommendations? Thank you

      • Avatar
        Stacey Tornetta March 23, 2019 at 12:20 pm - Reply

        Just graduated at 43 and work as an ER nurse….. go for it!

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    dawn weitzel July 22, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Yes go for your dream. I am a registered nurse and I am 73 years old and still working. There are may different areas that nurses can work
    so you will have many choices. I don’t know what state you live in some places like Miami or California where there is a nursing surplus
    it might be difficult to get a job.

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    rebecca July 22, 2018 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Hi! I just want you to know I became a nurse at 57. It was a second career as I have a university degree in another field. I had been thinking of nursing for 20 years. I started all the prerequisites slowly as I worked full time, and entered a 2 year AD program just before I turned 55. Am so very glad I did. You will be too! Check out the 2 year RN programs in your area, you can always get the BSN later as there are many online programs. Good luck to you!! P.S. The valedictorian of our nursing class was 57!!!

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    Susan July 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    you both can achieve anything, regardless of age. Donna, go for your RN, your heart will help you succeed!! I graduated with my RN at 50, after dropping out of H.S. at 15. Love being a nurse!!

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    Brian Barrett July 24, 2018 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    51 is not too old. Is 20 too young for someone to be a nurse? I hope you see my point.
    Take care of yourself, eat well, get lots of exercise, and study diligently. You can do it and be a good nurse of some kind for many many years to come..

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    Cheryl July 25, 2018 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    I am 69 and continue to work. The military allows nurses to stay in until age 70. You may run into a roadblock due to the limited number of students allowed in most nursing programs and the competition for those slots is great. I became an LPN first and then applied and had no problem getting in. Also as an LPN, you can work gaining experience in the hospital or other facilities giving you an advantage over others in some programs.

    Whichever route you take do not let your age stop you from seeking to do what you really want to do.

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    Olga July 26, 2018 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    You are never too old to learn! Follow your dream. At 51 I assume it is not for financial reasons but a passion. If you are passionate about caring for patients and helping them when they are most vulnerable you will make a great nurse. Just stay focused on your goal. Best of luck to you!

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    S.L.M. November 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I’m 49 and started the RN program (currently a CMA). While keeping up with the academic part of the program has been manageable at this point, I’m finding that the age discrepancy with the others in my class leaves me feeling marginalized in terms of study groups or even socialization. It feels very isolating….makes me miss my work family and question if I did the right thing sometimes.

    • Avatar
      melan jones-sherman March 19, 2019 at 1:27 am - Reply

      I feel your frustration and hurt. There are going to be times where you feel you don’t fit in with your classmates. Think back to when you ever attended a new school, or tried to make new friends. Kids aren’t always welcoming. So I suggest you take the first initiative…..approach one person & see how that goes. Knowing that you miss your comfort zone (work & family), is natural. Right now you think your out of your element, but your not. It will get better, so hang in there. The test your going through is one of those life tests that no one can avoid and that’s wanting to fit in. it has nothing to do with your age.

      Talk with God. He has you there for His purpose, to help heal, show mercy, and the human touch. Once your done and graduate your patients won’t make you feel marginalized or isolated. Hope this helps…..Gods speed!

  11. Avatar
    Alice Fellers RN November 23, 2018 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    Nurses can offer varied life experiences. I knew a nurse who received her advanced nurse practitioners licience at age 55. She offered maturity in judgement.
    Just as many of us trust a doctor with a little grey hair as one who has more life experiences often offering a broader prospective to patient care, older nurses can bring valuable skills to caring for patients.
    The door is wide open in nursing with options of job opportunities. From neonatal to elder care. A nurse can find a good fit somewhere on the spectrum of skills used. From admistration to nursing education.
    I say go for it.
    We need people who are motivated to help people. If you have the desire, you can find a position that will be a win, win for you and for the people you care for and work for.

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    Lionel M November 25, 2018 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    I was in my 50’s when I went to nursing school but did it in two phases. Phase 1 was the evening/weekend program at my local community college. Working full time, with occasional business travel on top put a premium on time-management but it was doable. Once I completed my ADN and passed the NCLEX, I enrolled in an on-line BSN program, Phase 2. I specifically looked for a program through a well-known and respected academic institution so that the degree was indistinguishable from a traditional BSN. The obvious choice was a state-school and the added benefit was that tuition was reasonable, a fraction of that at those heavily self-promoted virtual nursing schools.

    There were a number of older students in the evening/weekend nursing program, but even if that were not the case, I do not believe I would have felt isolated. As far as being “smart enough”, I suspect that depends on your confidence level. Nursing school is academically challenging but not impossible. Most of my classmates worked in study groups, something that many find helpful but does not work for me.

    As far as negatives related to age there is only one, and that is the rampant age discrimination that is pervasive throughout the US workplace. My nursing job story is not pretty. I know my academic qualifications are strong (ADN, BA, MBA and suma cum laude BSN), I’m an Army veteran (active duty as well as Army Reserve and NG), have a solid work history (never used more than a day or two of sick leave, terrific performance assessments) and have impeccable references. Yet when I was looking for a job as an RN, more than a dozen years ago at this point, I probably sent out 150 – 200 resumes to little effect: precisely three responses and one interview. I had no idea why I was not having any success until one day when a friendly recruiter told me the reason: The dates on my resume marked me as being over 55, and no one was going to hire an inexperienced nurse that old.

    The job environment then was a bit different than it is now – there was a glut of nurses back then while at the moment, demand for RN’s seems high – and hopefully your experience will be more positive.

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    Kat January 3, 2019 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    Kudos to you all for striving to achieve your dreams.
    I, too, am an older RN without much real experience in Ca, and wondering what fields are best for RNs (BSN) who are older to begin nursing?
    Also what states?

  14. Avatar
    Sophy January 21, 2019 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    I am 49 years old like to study nursing Now working as dialysis technician is that any possibility for me to go school? Please help I don’t have any body to help Thank you

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    B Mc January 23, 2019 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    I started nursing school just before my 50th birthday. If you think you can do it, you are right. It may take a little while to get readjusted to taking notes and studying for exams, but it will be over before you know it and then you will be 51 and practicing nursing instead of studying nursing!

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    RS January 25, 2019 at 8:39 pm - Reply

    I just turned 50 and I am considering going back to school to get my BSN. I thought that I might be too old to try it, but after reading all of these comments about it, I feel inspired to do it. I actually want to go for an APRN license too.

    • Avatar
      Ann March 24, 2019 at 6:01 pm - Reply

      OMG. These are some very inspirational comments. I have been thinking for many years and many yrs after still thinking now that i just turned 49 with 2 kids, a job of being an MA for about 20yrs.
      I have not enrolled yet because of that but i want too. I will visit a community college after work tomorrow to reapply. But Imust admit its More scarier now than before when i was younger.
      I am inspired.

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    Renee February 22, 2019 at 4:06 am - Reply

    I was 44 when I started LPN school. If you think you can’t do it as far as keeping up with your courses compared to the younger guys don’t sweat it..I graduate top of my class of 30 (I was the oldest in my class) my opinion us older ones got advantage not disadvantage. I’m also going back to get my RN. You’re never to old if you have the passion to do it!!!!

  18. Avatar
    Karen February 22, 2019 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    No Lenora, 51 is not too old to become an nurse. I was 49 when I finished nursing school (I had no medical experience at all). I was 56 when I received my BSN. At 63 I am currently working at a job that I love. My sister (who was 55 when she graduated with me) had a very rewarding career before she retired. The only down side to going to school this late in life is the student debt I still have. But I wouldn’t change anything that I did.

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    Mary February 27, 2019 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Hello Donna,

    I am 52 and always have put my children and my husband first. I always put myself last. Now is my time. I would love to be a nurse. I am afraid of making mistakes though. I have OCD with perfection. I know everyone makes mistakes but how do nurses handle this? All these comments are very inspiring to me and I know I could handle the school.

    • Avatar
      Fred (RN 28yrs and counting) April 15, 2019 at 5:47 am - Reply

      Hi Mary,

      I too have OCD along with AADD. We are human and mistakes will happen, own them, deal with the emotional backlash, then use them as a

      learning experience. Root out the guilt, live in the positive, seek support from your family and friends.

      Now go enroll, best of luck to you!!!!

  20. Avatar
    magnora March 1, 2019 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    I have spent my entire life in nursing school, from 30 yrs old. Thinking I would finish at a reasonable age.I have often questioned if I should even be doing this.You make plans and God laughs.Two RN programs later and 3 graduations missed. I just recently graduated from LPN program. Applied for LPN to RN, only to have them nit pick at my nursing school application and reject it because of one humanities class that would be completed by start of the program, (which adds more time of course). I’m disgusted with how long it took. I have worked in a hospital laboratory for 16 years, fighting to obtain my degree. I have to fight a number of feelings daily. Bitterness, depression, defeat and suicide.Its horrible, I hate that I’m 41 years old and often feel like I’m racing with a clock because of the horror stories I’ve heard of older people being discriminated against when trying to get hired in this field. I work full time, and my poor children did nothing but watch their mother fail repeatedly. I’m only continuing at this point to save face, so my children don’t see that their mom ran for years with nothing to show for it. I didn’t even attend my LPN ceremony, don’t get me wrong, I was happy to have something. It appears people have different paths and experiences. It doesn’t hurt for you to at least try, not everyone is going to turn out regretful and rejected by the nursing field due to age. I do think however it is a factor.

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    Josi Wallace March 3, 2019 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    Magnora, one thing to remember is you’re never too old to learn! I went about my nursing career from the very bottom as a feeder/helper in a nursing home at 16, then a CNA at 18 prior to graduating high school. A Army recruiter saw me in my nursing uniform and talked to me about their nursing program and I enlisted at 17 in the Delayed Entry Program with my mom signing for me. I wanted to become an LPN and a mistake in the version of my course was made and I became a medic and Patient Care Specialist instead. I was not happy with it and planned to become an LPN. Three kids later and a 4 yr break from the Army my dream became a reality at the age of 30. I was 18 and went through a lot before I actually became an LPN. Married young and had 3 babies, divorced and remarried went to war, re-enlisted in the Army, went to college for my first degree, Associate degree in General Education with Psychology major. I didn’t stop there but worked on retiring from the Army after 20 years and 18 years experience as an LPN with my kids growing up and moving on to start their new beginning, I continued on with schooling and received my ADN in nursing at the age of 49. My goal was to get my RN before 50 and I did. Was it easy? By no means, I took time off from school when my mom passed as she was my biggest fan and it floored me. Here I am at 57 and I have been blessed with such awesome bosses who knew me and gave me a chance.
    Never quit or give in to negativity cause you can do it, I believe in you!!!

  22. Avatar
    Allison March 3, 2019 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Thank you my inspirational nurses, you have really inspired me and now I will apply for my BSN .Thanks

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    Lisa DeNeau March 10, 2019 at 6:03 am - Reply

    I am considering pursuing my dream of becoming a nurse. I have always wanted to do this but never got serious enough to pursue. All pre reqs done. Now I have to take the Hesi A2 exam in two weeks. I am so nervous that I wont pass let alone get through nursing school. Things just dont come as easily as they did 30 or 20 years ago.
    I love all the encouraging comments. They are very uplifting.

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    Adrianne March 21, 2019 at 4:26 am - Reply

    I’m scared. I said it. Scared. I’m 53 (54 in July). I’m due to start the LPN program in October to finish something dear to my heart that I started 30 years ago. 30! I will be going in the evenings since I do work 6hrs a day during the week and will have to at least for the 1st 6 months. Some people tell me don’t look or act my age, They say I should go for it. Live my dream. 6 months ago I felt strong and capable now I’m second guessing myself. What if I can’t do it? What if I am not as able as I used to be? What if I’m not strong like I was? I want this very badly but I surely don’t want to fail and worse I don’t want to be a mediocre nurse or give less than the best of care to my patients. How can I be sure I’m doing the right thing? Any clarity or direction you could provide would be greatly appreciated. If God is willing I’ll join the ranks.

    • Avatar
      Sherry L March 27, 2019 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Hello! I was in a similar situation as yourself. I started nursing school at age 53 and was the second oldest in my class of 29. I worked part-time and attended a 2-year part-time nursing school LPN program. It has been over 8 years since I graduated and am only working part-time as a nurse due to health-related issues at age 61. I don’t regret going to nursing school, and can only say that you must put yourself and your nursing studies first if you want to succeed. I have seen nurses drop out due to family (small children at home, no support from family members to help out, etc.). So, if you really want to go for it, I say it’s never too late. Just put your best foot forward, always attend class and be on time. At my age I am looking forward to retirement, but have found nursing to be a rewarding career. I wish you all the best!

  25. Avatar
    Rani March 22, 2019 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I AM 47 yrs old Indian nurse.would like to work in ok.Is there any age limit for this.

  26. Avatar
    Harsh March 28, 2019 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    If you enjoy cleaning bed pans and want to be a professional butt cleaner then go for it . Don’t know what on earth is wrong with the woman questioning and why she wants to leave the clean 911 dispatcher job? Nursing is one of the most dirtiest and disgusting job . There is nothing good about it . All you deal with is poo, blood, urine, sputum and vomit ….so enjoy .

    • Avatar
      Denise April 11, 2019 at 12:05 pm - Reply

      Harsh is right. How sad this is all you think of a wonderful profession. Are you too good to clean a patient? That is part of nursing but there is so much more. I think you need to check that anger and look again. Don’t knock the nurses or students. And you better hope when you need us we are there. If we don’t take care of you in the hospital, who will?

  27. Avatar
    Elizabeth Pauline La Haise April 4, 2019 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    I have the exact same situation. I have all the required classes taken- but from the late 80’s and early 90’s! 5 kids, caregiving for aging parents, a divorce, a business, I want a stable career with benefits and retirement. I want to apply but I am so worried I will be lost. The nursing adviser I talked with today said the community college offers a boot camp for anatomy and physiology 1 and 2 for people just like me. . Will that be enough to know what is going on if I do get into the program.

  28. Avatar
    Annette B Wesolowski April 7, 2019 at 10:03 pm - Reply

    I was lucky to go to nursing school right out of high school and graduate before having children and the interruptions they bring to life. A friend finished her ADN at 50, with my encouragement and my comments on the life experience she brought to the field. You know so much more about decision making and what is really important in life by then and have probably another 20 or more years to contribute. My Faith Community Nursing mentor is 80 and still showing me how it is done . I am 70. The other thing my friend had was experience with family members having been ill and a child who’d been burned severely in another country and treated there. She knew how things should go in good situations and wanted to make that happen. She graduated and moved across the country. Last I heard, geriatrics had become her specialty.

  29. Avatar
    Sally April 11, 2019 at 7:45 am - Reply

    Oh my goodness I have always too go into nursing! I am in Canada! I just turned 48!! Realistically am I going to get hired in a hospital at my age?

  30. Avatar
    Ramsey Hilton ASN RN April 14, 2019 at 6:25 pm - Reply

    Say you are 52 when you finish Nursing school, I would estimate at least still having approximately 13 to 15 years to work, if Nursing is something that interests you, go for it! Be prepared for lots of stress and hard work, but you will make a difference in countless lives.
    I know a doctor who was 50 when he started medical school! As for getting hired, can be tough, and frustrating jobs all seem to want experience before you are hired, but the nursing shortage is real, you will find a job.

  31. Avatar
    Jeanne Cunningham April 14, 2019 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    I did an ABSN (accelerated bachelor of science in nursing) at age 50 in 2010. I already had a BS in an unrelated field. I was in the top percentile of my class of 80+, made Sigma Theta Tau, it was a 14 month program. I’ve worked as a hospice and palliative care nurse case manager from day 1 and have loved every minute of my new career. Go for I!

  32. Avatar
    Sandra April 15, 2019 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Why not be a nurse if that is what you always wanted to do? The world needs a compassionate nurse.

  33. Avatar
    Terry O April 15, 2019 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Yes. I have a colleague hired at 63.

  34. Avatar
    jackie April 16, 2019 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    As a nursing educator, I have seen first hand how the age of entry level nursing students has evolved, in addition to the tremendous rise in enrollment. Our goals and aspirations play an integral role in determining whether returning back to school is worth the effort. Nursing is one of those professions with no boundaries in accessing a position in any type of clinical or nonclinical environment. I say “go for it” life is to short to back away from one’s dream.

  35. Avatar
    Stacie Habbit April 16, 2019 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    I say go for it! If it’s your dream and you know you are going to have to work hard to succeed then do it! I graduated in 1991 from an ADN program and we had a 60 in our class who had always wanted to be a nurse. Now I’m 60 and thinking about going back to school to get a Master’s so I can teach nursing. I figure I can work another 10-15 years if I’m teaching and not working at the bedside..

  36. Avatar
    Tania 😍 April 25, 2019 at 6:40 am - Reply

    I am an lvn and my daughter is going for her RN
    I am afraid of regretting I didn’t try so I am enrolling in school for my RN too… I am 48… it’s go time

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