Your next chapter might be nursing as a second career

By | 2021-02-17T17:42:00-05:00 October 3rd, 2019|11 Comments

There are no hard and fast rules on how old is too old when it comes to entering the nursing profession. So, don’t make your age a barrier.

When thinking about pursuing nursing as a second career you might think:

  • You are almost age 50.
  • Your daughter is newly married.
  • Your son is away at college.
  • Now it’s just you and your husband ready to move into your next life chapter.

But something else is on your mind — something you’ve been thinking about for a long time. You want to pursue nursing as a second career.

You’ve done some research on where you might be able to apply for nursing school. You’ve looked at the time and costs involved and what they’ll mean to your current budget and lifestyle. And your family is supportive.

There’s only one thing you’re worried about: you think you might be too old for nursing as a second career. But your worry might not be warranted.

Others your age — and even older — have made nursing their second career. It’s one of the most popular career choices out there.

The problem is some of them allowed themselves to see their age as a stumbling block. They questioned whether:

  • They’d fit in with younger students.
  • Keep up with the demands of a nursing school program.
  • Be accepted into a program.
  • Get hired into a job after completing it.

For those reasons, they may have abandoned the idea of nursing as a second career.

Happily, there have been others who have overcome the hurdles of choosing a second career. They believed in themselves, searched out various nursing programs, studied enrollment requirements, filled out applications, got accepted, and yes, became nurses. That group proved to themselves, and others, that it can be done.

Plenty of helpful information is available online in articles such as “Is 51 Too Old to Become a Nurse?” and “3 Strategies Second-Career Nurses Can Use to Market Skills, Experience.”

How old is too old?

There are many opinions on when it might be too late to start a second career, but there are no definitive answers. The question becomes even more difficult when it comes to nursing, where the average age of working RNs currently is 50, and five generations of nurses from their 20s to their 80s are working happily and successfully side by side in the profession.

AARP says those who change to second careers at an older age are part of a revolution making up the first generation of Americans changing careers after age 50.

Second-career nursing applicants come from a wide variety of jobs, including police officers and firefighters, teachers and business people, and a wide variety of healthcare jobs.

In the article “Second Acts: Discovering Nursing as a Second Career,” Columbia University’s School of Nursing asks: “What do a former opera singer, an organic farmer and an ex-sommelier have in common?” The answer is they’ve all made the unlikely switch to nursing.

The second time around

For many reasons, a move to nursing as a second career is a good choice. Many career analysts say nursing’s future looks bright, its options are many and its salaries, benefits and career mobility are all good.

Last year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 1.1 million additional nurses will be needed to avoid a further nursing shortage and employment opportunities will grow at a faster rate in nursing (15%) than all other occupations through 2026. 

Still unsure? Browse all the open nursing jobs on our jobs board in your area to see how many nursing opportunities exist.

Nursing is a profession that can take you from the hospital bedside to the boardroom and allow you to work in acute, ambulatory or long-term care with patients of all ages. The profession can include staff, management or administrative roles, along with opportunities in business, sales, education, law and more.

You can even work on weekdays or weekends, day or night, or on full-time, part-time or per-diem schedules.

Nursing is diverse and inclusive in employment and patient care. All patients are cared for and all nurses are welcome to apply, regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, race, ethnicity, religion or socioeconomic background.

Nursing as a second career words of advice

As with all important life decisions, don’t allow yourself to be deterred by factors that don’t matter, and don’t jump into something without doing your due diligence. Think about the time investment, schedules and costs, along with how all of it will impact your life and family.

You’re never too old to do something you love, and how long you’ll be doing it isn’t the most important part of the decision. Whether your career spans 50 or 15 years, you’ll have great opportunities to make contributions that matter.

Don’t sell yourself short. You have much to offer. There’s no substitute for the wisdom of age or life experience. Be confident in the fact that the list of positives you bring to the table is a long one.

Think about some words of advice I once heard about starting a new nursing degree program: “If you put off beginning your degree now because you think you’ll be too old to start a new job in four years, just remember that in four years you won’t have the degree and you’ll be four years older!”

Explore Your Higher Education Options at

Take these courses related to nursing as a second career:

Empowering Your Nursing Career
(1 contact hr)
Do you feel empowered to navigate your career? Are you trying to decide which specialty to pursue, how to begin your professional nursing career, or how to make a change to an existing career? Learn about how you can make your personality characteristics work for you by considering correlated nursing specialties and environments you might enjoy more than others. Learn about leadership and lifestyle choices to create balance and motivation for your nursing calling!

Interviewing for Career Advancement
(1 contact hr)
Whether you’re a staff nurse, a manager, or an advanced practice nurse, interviewing is an important opportunity to market yourself for career advancement. Whether you’re interviewing for a new position, starting a new career, or seeking a promotion, the key to a successful interview is careful and thorough preparation. If two candidates have almost equal qualifications, it may not be the most qualified, but the best-prepared candidate who gets the offer. The better prepared you are, the more likely you’ll be chosen over the competition. This continuing education program will enhance nurses’ ability to prepare for and participate in job interviews.

Becoming a Home Health Nurse
(2.5 contact hrs)
According to statistics and projections from the National Bureau of Labor and the Health Resources and Services Administration, the need for nurses skilled at providing care to patients in their homes is growing. This is a good time to consider a career in home health nursing. This course provides an overview of the type of care provided by home health nurses, their roles and responsibilities, and the challenges associated with home healthcare.


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About the Author:

Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN
Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, continues to write and act as a consultant for Before joining the company in 1998, Eileen was employed by North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York (now Northwell Health System) where she held a number of leadership positions in nursing and hospital administration, including chief nurse at two of their System hospitals. She holds a BSN and an MSN in nursing administration and is a graduate fellow of the Johnson & Johnson University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Nurse Executives program. A former board member and past president of the New Jersey League for Nursing, a constituent league of the National League for Nursing, Eileen currently is a member of the Adelphi University, College of Nursing and Public Health Advisory Board.


  1. Avatar
    LadyJane October 13, 2019 at 7:10 am - Reply

    Knowing that there will be a significant shortage of nurses and knowing that older nurses are still out there working, it’s unsettling to be working at a facility when there is a lack of appreciation that is given to older nurses. There are many subtle ways that others have of letting you know that they think you should be retired and not working. Because of anti-discrimination laws, they can’t be overt with their prejudice that nursing should be comprised of younger nurses, yet the hints are there. Also, it can be very disheartening for a seasoned nurse choosing to stay in the workforce since there doesn’t seem to be much value given to the more experienced nurses. It’s unreal that facilities would rather cut their expenses by hiring younger nurses than try to retain the older, more experienced ones, who have much to offer.

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    Shula October 13, 2019 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    I was part of a major downsizing of my company at the age of 55. It was during an economic downturn and I was unable to find another job despite having an MBA from one of the top 5 MBA programs. My younger sister, a nurse, suggested that I become a nurse. She thought I’d be a wonderful patient advocate. I looked into nursing and realized the wide world of possibilities.

    Although my undergraduate degree was in biology, I hadn’t had a science class in over 30 years. I looked into the pre-requisites and determined the courses I needed to take and successfully completed them. Then I nervously applied to nursing school. Luckily, I was accepted by several. I soon began an accelerated BSN program for students who had already completed a bachelors degree. My classmates ranged from people who had graduated several days before the BSN program began to people like me who had graduated many years before and had worked in many different fields over that time and everything in between. I graduated manga cum lauded a few days after my 58th birthday.

    While in school, I had job offers from several major US hospitals. One or two offers were made immediately at the end of the round of interviews. I was amazed. Never before had I been offered a job on the same day as the interview. The variety of jobs I have enjoyed as a nurse have gone beyond my wildest dreams.

  3. Avatar
    Charles D Robbins October 20, 2019 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    I wish I was an LPN. I’m only a CNA.

  4. Avatar
    Carole Walk October 23, 2019 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Still working at 76, one 4 day scheduled job and one as needed job. Both at nursing homes. No shortage of opportunities out there!! Go for it.

  5. Avatar
    Shawnee, vn October 25, 2019 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Carole Walk…I’m so inspired, now. Thank you!

  6. Avatar
    Eliza Winecoff October 29, 2019 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the post and replies. I have needed to hear this exact topic…but, the replies with strength and courage, have helped me set my compass. Thank you!

  7. Avatar
    Karen October 29, 2019 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    I am a preschool teacher, which I have taught for 15 years. I will be 50 in 2 years, I have always been drawn to nursing & science in general. But, I also have a learning disability with really makes me hesitant about pursuing a career in the medical field.

  8. Avatar
    Dyna November 1, 2019 at 12:14 am - Reply

    I am 55 years old, I am only a CNA for at least 15 years but my dream is becoming a register nurse. I think that I am too old for that.

  9. Avatar
    Tammy November 2, 2019 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    I am 58 year old Registered Nurse and during my career I have also found that the order nurse are less appreciated by the younger Nurses who are in management .

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    Bernadette Prochnow November 19, 2019 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    From my experience nursing on a hospital unit has a high level of stress due the complexity of the patient population. There are many interruptions that required coordinating care between physicians and other disciplines. It takes a strong, determined, organized and quick thinking nurse to manage the patient load. I find there are both younger and seasoned nurses who do and do not have the qualities to manage this chaotic specialty care. There are different levels of competence on the unit at all times and we must work together as a team. This mix of nurses includes younger and seasoned nurses. While I agree it is disheartening for a seasoned nurse like myself to feel my opinions are not valued I must try to stay involved for the improvement of our patients health and our organization. I am also needed to help the younger nurses adapt and adjust to this chaotic culture so they succeed and stay in nursing. I do worry that there may become a time when I cannot keep up with the fast pace that defines floor nursing. Will I then feel unappreciated and not wanted.

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    Kathleen Wilson May 30, 2020 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    I was 48 when I went to nursing school, I was told I had the heart for it and compassion for people. I am glad I finished my education and I feel I had a lot to offer. I did find that being a floor nurse was very stressful and eventually after 15 yrs of nursing as a career I called it quits. I felt it was rewarding for the first 10 yrs and became burnt out after that picking up shifts due to shortages in staffing etc however I was able to send 2 kids thru college and provide a for our family so it was worth it. My children are successful and grateful but I did retire at 63 due to lack of appreciation from management . That was once month prior to the pandemic and I feel it was Providence. I know my patients felt I made a difference in their lives but the company is only concerned about the bottom line I am sorry to say.

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