Considering a career switch to nursing? Going back to school is necessary, and now there are part-time and full-time options, as well as in-person and online nursing programs to help career-switchers transition from their current industry to the nursing field. This variety of options means you can choose a path that fits with your career goals and lifestyle.
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Depending on your prior education and which nursing degree you’re aiming for, there is likely a part-time online educational program to help you achieve your goal. The classwork component of a part-time nursing program may be online, but fieldwork or hands-on learning requirements must be completed in person at a specific clinic, hospital or office.
Invest some time in your research when looking for the right nursing program. Consider these questions: What is your educational goal? Programs from associate degree in nursing programs to master’s in nursing programs can prepare you for the licensing exam for registered nurses (RN). Do you want to be a full-time or a part-time student? Does the flexibility of an online program work better for your busy schedule or do you need to attend classes on campus?
Taking advantage of part-time online classes while continuing to work allows you to test the nursing waters without abandoning your current career. Most community colleges offer prerequisite courses in biology online.
What to Consider When Going Back to School for Nursing
When considering nursing school, remember to weigh these factors in your decision-making process:
Goals: Map out your long-term goals by addressing these questions: What level of education are you aiming to achieve in the nursing field? A master’s in nursing or a doctor in nursing practice? Do you want to be an RN or do you want to eventually become an advanced nurse practitioner? The answers to these questions will inform your next decisions.
Time: Writing papers and studying will be a part of your new routine. Make sure you’re prepared to balance your new study schedule. Talk to your family, friends and boss if you have to, to ensure you have the support you need.
Format: Consider the type of program you need to enroll in. See “Should You Pursue Full-Time or Part-Time Nursing Programs?” below.
Do You Need to Take the GRE for Nursing School?
If you enroll in a direct-entry master’s degree program, you may not need to take the GRE. Requirements vary so check with the programs of your choice.
Should You Pursue Full-time or Part-time Nursing Programs?
The advantage of a full-time nursing program is that it immerses you quickly into the world of health care. Though intense, these programs are often accelerated, preparing you to enter the world with a degree, ready for licensing years earlier than a part-time option.
On the other hand, the part-time option requires less time on a week to week basis, and may help you better balance work and family. But the road to earning your nursing degree will be longer.
What Nursing Specialties Fit Your Goals?
In the nursing field, there is a wide range of nursing specialties to choose from. But you must first become a registered nurse before becoming an advanced nurse practitioner (who can specialize in a specific area.) When mapping out your path forward, consider your areas of interest to identify the specialties that align with your long-term career goals. Specialties such as community health offer opportunities to work in schools, health departments, and clinics, where community health nurses can give direct patient care and often experience a more regular schedule than that of hospital nurses.
It’s important to research the unique nursing specialties available across the nation, and determine which ones fit with your goals.
Can You Work While in Nursing School?
While you’re in nursing school, you can still work — whether the program is full-time or part-time. It’s up to you to strike a balance that will allow you to keep up with your studies without quitting your job.
Working in a health care environment can help you build additional confidence and skills.
How to Make a Mid-life Career Change to Nursing
Here’s a quick guide on how to make the switch to nursing:
Talk to experienced nurses and explore nursing programs and curricula.
Select a nursing program that aligns with your long-term goals and current lifestyle.
Complete pre-requisite requirements for nursing school. Typically, biology, anatomy and physiology, and math are required to apply to nursing school. To help you continue your present career while preparing for the next, you can often take these courses through a community college or online.
Gather your application materials, such as letters of recommendation, a transcript and essays.
Gain nursing field experience.
1. Talk to Experienced Nurses
Curiosity and resourcefulness will serve you well in your search for the perfect program as well as in your new job. Reach out to your network and see if there are any nurses willing to chat with you about the profession, so you can make sure this role is the one for you.
2. Find a Nursing Program that Fits Your Needs
There are plenty of nursing programs to choose from, but it’s important to select a format that works best for you. Your choices include full-time or part-time, on-campus or online, accelerated or traditional. Consult graduates and other nurses and take into account current obligations.
To check the quality of a program, look into the AACN, who accredits nursing programs.
3. Complete Nursing School Prerequisites and Admissions Requirements
To qualify for nursing school, you must fulfill pre-requisite and admissions requirements. Requirements vary per program but may include coursework in biology, and anatomy and physiology. Admissions requirements typically include a resume and an essay. Check your preferred nursing school’s requirements to see what you need to check off your list.
4. Gain Nursing Field Experience
Volunteer, intern or work at a hospital, clinic, or nursing home. These experiences can help assure you that this profession is right for you. While you gain this experience, keep in touch with valuable mentors, who can help with letters of recommendation when you apply to nursing school and after you graduate.
5 Great Nursing Jobs for Older Nurses
More experienced nurses may be older nurses who have spent years developing their skills in the field. While the following roles may be suitable for any qualified professional of any age, older nurses who are interested in working more autonomously outside a hospital setting might consider these:
1. School Nurse
Considered community health related, school nurses care for a pediatric population in urgent and emergent situations. This job also prepares teachers and staff to care for the pre-existing conditions and special health needs of a diverse population of children.
2. Clinic Nurse
Clinic nurses work in a variety of settings from urgent care clinics where you deal with small lacerations and sore throats to life-threatening cardiac conditions, to the more niche specialty clinics where you may assist in regular procedures. If you find yourself gravitating toward a specialty, this may be the place for you.
3. Nurse Informatics
Informatics nurses leverage data to care for patients. If you find yourself engrossed with statistics and you are looking for ways to translate the big picture of health care into better individual patient care, this growing field may be for you.
4. Occupational Health Nurse
Occupational health nurses care for people with physical on-the-job issues and work with them to prevent or minimize future health risks in the workplace. This work is great for an independent nurse.
5. Nurse Educator
Nurses are always teaching and always learning. Nurse educators keep their specific populations up to date with the latest and best information on how to care for patients and themselves.
Hear From a Nurse Who Made the Switch to a Career in Nursing
Chandra Burnside, MSN, RN, CNL, IBCLC is a second-degree nurse who returned to school in her 30s as a mother of two. She finished an accelerated master’s degree in two years. In the last five years, she has grown a career as a labor and delivery nurse and nurse educator. Here she answers the two key questions every aspiring new nurse has on their mind.
How did you decide to make the leap and switch careers to nursing?
When my first child was born it was a difficult experience. The nurses that cared for me put something in my heart, and I knew as soon as possible I would return to school to become a nurse. With my supportive husband on board, I researched programs that would take into account my existing bachelor’s degree and chose an accelerated path. It was hard, but I loved it. Despite leaving the workforce and starting again in my 30s I have had many opportunities to expand my knowledge and make a good living.
Was it overwhelming returning to school after so long?
I won’t lie, nursing school is rigorous. There is a lot of studying. But one of the benefits of having already worked in the world (and being a mom as well) is you’ve mastered time management. There’s no way around the hard work, but it is less overwhelming with your family and children as motivation and reward.
Disclosure: The path to transition into a nursing career varies depending on individual availability, goals and experience. This guide is not an exhaustive list of requirements and steps to become a nurse.