How do I Start a Nursing Career Late in Life?

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With an average life expectancy of almost 78 years in the United States, the idea of a second career later in life is not an unrealistic ambition. Many baby boomers are healthy, active and interested in second careers, according to a June 2012 article in “U.S. News Money.” One good second career option is nursing because there is such high demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that an additional 580,000 nurses will be needed by 2018. To start a nursing career late in life, you must first commit yourself to getting the right training.


The first step to launching a career as a nurse, no matter your age, is getting the right education. Nurses can choose from associate, diploma and baccalaureate degree programs. Associate programs are available at many community colleges and take two years. Nursing diplomas, once the standard educational method for nurses, are offered by hospital-based schools of nursing and take two or three years. Baccalaureate degrees take four years. An aspiring non-traditional student -- as older students are often called – who already has a degree might have already completed some of the basic liberal arts courses needed for a nursing degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another field, you might be able to take advantage of an accelerated program, according to the AACN. This can shorten the educational period to 12 to 18 months.

Computer Skills

Many nursing programs offer online options for non-clinical courses. However, older students who didn't grow up around modern technology might face challenges adapting to online programs. In addition to using computers for online courses, research and homework, an older student will need to use electronic tools in the clinical area, such as intravenous pumps or cardiac monitors. Many health care organizations also use computerized patient records. If you don’t already have good computer skills, take a class or get private tutoring to get up to speed.

Life Experience and Responsibilities

An older student has the benefit of life experience and is likely to have transferable skills that will be an asset to her performance as a nurse. Identify those skills and highlight them in your application as well as in discussions with admissions committees or counselors. Life experiences provide perspective and maturity, which can help older students build rapport and communicate with patients in a way that younger students cannot, according to a 2008 article on the NurseZone website. Older students might also have other commitments, such as children, or might need to work and go to school part-time. Balancing all these responsibilities can be a challenge. Organize your schedule so you can meet the educational requirements without compromising your other commitments.

Starting Your Career

Find out what licenses you need to begin a career as a nurse by contacting your state board of nursing. Requirements vary by state. Once you graduate, you'll need to pass the NCLEX-RN national licensing exam to get your RN license if you are interested in becoming a registered nurse. Your school will show you how to sign up for the test. Format your resume to highlight your nurse training, any relevant experiences from your previous career or volunteer work, and transferable skills that you feel will be of benefit in your new career. Be prepared for questions about your career change when you go on job interviews. This is an opportunity to explain your motivations and commitment to your new career. The interview is also a good time to discuss how previous jobs helped prepare you for a second career in nursing by teaching you organizational skills, work ethic or customer service.