1. Borrello, Sally Jo MSN, RN, CTTS

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Meet Julie. When she was a teenager, she became exposed to the nursing profession after her mother was hospitalized for a serious illness. Everyone in the family was frightened, but the nurses were so compassionate and knowledgeable in their care of her mother that they helped alleviate some of the family's fear and tension. Little did those nurses know that they were making a lasting impression on a young life; in the room a future nurse was being molded because of their care and thoughtful attitudes. But Julie didn't become a nurse right away. She received her accounting degree from a community college and worked for several years at a firm. A husband and three children followed. However, Julie never forgot those nurses or her desire to join their ranks someday. At age 44, she put aside her accountant job and took the steps toward doing something she always wanted-she enrolled in nursing school.


Meet Bill. He spent 11 years as a tool and die maker only to be laid off twice in the past year. The first layoff lasted for only 2 weeks, but how long would this one last? The economy had taken a sharp turn for the worse and no one was exempt from the danger of being let go. "The pay was great while it lasted," he thought, "But the job security was never there." After much research, Bill decided to pursue a career in nursing because it would provide the best security for him and his family.

Figure. Just as our ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. Just as our patients come from diverse backgrounds, so do our colleagues.

Whether out of fulfilling a past dream or due to economic necessity, there are an increasing number of people turning to nursing as a second career. But why would people who've spent years of their working lives in nonmedical fields choose nursing? Most of those who do are ready for a career that will provide them with a feeling of satisfaction in a job that's more meaningful to them, with excellent job security and earnings.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 581,500 new RN positions will be needed by 2018, increasing the RN workforce by 22%. Because of this need, the employment of RNs will grow much faster than other professions. Nursing is a marketable career with many jobs available to new nurses upon graduation. Simply put, nurses are in demand.


A closer look at the second-career nurse

Individuals entering nursing as a second career are often adult learners who bring a variety of talents to the nursing profession. These older students are more confident than their younger counterparts, maintain a higher grade point average, and are serious about their commitment to a nursing program. They also bring with them the skills and talents from their previous learning and work experiences. Their perceptions help them understand their patients' needs and they're comfortable in the healthcare environment. Most will pass the National Council Licensure Examination on their first try. However, becoming a nurse is no small enterprise. There are classes to prepare for and attend, long hours of studying, examinations to take, and a few years of sacrificing personal and family time.


Because of the demand for nurses and the desire of nonnursing graduates to pursue a nursing career, nursing programs are seeking new approaches to reach out to these students. One approach is the accelerated degree program for graduates of other degree programs. These accelerated programs are built on previous learning experiences and offer both the BSN and MSN degrees. The BSN programs take up to 18 months to complete and offer the fastest way to becoming a nurse. For those pursuing a master's degree, it can take up to 3 years to finish, with the BSN being completed in the first year, followed by 2 more years for the completion of the MSN. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that there were 230 accelerated BSN programs and 65 accelerated MSN programs operating in 43 states in 2009, with more programs expected soon.


Another approach is the online environment, which offers many of the foundational courses to students with nonnursing undergraduate degrees. These classes allow adult students to adjust their studies around their work and home schedules. Although online learning has increased in popularity in the past few years, students needs to be disciplined in their scheduled studies to be successful. The older student, with years of experience in setting personal and work priorities, usually does well in the online setting.


Second-career graduates from nursing programs fare well in the workplace and are highly sought after by nurse employers. Their active pursuit of learning transforms them into mature, skilled nurses; critical thinkers; and compassionate patient advocates.


Tips for success

Unfortunately, we often hear of nurses "eating their young." This behavior can lead to lateral violence, which includes problems such as gossiping, undermining, bullying, criticism, scapegoating, and other dysfunctional practices. The end result of these behaviors include low morale, job dissatisfaction, poor work performance, general apathy, and a high turnover rate.


Mentoring is a positive means of ending lateral violence by helping less experienced second-career nurses maximize their nursing potential through the passage of nursing knowledge and skills from the experienced nurse. Through the practice of mentoring, the nursing profession as a whole is strengthened. It's imperative that experienced nurses recognize that second-career nurses have much knowledge and many skills in their own right to bring to the mentoring relationship. The relationship between mentor and mentee is an important one and will determine the success of the new nurse. The mentor inspires, motivates, and empowers the new nurse through support and guidance by providing positive feedback and identifying areas of improvement.


Are you mentoring a second-career nurse? Building a relationship of mutual respect, trust, and friendship will guide the new nurse into a successful transition that will ultimately result in promoting professional nursing practice. And through mentoring, become a learner yourself. As experienced nurses, we have much to learn from those who come to the profession from a different career standpoint. Their life experiences will serve as lessons for us, to help us become well-rounded in our nursing practices and more understanding of our patients' and their families.


A new beginning

Second-career nurses bring a new dimension to nursing and enhance the profession with their different life and work perspectives. Seasoned nurses see that although they may mentor these new nurses, they also have a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of what these new nurses can teach them from their previous life and learning experiences.


Learn more about it


American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Accelerated baccalaureate and master's degrees in nursing.


Benner P. From Novice to Expert: Excellence and Power in Clinical Nursing Practice. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; 2001.


National League for Nursing. Statement: mentoring of nursing faculty. Nurs Educ Perspect. 2006;27(2):110-113.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition: Registered nurses.