55years old and looking for a career change. I've been a nurse for the last 30 years
October 15, 2010 6:43 AM   Subscribe

55years old and looking for a career change. I've been a nurse for the last 30 years. Possible ?

I've always loved my adrenaline filled job in a busy surgical ward but now feel I've worn myself out at it.
I'm on a 6 month sabbatical from my hospital following a very stressful time (my mother died of cancer, one of my brothers has been diagnosed with myeloma, my sister-in-law has ALL, no donor in sight) and I just had to get out of feeling surrounded by illness in my private and professional life, I was too scared of breaking down at work.
Am enjoying the tranquillity of leisure time and not getting up at 5am , but I know it's only temporary !
I know I'd like to work using my communication skills etc. but don't really know what direction I should be going..
Thankyou mefites for any insights
posted by hopefulmidlifer to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When my mom left traditional nursing, she spent some time working in a nursing home as an aide and really enjoyed it. She's definitely a people person, and enjoyed communicating with the residents and their families.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:44 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Any chance you could get into nursing education or other non-clinical healthcare work? At the hospital I work at we have tons of nurses working in non-clinical, not super stressful positions such as supply chain, sterile processing, IT, procurement. Having someone with clinical experience is very important in the more business-oriented areas.
posted by ghharr at 6:55 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Two things, the first probably a bit discouraging, the second hopefully mitigating that somewhat.

First, you're 55. It's getting pretty late in the day for a true career change. You've been doing nursing for thirty years, and it's vanishingly unlikely that you're going to be able to find a job unrelated to nursing which affords you the same compensation and flexibility to which you are no doubt accustomed. You'd be starting from scratch, and this is a particularly bad time to want to do that, the something north of 10% of people between 20 and 30 currently unemployed are going to be competing for the sort of entry-level jobs you'd need to get if you wanted to truly change careers. Your best bet is going to be sticking with nursing.

Second, all of that being said, nursing is an incredibly broad field. My sister is an RN in a cardiac stepdown unit, and my best friend is an RN in an emergency room. Their experiences couldn't be more different, and their positions are actually pretty close to each other in comparison to the spectrum of nursing as a whole. You've got enough experience that you could probably go into administration if you wanted to, which would take you out of the clinical loop almost completely. You could also look into things like being a visiting nurse, someone who does housecalls on people who aren't necessarily acutely ill but do need daily medical attention for things like IVs, wound dressing, pain maintenance, etc. You could probably even venture into teaching at a local nursing school. They're tons of 'em about, and at lot of them are looking at pretty serious teacher shortages. Hell, you could even just transition to an outpatient internist's or pediatrician's practice if you wanted to cut the intensity down a notch or five. None of this would get you away from people with medical issues, but any of them could drastically reduce your expose to people who are fixin' to die in the next ten minutes, which has got to be stressful.

So look around. Check job postings, call some hospitals/practices to see if they're hiring, get in touch with local nursing schools, the whole bit. Your degree is one of the most flexible out there, and you've got three decades of experience to back it up. I say stick with it but feel free to mix things up a bit.
posted by valkyryn at 7:02 AM on October 15, 2010 [6 favorites]

There are lots of job areas that would happily scoop you up with that kind of job experience! Think about community based social service organizations, or working with kids, perhaps in an educational environment. My mother was a nurse and ended up working part time in medical offices with a couple of different kinds of doctors. Additionally, being 55 yrs old can certainly be seen as an advantage for you. You have lots of life experience, you won't require the kind of hand-holding that fresh grads need. I know several folks your age who found jobs very quickly in the past few years just for that reason. Good Luck!
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:09 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you want to get away from nursing - or do you just want to work in a less stressful environment?
You could always do home health care, work in a smaller facility (a school or woman's clinic?), at a donor center (like blood donations).
Also something else to consider - my last health insurance company had nurses that members could call and ask questions. Maybe you could find something like that?

If you'd like to get away from nursing all together, maybe one of these: Activities Director/Assistant at a local retirement facility. receptionist/front desk (pay is all over the place depending on the company. Could be too low, though), visitor information, human resources (assistant and work your way up)....

You could also go back to school and take out some loans. My former boss got a degree in Human Resources at 60 within a couple of years. Then she transferred to HR. But you could spend less time if you were to get a certificate rather than degree.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:10 AM on October 15, 2010

Librarianship is frequently a second career, there's such thing as medial librarians. Getting an MLS is pretty darn easy and can be done in a year.
posted by Blake at 7:36 AM on October 15, 2010

You should consider hospice care. It's a growing field and it's rewarding--both financially and spiritually.
posted by ColdChef at 7:39 AM on October 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

In between careers I worked at a professional organization for one of the medical professions (not nursing and don't want to be identifiable). Anyway they also ran audits of clinical trials and most of the auditors had nursing experience. It may even have been a requirement.

You'd still be in healthcare, but more on the research/administrative end and would have no contact with patients. However this particular job required quite a bit of travel. Memail me if you want more info.
posted by kaybdc at 7:46 AM on October 15, 2010

I knew a nurse practitioner that left the hospital she worked in to go into clinical trials for new pharmaceuticals.
posted by deanc at 7:48 AM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Great replies.
thanks so much.
I do some teaching to student nurses already, which I really enjoy, I had not thought of doing only teaching
Do know that I don't want to get into a purely admin position
doing home visits sounds really interesting too, because I'd like to keep in contact, maybe part-time would be the answer too.
posted by hopefulmidlifer at 8:17 AM on October 15, 2010

Hospice hospice hospice. I volunteer for one. The hospice nurses I know seem positively angelic... they're all SO committed to and in love WITH what they're doing. And ColdChef is right - it's a rapidly expanding field ("palliative care" is the umbrella term).
posted by julthumbscrew at 8:21 AM on October 15, 2010

Yes, home visiting! I bet you'd find that really rewarding.

Having seen one myself after my son was born, I can say I am in love with home visiting nurses. It seems like it'd be less stressful in that you're an active aid in recovery from something -- childbirth, surgery, etc. It'd be far more low key than your current job but would require your previous training to do.
posted by zizzle at 8:59 AM on October 15, 2010

I agree that nursing education is a good possibility. Do you have a Master's? It's required to teach at the community college where I work, but we are always looking for nursing instructors. To be blunt, teachers don't make as much money as nurses, so it's hard to recruit. The upshot is that the schedule can be flexible and the students tend to be very motivated.
posted by TrarNoir at 10:36 AM on October 15, 2010

If you're interested in a nine-to-five type of thing, I used to work in a healthcare consulting firm, and we eagerly employed nurses to answer questions over the phone about whether procedures were allowable or not. There must be tons of opportunities in insurance companies, other consultancies...
posted by Clambone at 10:38 AM on October 15, 2010

Home care could be a good fit, but there are some logistical considerations you might want to consider... my mom is a nurse who does primarily home care, but she's fixing to move back into a hospital setting. Most of her patients are long-term home care patients, usually people who are older and chronically ill. She's about your age, but she feels that she can't physically handle the home care for very much longer. As a home care nurse, you would have to:

1) Drive. A lot. Perhaps this isn't as big of an issue in an urban area, but if you're in a suburban or a rural area, you might have to cover a large territory. Over the past 20 or so years, my mom's caseload has consisted of patients spread over 3-5 COUNTIES. She usually drives 150-200 miles every day. This gets a bit sketchy in winter.

2) Carry many heavy things. Sometimes patients' driveways aren't paved. Sometimes their house is up a huge flight of stairs from the driveway. Sometimes they are bedridden and the bedroom isn't on the first floor. You have to be physically strong enough to carry all needed supplies to the patient.

3) Be able to move the patient by yourself. In theory, there should be someone to help you. In practice, sometimes you'll be on your own, responsible for turning over a 350-lb. patient with limited mobility without a Hoyer lift or any other mechanical assistance. My mom has had two hernia repair surgeries.

If you're a really healthy, strong, robust 55, you can probably handle it. If you're a not-so-healthy 55, it might not be the best idea.
posted by kataclysm at 11:30 AM on October 15, 2010

I seem to remember this being asked before and a top recommendation being "drug company rep".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:43 PM on October 15, 2010

It's not the same thing but I once met a woman who went from being a dental hygienist to a flight attendant at the same age as you. She was very happy with her decision and I thought it was pretty neat. If you're a people's person you might like it.
posted by cynicalidealist at 5:46 PM on October 15, 2010

How about "patient navigator"? might also be called medical advocate, care manager, or such. This is a developing field which helps patients deal with the medical system in various ways--appeals of insurance claim denials; quickly gathering and organizing medical research when hit with a scary diagnosis; coordinating communication among doctors. Your experience and communication skills would be a huge asset. You could be part-time and self-employed if you want.

Or, work in development of Electronic Medical Records.

Or, become expert in the many changes coming in the health insurance system, and be a consultant in that area. If your ambitions are large, you could get into legal work related to health insurance.

Good luck, and thanks for all those years as a nurse. Nurses are awesome.
posted by Corvid at 6:12 PM on October 15, 2010

Perhaps a move to the veterinary side of medicine would put the bounce back in your step. I've seen many successful later in life transitions from human to vet med, and without exception, they were all fantastic people who excelled in their work.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:42 PM on October 15, 2010

A friend who was tired of inpatient nursing became a school nurse and loves it. Busy in a different sort of way of course, but nice hours, ok pay and a workload that's challenging but not overwhelming.

Another works PRN at my unit and became certified for dialysis. She really enjoys that.

I dissagree with some earlier posters that hospice is an option since you mention feeling surrounded by illness at home and work. I'm in oncology and work with hospice a lot and it's hard emotionally. It's a branch of nursing that seems to have a specific draw for some folks - it is certainly not for all. If it's for you great - but often these patients are total or complex care which has a physical toll and burnout risk is greater then other fields of nursing.

Do you have tele monitering skills? There are more and more ICU's stepdowns and ERs using external monitering sites. You're sitting most of the day so the physical toll is certainly less.

Another friend works as a research RN where she manages and recruits patients for clinical trials.

I'll second outpatient clinics, nurse educator and home health as options. My friends who have moved to those fields like the work.

Go to your local professional nursing meetings and network to get ideas of what's going on locally.

Maybe check out or post at All Nurses.com for other ideas.

Good luck!
posted by dog food sugar at 8:25 PM on November 19, 2010

And if you're into wounds and ostomies you could get WOCN certification.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:27 PM on November 19, 2010

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