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Nurses Share Their Advice for Starting a Nursing Career After 40

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Nursing isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s considered one of the most dangerous positions in the country with high rates of burnout, anxiety, and fatigue. Like many industries, nursing is often seen as a young person’s game, but plenty of people don’t get into nursing until they are in their late 30s or early 40s. The COVID-19 pandemic also upended the labor market, which led to what’s known as the Great Resignation. Millions of people are changing careers and exploring new opportunities in search of better pay, greater autonomy, and more meaningful lines of work.

The U.S. also needs nurses. Anyone with a nursing degree and a clean record should be able to find a job just about anywhere in the country. But breaking into the field after a certain age is easier said than done. Here’s what existing nurses have to say about starting a career after 40:

I graduated nursing school at 50 years old. NEVER GIVE UP! You can do it, don’t let anyone tell you not to!!

Gloria

I was in nursing 50 years, many different positions because my husband was transferred frequently but wherever we were I was able to work, hospitals, nursing homes, clinics. Public health, OB units, military hospital. I don’t regret 1 minute, some areas I liked more than others of course. I realize things are different now, but it still can be what you want of it. Go for it, nurses are needed, you’ll find where you belong.

Maire

I was 42. It was THE BEST 2 yrs of my life! I had so much fun! I’ve been a nurse for 19 years and love it!!! You are never too old!!

Lila

If you are not physically fit, mentally sharp as a tact and have empathy/compassion in abundance, don’t. Nursing is physically, mentally, and quite frequently, emotionally exhausting. It is also very rewarding. Evaluate your decision as to why nursing is your choice and go from there.

Freda

I just retired a year ago, if I had it to do over knowing what I know now, I would steer far away from the medical field. It’s a job where you work your butt off, you never get proper rest, you are not appreciated for what you do, you will work with a bunch of very young backbiting girls, the pay is ok but not comparable to the work you put in, you will be put into unsafe situations and then be told you’re not a team player if you call them out on it. I could go on and on but just look at all your options before you invest too much time.

Pamela

40? Retire at 68…that’s a 28-year career. With your life experience and maturity, it will help protect you to a certain degree. As long as you are in good physical and mental health, and you are not caring for elderly patients or children under 18 years of age, you could cut it as many others have.

I retired last year after 37years. I will admit, I couldn’t hack it the way nurse training is now. I was taught in a school of nursing attached to a country hospital and got paid a wage during my training…back in the early 1980’s. Totally different to now. But I ruined my back with the lifts we did, but now you have hoists and other lifting equipment available.

If it’s what you want to do, if you have family support, if your heart is set on it, then do it. Try to ensure a work-life balance. Or your mental health will suffer. Good luck and I wish you all the very best.

Jayne

I hear nurses complain daily about the stress and lack of appreciation, and none of them would change what they do. If nursing is your calling, you will find victories every day. I don’t work a shift that a patient doesn’t say ‘thank you for taking care of me’. I started nursing in my late thirties after teaching junior high. I’m older, wiser, and I still love my profession. My advice is to go for it. There are many types of nursing. You’ll find your fit.

Diana

26 years as a paramedic. I went to nursing school at 52. I would say do it!!!! You can work anywhere, and you will always have a job. I’m 62 still kicking it as an RN. I went the ER route to begin with since I had been in emergency medicine for so many years. I wish I had done it sooner!!!

Andrea

Stay humble and learn, learn, learn. Your life experiences will help with your study ethic as well as your interactions with patients and coworkers. Always be willing to lend a hand and never find yourself saying that’s not my job. When anyone asks for help, be there. And know that not a day goes by in the profession when you won’t learn something. I’ve been a nurse for a long time and I learn every day.

Jim

You have to understand that it’s been a pretty awful past couple of years for nurses (more than usual). Stop and ask yourself why you want to do nursing. It’s really not for the faint of heart. While people see nurses as sweet, loving, kind, empathetic. You also have to have a tough skin and not just for the patients but for family, management, doctors, and generally coworkers.

Lisa

My advice would be to not limit yourself to one aspect or specialty. I have been a pediatric nurse for almost 20 years and still love it. Battle burnout daily. Be aware of it. If you dread going to work, it’s the workplace not the job. Find another position. Possibilities are endless. Stay passionate about it 🙂. Good luck.

Yannira

I went back to RN school when I was 50 with 2 kids in high school divorced. At that time, it’s what I wanted. I worked ICU but the real reward was my 15 years with hospice. Families are so grateful. Healthcare is not what it used to be. I retired and am glad.

Lori

I started school at 44 and graduated at 49. Needed to take all pre reqs and co reqs, only got 1 C, and all other grades A’s and B’s. Best decision ever, never looked back. Loved every minute of school and am a damn good nurse. DO IT.

Patti

Go to work as a CNA first! I’m a firm believer that all Nurses should work as a CNA 1st to appreciate and respect the hard work that aides do which then allows a nurse to do her/his job.

Delynn

I raised my kids first then went to school for nursing at 40! Best decision I ever made. Best of luck and god bless you for choosing such a noble profession.

Karen

Thanks to everyone who shared their advice online. 

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