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The Next Shift: Nothing worth having comes easy

Monday July 14, 2014
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The Next Shift is a new series of stories inspired by nurses and presented by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing's Future. Share your story at Nurse.com/Next-Shift.

Life has a habit of throwing us curveballs, and for nurses that can be especially true. But I’ve learned you need to adjust and keep swinging. And if you fail, use it as a tool to grow and get stronger.

Take my journey to nursing. I took the NCLEX in February 1986. After two days of testing hell, I waited six weeks for the results. I failed by 16 points. When I took the NCLEX again five months later, I froze — and failed for the second time. My nursing career seemed to fade away in that moment.

Instead of a nursing career, life handed me learning opportunities. What I wanted was to become a nurse, but what I needed was to grow. Taking on jobs in sales — furniture, cars, travel packages — I perfected my people skills. When 9-11 happened, I was working as a travel agent in New Jersey. We had clients on Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania, and people we knew lost family and friends in the Twin Towers. I felt the need to help out and I wanted to put my years of nursing education to use, but the two failed attempts made me afraid of more failure, even after this tragic time in history. I questioned whether I could do it, whether I was worthy of doing it or whether I was too old.

But finally, four years later and 19 years after my first NCLEX, I found myself sitting in front of a computer screen and taking the boards again — and this time I passed! The sense of accomplishment and excitement was overwhelming. I could hold my head high and say, “I’m a nurse.” I could start working in the profession that I had wanted since I tried on my neighbor’s nursing cap when I was 7 years old.

I started my nursing career on the night shift on a med/surg unit when I was 41 years old, and I never let fear hold me back for long again.

Looking back, starting as an RN in my 40s was the smart thing to do in my case. Patients saw the face of experience, and that took some of the fear out of patient care for me. Milestones happened more quickly for me after that. Within 2 1/2 years, I became the assistant director of the unit and, in 2008, I entered an MSN program. I was scared, excited and glad to be embarking on a new dream. When I graduated, I remembered the bumps in the road, but also the sense of accomplishment when I signed my name to my first patient chart as an RN. Looking back, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Life taught me that not everything you want is easy to attain, but it is worth the struggle if it is really what you want. Becoming an RN is a huge accomplishment, but a nursing career is not a cakewalk. You need to take on every challenge with confidence, and if you don’t know how to do something, then be ready to learn. It may take you awhile, the road may be bumpy, but you’ll get there and you’ll be a better person and nurse for the journey.


Stacie Stopen, RN, APN, FNP-BC, MSN, is a family nurse practitioner with EMA at Community Medical Center in Toms River, N.J. Post a comment below or email editor@nurse.com.