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Age no deterrent to those determined to become an RN later in life


After plying trades such as yoga instructor and massage therapist, 46-year-old Emily Navar decided her next career would combine all of her health-related interests.

“I’m someone who has done a lot of different things in my life by choice,” said Navar, who is in an accelerated BSN program at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore and plans to eventually get her MSN. “I feel like everything has kind of a symbiotic relationship with each other.”

Her life experience has strengthened her resolve to work as an advanced nurse practitioner for older adults “to keep people healthy as opposed to treating them when they are sick,” she said.

From career changers to first-time college undergraduates, students in their 40s, 50s and 60s say nursing allows them to marry their passion for helping others with a profession offering numerous possibilities and room to grow. Considered one of the most trusted jobs in the health system according to Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics survey, nursing also might appeal to older adults who have watched jobs disappear during a rocky economy and seek stable employment.

“Nurses are always going to be needed, and I think a lot of people enter for that reason,” said Gail Schoen Lemaire, RN, PhD, PMH/CNS, BC, CNL, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore.

Lemaire also is director of UMSON’s Clinical Nurse Leader program, a master’s degree option that provides a 16-, 21- or 23-month course of study for students with a baccalaureate degree in another field. “You never see half a class of people 50 and over; it’s a smaller proportion,” Lemaire said. “But we have had our share of older students, including some in their 60s.”

Just how many adults older than age 40 are attending nursing programs nationwide is unclear. Student age data is not collected by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, but anecdotally, it appears more older adults are switching to nursing for another career, said Robert Rosseter, an AACN spokesman.

“Accelerated programs are perfect vehicles for adults looking to transition since they build on previous learning experiences,” he said.

A random check of area nursing schools did not find any that are actively recruiting older students.

“They reach out to us and apply like any other students would,” said Nadine Marks, director of admissions and student services at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. Since 2008, older student enrollment has fluctuated between 1% and 3% with a high of 5% in 2009, she said. Last fall, 1% of students were 40 and older.

Expert advice

Older adults might have their children living with them, and they might be caregivers for older parents. Advantages for older students include relevant life skills, such as raising children, succeeding in a tough work situation and maturity.

“They are less concerned with people’s perceptions,” Lemaire said about older students. “The maturity helps in the interacting with other members of the healthcare profession. Young students may feel self-conscious and shy and it may be difficult to talk with a physician and other members of the healthcare team. They may have difficulty delegating responsibility. The older student brings a lot.”

Before older students apply, students and professors advise them to make a checklist of the advantages and disadvantages of returning to school; meet with faculty and other nurses and explore the different paths to enter the profession; attend open houses; and seek information online.

When returning to school, take time with your prerequisites, which are your starting point, Navar said.

“Many people think prerequisites are something you have to jump through, but they provide that base, especially if you’ve been out of school for a long time,” Navar said.

Being an older student is challenging, but Navar said she feels gratitude for things she may have overlooked when she was younger.

“I appreciate the opportunity to do this at this point in my life,” Navar said. “It’s rewarding.”

Robin Farmer is a freelance writer.


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