INDUSTRY
June 28, 2022

Going to Nursing School After 30 Is Worth It, Here Are 4 Success Stories To Prove It

Going to Nursing School After 30 Is Worth It, Here Are 4 Success Stories To Prove It
Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines News and Education Editor, MSN, RN, BA, CBC

Becoming a nurse can be one of the most rewarding but also one of the hardest accomplishments in one's life. These fascinating and amazing women all became nurses after 30 while raising families, and some even worked full time. Each had their own challenges and struggles both academically and professionally, but with hard work, dedication, a little help, and grace, each graduated from nursing school.

Nurse.org talked to each of these women about their journey, challenges, and triumphs in becoming a nurse. Here are their inspiring stories. 

Christina Croco 

Christina went back to nursing school at age 47 as a second career, she had worked as a licensed veterinary technician for 26 years prior.

What made you decide to go to nursing school or go back to nursing school at this stage in your life?

"I had always wanted to go into the medical field but in my early 20s fell into veterinary medicine along the way and loved it. I spent 26 years caring for animals as a licensed veterinary technician. I was getting ready to retire from that field and thought it would be a natural transition to start caring for people. I don’t like having regrets in life so I decided that now was the time to at least try for a nursing degree."

What were your biggest fears before making your decision to go to school?

"So many fears along the way! I was afraid to take a chance, afraid to fail, afraid I wasn’t smart enough, afraid to disappoint the people in my life, afraid I was too old at 47 to start over again, and afraid I would miss out on family time with my husband and kids. So many things!!"

What are the biggest challenges you face during nursing school?

"One of my biggest challenges was quitting my job and asking my husband to support the family so I could be a full-time student. Other challenges include time management and utilizing technology for online school during a pandemic."

What’s been the most unexpected challenge?

"My most unexpected challenge was having covid shut down my nursing program in the middle of my first semester and having to repeat. I should have graduated in December of 2021 instead of May of 2022. I was not happy."

How did you overcome those challenges? 

"I live by the rule that I cannot control what happens around me a lot of the time but I can control myself and how I react to those challenges. Positivity is everything! The silver lining to being held back a semester was becoming eligible to apply to a post licensure BSN program at Sonoma State University. I applied and was accepted so I am currently working on my BSN and will graduate in May 2023."

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What do you wish you had known before going back to school?

"I wish that I had done it sooner! That everything would be okay and that change is a good thing. It’s better to have tried than to never try at all. I swear that fear is our own worst enemy!"

What are your top tips for other nurses wanting to go to nursing school after 30?

"I would tell them to be gentle with themselves. If you were always an "A" student, for example, don’t beat yourself up when you don’t get A’s. Nursing school is hard and no employer is going to ask what grade you got in your MedSurg class. They want to know if you passed the NCLEX! I would also say be very organized, have the best support system you can, don’t worry about having a clean house, and it’s okay to ask for help. Your friends and family want you to succeed!"

What advice do you have for others who are thinking about going back to nursing school later in life?

"I would tell them they are good enough and age is just a number. Do not live your life in a box! Having life experiences as an older student is a valuable asset in becoming a successful, compassionate nurse and that everything they have done in life up to this point was for a reason."

What are your plans for your nursing career after graduation?

"Now that I have graduated from my ADN program at Santa Rosa Junior College, I am studying like crazy to take the NCLEX! I was hired directly into the ICU at a level 2 trauma hospital, which is my dream job. Once I complete my BSN, I hope to work at UCSF, another dream of mine, and then eventually give back to my community by becoming a nursing clinical instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College. I can’t wait for this next step of my life to begin and I whole-heartedly recommend going to nursing school for anyone who is thinking about it!"

Katherine Katafias

Katherine was pregnant twice during nursing school and gave birth to her first child during her second semester! Nursing is her second career, she worked in veterinary medicine for several years before deciding to pursue nursing. 

What made you decide to go to nursing school or go back to nursing school at this stage in your life?

"I worked in veterinary medicine for a few years prior to going back to school. I came into the medical field with little to no knowledge of most things medicine, other than some of the standard things that we learn about in high school. I immediately was fascinated by medicine and loved working in the vet field. That said, most positions in the vet field can be significantly limited and the pay is severely undercompensated. I decided to go back to nursing school to learn more about medicine and to explore the vast specialties that were involved in the field."

What were your biggest fears before making your decision to go to school?

"I think everyone fears failure the most when it comes to making the decision to go back to school. Not only did I fear failure and disappointing others, but I also feared the financial burden of school. I already had some hefty student loans from my first few years in college where I did not perform to the highest ability, so pursuing more schooling in an incredibly tough field was scary. I unfortunately can't afford to pay for school out of pocket, so knowing that I would have to take out more student loans was a huge decision for myself and my family."

What are the biggest challenges you face during nursing school?

"Finding the best method of studying and retaining knowledge. My first few years in college, I would study mainly using flash cards but this method did not work for me in nursing school. There is SO much information that is covered, that I would end up spending so much time just making the cards and not being able to take the time to focus enough to study them. The other aspect to this challenge was time management. Nursing school is HARD, and it can be easy to get it in your head that you should be studying every waking moment but that can be counterproductive and draining. Time management was a skill that definitely was used a lot in school, in the sense that taking the time for yourself is crucial. Taking breaks from studying to be with family, go for walks, eat healthy meals, etc."

What’s been the most unexpected challenge?

"A few weeks prior to starting my program, I found out that I was expecting my first child. This was definitely unexpected, but welcome. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for years and we finally were expecting our bundle of joy, but definitely at a more difficult time in our life. Not only was it a difficult time, but we had just moved 12+ hours away from most of our family, so we had minimal familial support available to help us. I decided to still pursue school, because I now had even more motivation to be successful. I gave birth via unplanned cesarean in my second semester, which fell in the same rotation as my OB/Peds rotation so everything I was learning was so relevant and is what led me to pursue Labor and Delivery (which was NOT what I originally had planned). I learned not only how to balance pregnancy in school, but also how to be a new mother in school. On top of that, I discovered in my last semester that I am now expecting our second child. Balancing two pregnancies, new motherhood and school was definitely the most unexpected challenge that I faced in nursing school."

How did you overcome those challenges? 

"I learned to lean on my support system. I've never been great at trying to share burdens and difficulties, but being a parent is a 50/50 job. My husband was my biggest supporter in school and would often watch our son for hours on end so I could study, take exams, go to class/clinical, etc. He supported us financially as well, as I did not work during school so I could focus on my studies and would watch our son while he was at work. In doing so, we were able to save on daycare costs and we both were able to spend quality time with our son. I also had a wonderful study group that adored my son and would often let him join our study sessions if I was unable to find child care for him. My family also supported me the best way they could from 12 hours away."

What do you wish you had known before going back to school?

"That you don't need all the fancy things to go back. So many people will tell you that you need the thousand dollar ipads and the expensive computers. What you need is the willingness and ability to learn. I loved printing out the powerpoints that were provided and writing notes on them. The fancy items are great if that's how you learn, but they're not necessary. Additionally, for those who are in financial tough spots, most schools have areas where you can rent your books, rent computers and will have additional resources to help assist you in success. Also, don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. It's SO hard to do, but you have to remember that some people are just great test takers and some are not. Some of the BEST nurses only made Cs in school and that's okay!"

What are your top tips for other nurses wanting to go to nursing school after 30?

"Learn what works best for you. Some people thrive in study groups and some people thrive in learning by themselves. You have to find what works best for you, because it's different for everyone. Additionally, lean on your professors and faculty. They want you to succeed, so making sure that you lean on them can make or break you. I would meet with professors every week, to go over my study guides and exam material to ensure I had the best chance of success. If I did poorly on an exam, I would set up meetings with my professors to see what I did wrong. I would also say to not let your age be a factor in your education. My study group was a huge range of ages, from 20 to early 40s. It allowed for a broader range of abilities and life experiences to be seen and heard."

What advice do you have for others who are thinking about going back to nursing school later in life?

"Just do it! You're never too old to go back to school. I personally loved going back to school later in my life. I tried to go to college straight out of high school and ended up performing so poorly. When I decided to go back, I came back with a 2.6 GPA and graduated nursing school with a secondary degree (Psychology concentration) with a 3.64 GPA, cum laude, president of Alpha Delta Nu of my chapter. I came back to school with much more discipline, work ethic and motivation. My other piece of advice is to not be afraid of community colleges. You learn the same material, oftentimes there are smaller classes and better hands on experiences and they're SO much cheaper."

What are your plans for your nursing career after graduation?

"I graduated May 27th and I have established a position in a residency program with Labor and Delivery mid July. I will work for a year or so and then go back to pursue my RN-BSN program online, after learning how to balance working full time with two under two. My long term goal is to go back and pursue my Nurse midwifery degree, to work as an CNM."

Heather Adamec

Heather went back to nursing school while raising her children. Prior to nursing, she worked as a Poker Dealer at a casino. She had to drop out during COVID lockdowns to care for her children. Heather re-enrolled in nursing school and recently graduated with a job lined up! 

What made you decide to go to nursing school or go back to nursing school at this stage in your life?

"I decided to go back to school because at the time I was working at the casino as a poker dealer and was just so unhappy with my career. I actually had a very special moment with a player (he was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was so depressed, so before his surgery I had my fellow coworkers/ regular players sign cards and gave him a dunkin donuts card, just a little something to cheer him up) and he made me realize that nursing was my passion and desire. I loved taking care of people and the medical field was so interesting."

What were your biggest fears before making your decision to go to school?

"My biggest fear was not getting into the program because the program I went to was very hard to get into. Also was balancing three children, my job, and school."

What are the biggest challenges you face during nursing school?

"Biggest challenge personally was balancing everything and then covid. No one really understood how I could study like a crazy woman and barely pass."

What’s been the most unexpected challenge?

"Covid happened and instantly I was at home with three children that had online learning just like myself. I struggled and I had to withdraw because I couldn't be a teacher to my kids and for myself."

How did you overcome those challenges? 

"Once I withdrew I cried for a few days and then started going over all the material I struggled with and decided I was going to be stronger and came back so much stronger."

What do you wish you had known before going back to school?

"That just because you don't have medical experience doesn't make you less prepared as a nurse. I have had so many compliments from nurses, doctors, and clinical instructors about how well I do. Believe in yourself and you are going to cry and not get the grade you want, but you will pass. The house will sometimes be a mess and the kids will eat chicken nuggets and frozen pizza and it will be okay."

What are your top tips for other nurses wanting to go to nursing school after 30?

"I would say because we have experienced life a little more than other students we can handle the ups and downs. Also find fellow students that are in your age group and make a study group. You can bring your kids, get pizza and all study and the kids will keep themselves busy."

What advice do you have for others who are thinking about going back to nursing school later in life?

"I say do it! Don't compare yourself to others and question why you are here now. Your journey is yours and we all have different chapters. I would look at others and think, "why am I not there yet?" Why? Well, because I was busy dealing with traumatic events and I was surviving. Once I was able to conquer those thoughts, I realized that I actually needed all those obstacles to see the beauty in the journey."

What are your plans for your nursing career after graduation?

"So, I have the NCLEX scheduled and the week after that I start at a local hospital. I am also enrolled in college to get my BSN and then will go further on to get my MSN. I would love in the future to be a clinical instructor or even a nursing professor mainly to show others over 30 we can do this and juggle life, kids, work, husbands and succeed. I say this all the time if I can do it, so can you."

Samantha Amstone 

Samantha pursued a nursing degree as her second degree - she had worked in the mental health field for a decade prior. 

What made you decide to go to nursing school or go back to nursing school at this stage in your life?

"I worked in the mental health field for 10 years, spending most of that time working with individuals that have severe and persistent mental illness. I loved working with these individuals but I noticed that they were often underserved regarding medical care. I started educating myself about different health conditions and medications so I could help my clients advocate for themselves. I realized that nursing was a great way for me to learn more and grow as a professional."

What were your biggest fears before making your decision to go to school? 

"I graduated college the first time around in 2007, so it had been quite a while since I'd been in a classroom. I was nervous about how rigorous school would be, how I would continue to work full-time, and how it would affect my family. My husband and I made the decision together, knowing that there would be sacrifices along the way but it would be for the greater good of our family."

What are the biggest challenges you face during nursing school?

"For me, the biggest challenge was time management. I registered for two classes each semester, but I didn't realize how much that would entail. Two classes means two lectures, 1-2 clinical days, and a lab. I was required to watch recorded lectures before actually attending lecture, in addition to completing readings and assignments. And let's not forget ATI practice exams, remediations, and proctored exams! Ultimately, I could not continue to work full-time and fulfill all of my obligations to school and my family. I ended up taking a casual PCT position at a local hospital, which worked with my school schedule."

What’s been the most unexpected challenge?

"Well, when I applied to nursing school we were not yet in a pandemic, but when I started in Fall 2020 the pandemic was in full force. This changed how the instructors delivered the content and we had to adapt to a brand new learning environment. This also meant we got less in-person clinical experience than previous cohorts and the hands-on clinical portion of school is arguably the most important part."

How did you overcome those challenges?

"I made the most of every clinical experience I was able to have. I also tried to connect what we were learning in class each week with the patients I was seeing at the hospital. It also helped when I took a job as a PCT and got to work side-by-side with nurses who were also adapting to pandemic protocols."

What do you wish you had known before going back to school?

 "I wish I knew how different nursing exams were from every other exam I had ever taken in college. I have always been a good student and did not struggle when I got my Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice in 2007. Nursing school required me to change my study style and really apply myself."

What are your top tips for other nurses wanting to go to nursing school after 30? 

  1. Figure out what kind of learner you are (auditory, visual, tactile) and find ways to incorporate that into your learning style.
  2. Use a physical planner/appointment book so you can schedule your assignments and other life obligations.
  3. Set healthy boundaries with friends/family members so you can adequately study for lecture/exams.

What advice do you have for others who are thinking about going back to nursing school later in life?

 "Don't wait! There is no time like the present! If you know this is what you want you will make it happen. It's not going to be easier just because you wait longer."

What are your plans for your nursing career after graduation? 

"I hope to start my nursing career in an observation/clinical decision unit where I know I will get to sharpen my assessment skills. I will also be going back to school for my BSN, as I just graduated from community college with my ADN."

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