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second career nurse

It’s never too late: Tales from a second-career nurse

By: By Melissa J. Dolan, BSN, RN

As a second career nurse, I have life experiences to thank for nudging me in the direction of caring for others in their most vulnerable time of need. Through this, navigating the healthcare education environment became somewhat of a personal mission. The idea of nursing as my next profession spun off from the birth of my second child who happened to be born with a serious chronic medical condition (are any not serious?). To treat my burgeoning uncontrolled anxiety of not knowing how to properly care for my newborn son, the perfect prescription seemed to be learning…and learning…and learning more.

Immediately after his birth, I asked my nurse for brochures on his condition. (It was 2004, so a portable laptop was not readily available for me to browse the Internet). The staff worried that giving me more information while I was recovering from a c-section would impede my progress. I assured them it would not. My nurse was sweet and indulged this newly focused mother with printouts, pamphlets, and names of organizations for me to read while I was in the hospital.

After discharge, I stayed behind to look after my son in the ICU. “You should go home and get some rest,” the nurses would say.  And, “We’ll take good care of him. He’s sleeping, so this is your time to get some sleep too.” I knew they were right, and that they cared about our family, but my heart wouldn’t let me leave his vicinity. I needed to at least attempt to absorb any ounce of the expert care they gently provided to him.  My learning continued.

In the following months and years, like any parent who wants to give their child the world, I strove to be the best mother I could be. This feeling of motherly ambition is no different from any other mother of course. It’s just that I came to understand that my growth seemed to require more reading than most and led me to want to know more.

To begin my journey, I registered at the local community college to take nursing prerequisite courses (this was before online courses was the norm): medical terminology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and more — all the “fun” basics. I next applied to the college’s ASN program, and to my surprise and delight, was accepted.  Once I obtained my RN license, I worked in an inpatient adult oncology unit.  After a few years of practice as a hospital floor nurse, I enrolled in a BSN program.  From here I moved to primary care nursing and really enjoyed getting to know patients on a different level.  Finally, I rolled the dice, took the GRE, applied, and was accepted into the University of Florida Doctor of Nursing Practice Program.

Now it’s 2021. I’m 46 years old and almost finished with my doctorate degree in family practice. I started this educational odyssey as a worried mother and am concluding as an increasingly confident APRN soon to be FNP-BC. The reason I tell this story is to offer encouragement to anyone who has ever thought, “it’s too late to go back to school”. It most certainly is not.

Looking back on these years there have been moments of personal sacrifice I will treasure with pride. Oh, and my son? He is a thriving 11th grader who wants to go to college to become a sports broadcaster.

Cheers and happy holidays from a thankful mom, nurse, and soon to be doctor.

Melissa J. Dolan is a DNP student at the University of Florida.

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