How to Become a Nurse Mid-Career

Shifting from a different career to nursing is easier than ever

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Kathy Mills is the dean of Finger Lakes Health College of Nursing and Health Sciences and director of Marion S. Whelan School of Practical Nursing.

After 10 years working in education in Buffalo City Schools, James Hill was looking for a change.

He had always wanted a career that involves helping others.

He filled that desire by becoming a nurse. Hill currently serves as an assistant nurse manager for ambulatory psychiatry at UR Medicine Mental Health & Wellness.

“My main goal in life is to help other people,” Hill said. “I figured nursing was a great option. I also appreciated the flexibility that nursing offered. The world is your oyster. There are many different hats you can wear as a nurse.

“My ultimate goal in life is to be a great father and husband. I don’t want my career to get in the way of my roles as a father and husband.”

Since Hill needed to contribute to his household income while going to nursing school, he initially worked part-time as a nurse’s aide at a hospital while attending a local community college part-time to complete a few prerequisites. An accelerated class at Niagara University enabled him to graduate with a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) in 2016, a year after beginning the program.

Hill is currently completing his master’s degree in clinical nurse leader at the University of Rochester School of Nursing.

In a way, his pursuit of a medical career brings his education full circle. Hill had initially enrolled at Canisius University in Buffalo in a premed program, but he had heard that it’s difficult practicing medicine while raising a family. Family — this time, his originating family — also influenced his life and career, as he and wife, Maria, moved back to Rochester to live closer to relatives.

“I’ve loved my nursing career,” Hill said. “I decided to get into psychiatric nursing, as a lot of skills and strategies I used as a special education teacher transferred to psychiatric nursing.”

The biggest adjustment initially was the schedule, going from Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to a schedule that’s “all over the place,” Hill said. “A lot of the skills and strategies working with students were similar in working with patients in a psychiatric setting.”

Making the segue from non-medical career into nursing relies heavily upon the educational opportunities offered by nursing schools. That’s a topic often on the mind of Kathy Mills, registered nurse and dean of Finger Lakes Health College of Nursing and Health Sciences and director of Marion S. Whelan School of Practical Nursing.

In addition to standard daytime classes, Finger Lakes Health College offers RN program classes in the evening with clinical hours on Saturdays to help people who are currently working to complete their degrees. The program requires students to attend classes on campus two days a week. Many of the prerequisite classes are available online, but the core nursing classes require in-person attendance.

For the remote classes, “all the lectures are recorded online so they get that the week before they come to class,” Mills said. “Then we do a learning activity, so we know they understand it. Like I do a lecture on physical assessment and in class, they can demonstrate on each other. We try to cover all the levels of students, those who learn by hearing or tactile. And we have texts for the reading learner.”

“It’s really focused for the adult learner,” Mills added. “That’s what we focused on when we developed it: the adult learner. That was the true intent for the RN degree.”

Clinic days last 10 hours. The associate program takes four, 15-week semesters to complete.

It’s not easy to complete a nursing degree while working. However, Hill advises those interested to follow your passion: “Ultimately, I made the career change for myself, as much as I like to help people. Nursing offered me the opportunity to help people, whether working at the bedside to help people or in other aeras. If you feel stuck in your career and you feel working in nursing would bring you more joy, pursue that. In the end, the whole journey was worth it.”