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Start a Career in Nursing, At Any Age

  • August 12, 2022
  • 6 min read
Start a Career in Nursing, At Any Age

Regardless of your background or current job, it is possible to explore a new career at any age or life stage. If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, you may feel daunted by the credentials you’ll have to earn, and that’s a reasonable concern to have. You may find, however, that with many nursing programs available online and part-time, or as intensive, accelerated courses you can study over a short time, you really can take that first step towards qualifying as a nurse at any point in life.

What does a career in nursing involve?

As a registered nurse, you could end up working in a variety of settings, such as a hospital, physician’s office, specialist clinic, hospice or managed care facility. Your duties might include monitoring patients, administering medication, maintaining records, and carrying out various medical tests and procedures. Nurses can also specialize in a particular area such as pediatrics, gynecology, neonatology or gerontology.

Once you’ve qualified as a nurse, you can expect to need some ongoing training and professional development, and if you pursue your career path, you may end up pursuing further education in the field alongside your work. A career in nursing can be challenging but highly rewarding, with well over 90% of nurses reporting that they’re happy that they chose a career in nursing.

How do I qualify as a registered nurse?

Your route into nursing will depend on your current level of education and your circumstances, but you will almost certainly be able to fit studying a nursing program into your life, if you have the determination and motivation to do so.

The minimum amount of education required to become a registered nurse will also depend on the state you live in, with some states allowing you to start practicing with just an associate’s degree, while others will require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). States that allow you to practice as a registered nurse with just an associate’s degree include Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado and Florida. However, keep in mind that even in these states, individual employers often require a BSN, or at least prioritize those with a BSN in the hiring process.

Those nurses who do start their careers with just an associate’s degree often study to upgrade it to a BSN while working in the field, and many registered nurses go on to become nurse practitioners, which generally requires further study to obtain a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN). Another issue to be aware of is that your nursing license is issued by the state you qualify in, and not all states recognize a license obtained elsewhere. So, check the details of where your license is accepted if you are not planning to reside in the same state long-term.

You can study for a nursing degree online or in person, but for many people starting later in life, the online option will work well, allowing you to fit study around current work commitments, family obligations, or both. Just be aware that while many nursing programs are available with all coursework completed 100% online, you’ll also need to be available for clinical placements to complete your qualification.

What if I already have a degree?

Some people think that once they have a degree, their career path is pretty much set in stone. Understandably, many people don’t feel inclined to start another four-year degree, and commit to all the time, effort and expense involved, often while still paying off student loans from a previous degree.

With nursing, however, that may not be necessary. Some schools and online education providers are able to offer accelerated nursing degree programs to those who already have a bachelor’s degree. Baylor University, for example, offers accelerated BSN programs online that can be completed in as little as one year, if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing discipline.

Accelerated degree programs will depend on you having specific prerequisite credits, including some science courses, and some schools may have other entry requirements, so it might be the case that you have to take some extra courses to fulfill all the requirements for entry. However, it’s definitely a route worth looking into if you already have a degree.

What will I study?

Studying for a BSN will involve covering a range of topics such as anatomy and physiology, microbiology and pharmacology. You’ll cover medical and surgical nursing, acute care, and other related topics such as nutrition and mental health and wellbeing. Nursing programs can differ somewhat, both when it comes to the content studied and the way that you’re expected to cover each topic and be assessed on it – so check the program specifications carefully so that you know what you’re letting yourself in for.

Be aware of how you will study, as well as what. If you’re studying online, you can expect a mix of lecture-style classes and smaller, interactive, seminar-style classes. Also, remember that even if you are studying online, there will be some kind of practicum or clinical placement involved in order to get hands-on experience, and with some programs, you’ll also be expected to attend an on-campus residency, which might just be a short summer visit. When comparing programs, take a close look at all the details so that you can feel confident that you’ve picked a program that’s a good fit for you. 

Is it hard to get a BSN online?

Studying online has pros and cons over traditional study routes. While you’ll have more flexibility regarding how and when you study, you’ll also need extra motivation and excellent organization skills to stay productive while studying from home.

Online study suits some people better than others, but in terms of the actual topics you’ll be studying, online degrees cover the same material as any other degree, so getting a BSN online is not any harder or easier than going the traditional route. For those with a true passion for nursing and the motivation to work hard, an online degree is almost certainly within reach.