‘I started my nursing degree aged 50’

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Lorraine is 56 and just finished her new grad rotations as a registered nurse. Being an ‘old new’ nurse sometimes has its downside but she absolutely loves nursing.

I started my nursing degree in 2010 at the ripe old age of 50. I studied part time (and worked fulltime), so it took me six years.

My medical background revolved around first aid/pre-hospital care. I was a volunteer for St John Ambulance Australia for over 20 years and taught first aid as a staff member for 25 years. Then I worked for four years at a private ambulance company as a paramedic. I was about to start my Paramedical degree when I looked harder at the employment opportunities. Even though I loved paramedical work, I was 50 years old and there was only one direction this degree could take me. But if I did a nursing degree the various employment opportunities were endless.

Having a Certificate IV (in training and assessment) gave me the opportunity to apply for uni.

As I still had a family to support, I worked as a clerk at a major hospital in Sydney from midnight to 0800. I would take my kids to school, then go to uni, attend classes, lectures or just spend time in the library studying. Then I would pick the kids up, prepare meals, then sleep from about 1700 to 2300, then do it all over again. I was blessed to have a very supportive family (especially during my many tantrums, self-doubt and crying episodes).

I found the study interesting though sometimes it took a while to sink into my brain. I am a very slow reader so it took me longer to do tasks and I had to work really hard. Although saying that, my average marks were credits and distinctions and one high distinction, which surprised me considering I left school in 4th form (equivalent to year 10) with an average mark for maths and below average for English.

During my new grad year, I had a mixture of experiences. Some staff expected me to be much more experienced and knowledgeable due to my age, some blatantly said I was nuts to change career at my age, but once I explained that I was an ‘old new’ student, the majority were very supportive. No matter what profession you are in or what company you work for, you are always going to find this mixture of personalities.

I had no previous nursing experience, prehospital care is entirely different, and I was a bit slower on the uptake than the younger newbies, but I was determined to hold my head up high and work hard to get through this as I really love nursing.

I have had great feedback from patients and their families as, due to my own personal experiences, I can relate and be empathetic to them. I know what it’s like to be on the other side – the uncertainty, lack of understanding and the feeling you are being kept in the dark – so I take the time (not too long) to quickly explain and keep them up to date.

If I could do it all again, the main thing I would change would be to work as a casual AIN while studying. This would have helped so much by not only giving me nursing experience, but would have helped with studies, adapting more quickly to the hospital environment and be accustomed to the workloads and prioritising.

Previously on Nurse Uncut:

7 COMMENTS

  1. I am a retired RN of 2 years. I had a wonderful RN life. I spent 46 years nursing & our group had their 50 year reunion 18 months ago.
    I was hospital trained in country Victoria & did my Nursing degree Post registration, 25 years after training. I have worked as a Midwife & also a Maternal & Child Health Nurse. The last 5 years I was an evening supervisor in a 90 bed Aged care facility. I became concerned with Government funding to Aged care.
    Kind regards, Sue

  2. Well done Lorraine. You have the passion, the life experiences and so much to bring on board. Well done! Don’t doubt yourself as what you can offer and do is just what this industry needs. Also I would love to see our Government encouraging and supporting people like yourself into this industry. We need more Lorraines but need more support for people like yourself. Congratulations.

  3. I like to refer to us as mature rather than old. There needs to be more of us mature folk stepping out and bring our wealth of life experience” to the floor. Well done!

  4. I read Lorraine’s story with great interest. Congratulations to you, Lorraine, and all the others who have launched into nursing at a mature age. I was 55 when I came back to the profession, now working as a Clinical Nurse Educator. Couldn’t be happier.
    As a university placement supervisor, also, I see mature people venturing onto this career path with passion, life experience and a desire to help others with care, compassion and professionalism. Patients will be better off with mature-age students becoming Registered and Enrolled Nurses who show empathy, understand the legal and professional boundaries and are really willing to work hard to achieve their dreams. Thanks also to the supportive families.

  5. I’m an older ‘new’ nurse, just finished my grad year at 52. The hardest thing I find is because of my age people assume I’m experienced and have been a nurse all my working life. Once they know I’m new to the profession, almost everyone is very supportive and helpful.

  6. Thanks so much for your article, Lorraine. I am 51 and wanting to go back to nursing, having trained in the hospital based system in the 1980s and worked as an RN for a few years after that, but not for at least 25 years. I’ve been feeling the call to return to it for a few years and can’t ignore it any more. I’m struggling with doubts about my age and whether I should do a diploma for EN because it’s shorter or degree for RN, which is what I’d prefer. I’m currently doing a uni prep skills course via distance through CQU with the aim of starting the degree next year. I’d love to have a crack at doing it full-time since a lot of it won’t be new to me – part-time for 6 years is a long time. Whatever I choose, you’ve given me hope! Wish me luck.

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