Should I start nursing studies at age 49?


Dear both Enrolled and Registered nurses,

I would love to receive feedback from nurses who started their profession at midlife and beyond. I’m an almost of 49 year old woman from Melbourne who has had unemployment issues on and off most of her life.

With the way the economy is going, it looks like nursing is the one of the only few viable professions that is strong in a recession economy. Am I crazy even to consider pursuing nursing at such a late stage of my life? By the time I qualified I’d be in my mid-fifties (if degree based) – then would I be able to cope emotionally / physically in such a demanding industry?

I have a close girlfriend who has been an enrolled nurse for over 15 years. She sees a lot of bullying amongst colleagues/medical staff. She works casually in a hospital pool to avoid such a scenario.

I’m open to hearing your feedback asap. Thanks, Patricia

Nurse Uncut adds: We covered some of these issues recently in Hazing – the hostile introduction of a new nurse


  1. I have just turned 50 and am in my first year of a nursing degree after a career in marketing. I had the same question as you. I can say that if you follow your heart, you won’t regret it, especially if you are academically strong, have a lot of life experience and have a bit of wisdom. I think if bullying is endemic in the nursing system, I expect to be bullied. My view is that I will cross that bridge if I come to it and because bullying is such an important health and safety issue, I will advocate as much as possible for a safe workplace and meanwhile try to improve my resilience – for the sake of the patients. I note in a recent reading that older “novice” nurses are more likely to experience deliberate humiliation in the workplace, but younger nurses are subject to worse bullying in other areas. I can recommend the rich life of nursing. The more that mature students can join forces and support each other, the more they can bring their wisdom and experience to a system that will benefit from fresh and diverse perspectives. I hope that helps.

  2. I say DO IT! I turned 50 in December last year and commenced my Diploma on Nursing in March this year. It’s a lot of work but I love it. I’m certainly not the oldest in my class of 16. I have just done my first 2 week placement in a hospital and was amazed at the number of nurses I met who had started their degree later in life. I worked with two nurses who didn’t graduate until their mid fifties. I did a Cert III in Aged Care online in a couple of months, so as to get casual work whilst I’m studying. The aged care facility I did my placement at gave me a job immediately. I work casually and my course is 2 days per week but I allow an extra day for assessments and studying. While the pay in aged care is really poor, being a casual and working weekends you can easily make up the shortfall in money. I did 1.5 years of my RN years ago but couldn’t continue due to family and financial commitments. I may possibly go on to do my RN or may not. If you haven’t studied for a while (or ever), most universities offer a course in university preparation and that often gives you direct entry into the degree. I say do it, you’re never, ever too old. And I like to keep in mind that by the time I retire, the government will have probably put the retirement age up to 75!

  3. Not many jobs. In Canberra lots of new grads cannot get work. Yet hospitals are still employing overseas nurses on 457 visas. Very poor culture. Lots of bullying by management. Very hard to avoid toxic culture. Need to be resilient. Hard to get support and change culture. I hope your experience is different.

  4. I completed my Bachelor of Nursing in 2014, completed my graduate year in 2015 and turned 60 on 8th July, I say go for it!

  5. I’ve been an EN for 6 years, previously a teacher and before that a hospital trained RN, graduating in 1982.
    Had been out of the loop too long to do re-entry so opted for EN to bring in a reasonable income. I am hoping to return to finish my RNs (again lol) next year through Uni. I have just turned 57.
    I hope to go into EN education.
    Go for it sweets!

  6. I am 42. I’ve just completed my first semester of a Bachelor of Nursing Science. Yay, I passed! I’m not the oldest by far. I did my placement last semester and everyone at the hospital was so supportive and both patients and staff commented they’d rather have someone older to look after them. The doctors looked the same age as my kids! We are appreciated for our life skills and understand life in a way that a twenty year old graduate never would. Follow your heart and dreams xx

  7. Hello Sharon and Christine, Thank you so much for sharing your valuable journeys and experiences. Frankly I did do a volunteer day of nursing about 10 years ago at an aged care facility and really couldn’t even finish the day. Looking back I think I’m not cut out for nursing. I also completed a Cert 4 in Disability and did only a few shifts but found it confronting dealing with the personal care work (changing pads and dealing with faeces) which is the primary care of nursing. I do honour all nurses and their huge contribution to humankind and the community. Nurses are very special people and I commend them genuinely. I know the nurses who are passionate enjoy it – it does offer great pay and personal rewards. I guess it will always be a recession-proof industry.

  8. I commenced my nursing degree at the age of 46 and although the academic work was straightforward, getting into practicals was a nightmare. (I was based in Sydney and had to compete with international students and younger students, who were given priority). I graduated and could not get a job in any of the major hospitals in Sydney, so moved to a rural area where I am working in a public hospital.
    Bullying is rife and I have suffered a great deal of humiliation by management and younger staff alike. One “older” nurse told me I have come into nursing at the wrong end and I should be thinking of retirement, not learning new skills.

  9. I have started Div 2 nursing studies at the age of 39. After almost twenty years in finance and insurance, I needed a change. I am loving studying and learning all about the health professions. I can link it in with my insurance background, as there is health insurance. I say age is not a factor in this profession. In fact, the more mature you are and the more life experience you have, the better. In some ways I wonder what it would have been like if I studied nursing at 18. I don’t think I would have appreciated the training as much as I do now. Go for it!

  10. Good on you for doing nursing in later years BUT be aware there is a culture in certain hospitals discriminating against the older nurse, as in areas outside of nursing.
    We are not valued for our experience, we are being questioned on our ability and being forced out of nursing or trying to find positions elsewhere due to harrassment from admin.
    Also being an older new graduate, people assume you are experienced, not realising you are a new graduate.
    Nursing is very different these days, gone is the basic nursing care.
    Good luck.

  11. I completed my RN degree two years ago at the age of 51. It’s the best thing I ever did. As for feeling confronted by some of the nursing situations, who said you have to do rest home or hospital nursing? There are also plenty of nurses in primary care settings. I am an occupational health nurse and love it. Good luck whatever you decide Patricia. Take care.

  12. Nursing is a very hard job which can be rewarding at times and hell at other times. You can be left out of cliquey groups if you’re rostered on with them and it does make it harder to get help when you need it. I find I just have to get through the shift as best I can. It is not an ideal way to work. If I could afford to quit I would. No matter what others experience you should do what you feel is right. Good luck.

  13. I have tried to find an online forum or Facebook page for older nursing students – can you imagine reading a book by oldies who have re-careered, about their experiences as student, novice, expert etc? There is a book called “I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started”, of personal tales about the transition to nursing generally, but I would love to read the stories of older people going into nursing, their backgrounds, why they made the change, what they have experienced. If you know of any Older Nursing Student forums, please post a link.

    Anyway, I have really enjoyed the discussion on this, so thanks Patricia for starting the forum. Does anyone else have stories to share?

    For inspiration, a friend of mine who graduated as a registered nurse at age 51 and is now in palliative said to me, to remind me to be proud: “Never forget who you are and where you have come from”. And there is also the excellent Jim Rohn quote that I refer to frequently: ‘Whatever good things we build, end up building us.’

    Best wishes, Christine

    • Thanks for the offer – I am planning a reflection about it, and will share it if it seems readable and relevant. 🙂

  14. I started nursing at uni at the same age you are and am happily working still at 61. There is so much work available at my hospital, my age does not seem to matter. I have a lovely ward to work in and have found no bullying or discrimination.
    The first lecture I went to at uni, I looked to see if I was the oldest. I wasn’t and maybe 2/3 of the group were mature aged students. I now work with lots of those mature aged students and we are all pretty happy with our jobs. Good luck.

  15. You go girl! I started my bachelor of nursing when I was 44 and juggled full time study with being a single mum and passed with distinction. I then went on to complete my masters. You are never too old. If your heart is in it, you will make it work. Your life experience will go in your favour. Don’t forget to look “outside the square” when looking for the best degree for you. I chose a smaller private university who were helpful and supportive and so I was not just a number. Don’t forget that nursing is a varied field and has so much more to offer older graduates. I was concerned with the physicality of ward nursing and found that my strengths lay in mental health nursing. I love it. It is my passion. Go girl!

  16. Hi, at our age I think you’re never too old to learn although it is always challenging. I’ve worked as an Enrolled Nurse for the past 15 years and I love it. I work on a surgical ward which is always challenging. Nursing always has a lot to offer, give it a go.

  17. It’s a system challenge. I graduated at 47 years old.
    Bullying you’ll manage if you’ve fought this far. Know the legislation of what constitutes bullying. Address the problem in writing (being offended does not constitute bullying), provide documented evidence of doctor visits related to said bullying, send a copy to your NUM, DON and HR. Three times, same person, same problem. NEVER negotiate with the DON by yourself, they will try to water down the problem, being part of the problem themselves. Take your union rep.

  18. ITs the best thing you will ever do. I walked out of university yesterday for the last time, after studying part time for 4 years. Next month I will be handed my degree. And me? I am 51.


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