Nursing as a Second Career


joe gale-gem student

Accelerated programs at the baccalaureate and master’s levels are a growing trend in nursing education. These programs are geared toward those who have a degree in another field, and want to pursue nursing as a second career. Programs tend to be shorter than the typical four-year nursing degree, which appeals to more experienced students who would prefer to not devote four years to another degree.

Joe Gale decided to be a nurse after spending several years in the agricultural sector. He is currently enrolled in Rush University College of Nursing’s Generalist Entry Master’s(GEM) Program in Chicago, Illinois.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. Please include degrees earned, other schools attended, and any relevant credentials.

I was born and raised in Colorado, and my original degree was a bachelor’s in Soil and Crop Sciences and a minor in Organic Agriculture, from Colorado State University. I worked in the agricultural sector for a number of years after graduation, in everything from crop production to consulting and even agricultural research. It was during this time that I decided I needed to make a change. I started by earning my Red Card, which is the certification needed work as a wildland firefighter.

I then took a leap and left my research job to attend a National Outdoor Leadership School’s (NOLS) Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician course.  There I earned my EMT-B, after which I took a job as wildland firefighter on the eastern border of Washington state. I spent the season in one of the busiest districts for wildland fire in Washington and throughout my time there I discovered I enjoyed the medical side of the job more than fighting fire. So, after the season ended I returned to Colorado, earned my IV certification and began a job as an ER Tech. The ER Tech job allowed me to continually use my skills as an EMT while getting a broader look at medicine. This led me to want to become a nurse, so I enrolled in a local community college to earn my prerequisites, and started looking at nursing schools.

What advice would you give to aspiring nurses in terms of preparing for school?

In terms of advice for preparation for nursing school, I would say be aware of your ability to manage your time. Time management is key in nursing school; there always something going on or an assignment due and it doesn’t stop. This is true for academic assignments as well as your time during clinical assignments. Find a system that works well for you to stay on course.

When applying to school, make sure to do your research. Make sure the program you are looking to attend will suite you. Many schools require a host of different prerequisites courses and these prerequisites differ between programs. You can get lost in just taking courses to get into nursing school. So I would say take the time to find a handful of programs that you are excited about and work towards getting into those first. If those don’t work out then move on to the next round, and it might take a few rounds. It did for me. Don’t get discouraged and give up, just keep applying.

What did you wish you would have known before attending nursing school?

Nursing school courses teach you a way of thinking, and as a result the testing and assignments are a little different than your traditional science classes. There is less memorization of facts and more application of concepts.

What is the most challenging part of your program?

Honestly, it goes back to what I mentioned above in regards to time management. My program is an accelerated Master’s program for non-nurses. The coursework moves quickly and there is a lot of material covered. Staying on track and keeping up with all of the assignments was initially challenging. It had been awhile since my undergraduate degree and dropping back into a full time academic program took some adjustment. Once I found a way to better manage my time, things went much smoother.

What is the most enjoyable part of your program?

One of the most enjoyable parts of my program is being able to connect the material you learn in the classroom to the conditions you see in patients during clinical rotations. The learning material is very applicable and you start to be able to connect the dots between theory and patient presentation within the first week. Seeing these connections is what drives me to fully immerse myself in the material and become a better nurse.

What your typical week like?

Our weeks vary from semester to semester; the most current semester involves class Monday through Wednesday with both lecture and lab time. This is followed by an all day clinical assignment on Thursday. Friday through Sunday I spend studying for exams and catching up on clinical assignments. It worked out that we have an exam almost every week and a continuous rotation of assignments, so there is always something you can be working on. Going forward I know my program will have an additional day of the week spent in clinicals.

Why did you decide to pursue a GEM degree?

For me the decision to pursue a GEM degree was multifaceted. I applied to a variety of programs, ASN, BSN and MSN were all on the table for me. I eventually decided on the GEM degree because it offered me the most education and greatest value for my time. I have a bachelors and I didn’t necessarily want to return to school to earn a second bachelors, and then  find after five years of being in the industry I needed to return to school again for a master’s.  I wanted to continue with the upward progression of my education. Rush is a great university and the program is prestigious, it gives me a great education as an RN and will allow me to work in the field in whatever specialty I choose. The GEM program also sets the stage if you were to want to continue into advanced practice.

What skills or characteristics do you think are important for a nursing student to be successful?

I don’t want to sound like a broken record but time management is huge. Being able to properly manage your time and organize your priorities as a student is absolutely necessary. It is a skill that I also believe directly translates into being a good nurse. Also, being able to go with the flow and adapt to changing situations is extremely important. As a nursing student you have to be flexible in both your classroom assignments and in your clinicals, again in my mind this directly relatable to nursing.

Do you have any tips/strategies/hobbies for stress relief?

Firstly, make the time for it. There always seems to be something to get done for school. If you don’t make a conscious effort to take a break you can easily talk yourself into never taking one. Find something that you enjoy that allows you to decompress and take the time to do it. For me that has always been some sort of exercise and I try to find a point at least every day to get away from the books. Does it always happen? No. But even the act of cooking a good meal for myself allows me to mentally disengage from nursing school for a bit.

What do you plan to do with your degree when you graduate?

Once I earn my degree it is my plan to work for a few years as an RN and gain as much experience nursing as I can. My idea is that during this time I can evaluate if I wish to return to school to earn an advanced practice degree. Since deciding nursing was the route for me I have always had interest in becoming a Nurse Practitioner and hope that in working as an RN for a while will help me decide on an NP program.

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