How to Become a Nurse Later in Life 

older nurse with patient

Embarking on a career in the nursing field later in life is an inspiring journey that many individuals choose to undertake. Whether it’s a personal passion or a long-held dream, it’s never too late to pursue a fulfilling career in healthcare. In this guide, we will answer the most common questions asked by those starting a nursing career later in life. 

Do I Really Want to Become a Nurse? 

The first step in becoming a nurse is ensuring you want to pursue this career. Is it a lifelong passion, a desire for a meaningful career change, or a newfound interest? 

It’s important to note that nursing and medicine are distinct fields. Be careful if you’re considering shifting your aspiration from becoming a doctor to a nurse. Ask yourself if your passion lies specifically in nursing, or if your interest is more broadly in the healthcare sector. There are numerous medical careers that offer patient interaction without the necessity of weekend or night shifts. 

Will I Be Able to Find a Nursing Job? 

While there are no guarantees, the prospects for employment in nursing are promising. With an aging global population, escalating healthcare expenses, and an increasing demand for home care, hospice services, and outpatient care centers, the need for competent, skilled, and dedicated nurses is on the rise. 

According to projections by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses is expected to increase by 6% by the year 2032, with an estimated 193,100 job openings anticipated annually. A significant portion of these openings is likely to emerge because of the need to fill positions vacated by retiring professionals. 

Am I Too Old to Become a Nurse? 

If you can manage the physical responsibilities that come with nursing, age should not be a barrier to pursuing a career in nursing later in life. It’s not uncommon for individuals to enter the nursing profession in their 30s, 40s, or even 50s. Consider that the time you’d spend studying in nursing school will pass regardless; having a degree at the end of it could be a significant advantage. 

The growing number of older, non-traditional nursing students is a testament to the fact that there’s no set age limit for entering the nursing field, affirming that it’s never too late to start. 

How Long Does it Take to Switch to a Nursing Career? 

The duration of your nursing education will vary based on the program selected. For instance, an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program is designed to compress the standard nursing curriculum, allowing it to be finished within approximately 14-16 months through full-time study. Nonetheless, the time frame may extend beyond this estimate depending on various factors. 

Can I Work During Nursing School? 

If full-time study isn’t feasible due to work or family commitments, you might want to explore a part-time nursing program. Many nursing schools provide part-time or evening tracks to fit the schedules of those with other responsibilities. Online nursing programs can also be a flexible option, allowing you to undertake a significant portion of your studies remotely and on a schedule that suits you. Some of these online programs even offer self-paced learning, enabling you to move through the curriculum more slowly or quickly than the standard academic semester. 

However, it’s crucial to remember that regardless of the program format, you will be required to fulfill hands-on skills and laboratory components in person, either at your educational institution or a local healthcare facility like a hospital or clinic. 

Can I Afford Nursing School? 

The expenses associated with various nursing degree programs can vary widely, with the cost of an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) starting around $7,000 and escalating to over $300,000 for advanced graduate nursing degrees. 

Both first-time students and adult learners considering a career change into healthcare should diligently investigate the array of available scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities. A number of educational institutions and entities provide financial support tailored to individuals transitioning into the healthcare field. 

How Do I Get into Nursing School? 

Initiating your journey to nursing school begins with an in-depth look into the program you’re interested in. Many nursing schools mandate that candidates sit for an entry examination like the TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills)

Compile all necessary documents for your application, such as academic transcripts, endorsements, and a personal essay. Highlight any skills and life experiences that distinguish you as an exceptional applicant. 

Additionally, certain nursing programs might ask for recommendation letters from teachers or industry professionals who can attest to your competencies and personal qualities. 

What Nursing Prerequisites Do I Need?  

If you hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field from an accredited institution, you can transition to a nursing career via an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. Keep in mind that the prerequisites for these programs differ from one school to another, so it’s a good idea to consult with admissions counselors from various programs to see which of your completed courses may count towards a nursing degree. Depending on the program’s criteria, you might have the opportunity to fulfill your prerequisite courses online or at another accredited school, like a community college, which can be both convenient and cost-effective. 

While the specific required courses vary by program, the following is a general list of prerequisites typically needed for nursing school: 

  • High School Diploma or GED: 
    • Most nursing programs require a high school diploma or equivalent. 
  • College-Level Courses: 
    • Completion of college-level courses, often with a minimum GPA requirement. 
  • Basic Science Courses: 
    • Anatomy and Physiology: Typically two semesters with labs 
    • Microbiology: One semester with lab 
    • Chemistry: Basic chemistry course with lab 
  • Mathematics: 
    • Basic math proficiency is usually required. Some programs may require a college-level math course. 
  • English: 
    • English Composition: One or two semesters of college-level English composition. 
  • Social Sciences: 
    • Courses in psychology and sociology may be required or recommended. 
  • Clinical Prerequisites: 
    • Some nursing programs may require a certain number of clinical hours or experience in healthcare settings. 

What Nursing Program is Right for Me? 

Enrolling in nursing school starts with enrolling in the program best fit for a student’s educational level and nursing career goals. 

Common programs include: 

  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN): The Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program offers flexible part-time or full-time study options for individuals aiming to qualify as registered nurses. The degree can typically be obtained in as little as twenty months through part-time attendance, or in an even shorter period if pursued on a full-time basis. 
  • Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN): The Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) is designed for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. These intensive programs enable full-time students to graduate in as little as sixteen months, allowing them to swiftly obtain licensure as registered nurses and enter the healthcare workforce. The ABSN is a highly sought-after route for adult learners who decide to pursue a nursing career later in their professional journey. 
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program that, like the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing, prepares graduates for a career as a registered nurse. Those who earn a BSN often find they have a broader range of career prospects compared to individuals with an associate degree in nursing. 
  • Should an ABSN program not align with your needs, the fastest alternative for transitioning into nursing as a second career is to pursue a Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) qualification via an accredited practical nursing certificate program, typically around one year in duration. Additionally, aspiring nurses have the option to obtain an associate degree in nursing, which requires approximately 2-3 years to complete. 

The specific coursework may differ depending on the institution and the program chosen, but applicants should anticipate engaging in practical skill-building and taking part in simulation laboratories. Additionally, acquiring real-world experience through clinical practice at nearby healthcare establishments is a necessary component of your training. 

Embarking on a nursing career later in life is a rewarding endeavor that requires careful planning and dedication. By following these steps and staying committed to your goals, you can overcome challenges and achieve success in the healthcare field. Remember, it’s never too late to pursue your passion for making a positive impact on the lives of others through a fulfilling career in nursing. 

The writing staff at BoardVitals is passionate about medicine, healthcare, and education. We’ve trained over 1.5 million physicians and work with more than 300 top teaching institutions. Learn more about our board review and continuing education products at

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