I am a second-career RN who took an unconventional path into the nursing profession.
I began my first post-college career as a medical device sales representative selling medical equipment to hospital operating rooms. Then after nearly ten years in the business, I decided to go back to college and earn a Bachelor of Science in nursing.
I hear about nurses becoming second-career medical device or pharma reps all the time. But I have never known anyone who worked in medical device sales and then went back to college for a nursing degree. Not once.
Here is my journey from budding journalist, to corporate sales manager, to nurse – and the lessons that I have learned along the way.
As a young college grad, my priority was making money.
After graduating with a BA in Journalism in 1999, I was ready to start making money. After all, I was broke and tired of being poor. I was also passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, so a sales job in the healthcare field seemed like a natural fit.
Throughout my decade career in sales, I worked for a Fortune 500 company and a few startups. I covered vast territories and at one point even spent almost an entire year living out of a hotel. It was a lot of hard work, but the money was there.
But I got better every year, despite a gnawing feeling that my calling was somewhere else. My twenties flew by before my eyes.
One day after a lot of soul searching, I finally decided to go back to school and earn a BSN. My sales counterparts couldn’t believe I would leave the medical device industry after what most would consider a very financially successful career. I tried to explain the best I could – that I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. And medical sales just wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
At 22, my priority was making money. I knew if I worked hard in medical device sales I could earn more then most college grads my age.
I wanted to jump into procedures as a part of the medical team.
Even though I wasn’t an actual healthcare professional at the time, I got to work in hospital operating rooms and observe almost every kind of surgery. It was through those experiences that I learned I wanted to be more genuinely clinical – instead of just repeating a sales pitch with each new physician who gave me the time of day.
More specifically, I wanted to jump into the procedures where I was selling products and be a part of the medical team. Not sit and wait on the sidelines for hours until they used the product I was selling (if they used it at all).
More importantly though, I was continually drawn to help people and learn life-saving clinical skills. I was tired of going home every day feeling as if I wasn’t doing enough with my life to make the world better.
Sounds a little cliche, I know. But this little voice in my head kept telling me that one day all I was going to say about my life was that I was a “salesperson.” And I wanted more than that.
So one day, l quit my career and went back to school to earn my RN.
Nursing school is the hardest thing I have ever done in my professional life.
I paid my way through my nursing prerequisites and another college degree. And let me tell you – college is so much more expensive now then it was in 2000. I was lucky that I had significant savings from my prior career to help get me through.
In addition, I also worked as a bartender at night – sometimes until midnight – and then had to be at a clinical rotation by 0700 the next morning. I studied nonstop for three years. Nursing school was so much harder than medical sales, or my first college degree, for that matter. I didn’t even know school could be that hard.
Still, I pressed on, feeling like I was going to get kicked out at any moment for failing a test (and 1/4 of my cohort did get kicked out, its a miracle I wasn’t in that group). To this day, nursing school is the most challenging thing I have ever done in my professional life.
This photo was taken at my first clinical rotation in nursing school.
I worked as a Certified Nurses Assistant in nursing school.
I worked as a CNA during my last year of nursing school, and I both loved and hated it. It was such an honor to give care to my patients in some of the worst times of their lives. It was primary, basic care – and it was important! I tried to give my patients humility. I helped people feel human when they felt invisible.
But being a CNA was also so challenging- both physically and physiologically. This is because for the first time in my life, I was not at the top of the food chain. I sometimes felt like just a staff person boss around. No longer did I have my salary plus commissions, my company car and expense account, my catered lunches, my bonuses, and my stock awards at the end of the year. And I missed that.
I finally attained my RN, BSN title.
After three years of nursing school and a lot of sweat and tears, I finally graduated with my BSN. I began my career specializing in a neuroscience and stroke unit and earned certifications as a Stroke Certified Registered Nurse and Public Health Nurse. In 2017, I started a new phase in my nursing career as an emergency room RN.
As a nurse, there is always an opportunity to learn.
While being a nurse is exhausting and I have moments of extreme burnout, I do feel that nursing is my calling. I am a closet science geek and love cerebral stimulation that I get as a nurse. I have had the opportunity to see more disease states, complex injuries, and unusual diagnoses then I ever could have imagined even existed. It would not be an exaggeration to say I learn ten new things every day at work.
To top it off, I am surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Many of my co-workers have the same drive for helping people I do. They motivate me to keep learning.
I am thankful for the professional experience I received in the corporate world as a medical device salesperson.
My experiences have given me a much different perspective than many of my nurse peers. And I see my experiences as a huge advantage for my professional development.
Working in the medical sales industry gave me valuable business and communication skills. I met a lot of great friends with whom I still have close relationships with. My organizational and time management skills are much more fine-tuned, and I learned how to be a professional in the workplace.
I just like to think of myself as being a little more well-rounded now. After all, the businesswomen in me still exists. But now I have the clinical prowess and expertise to match.
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In 2015 I became a nurse blogger. This venture was born out of my frustration with burnout as a registered nurse and my desire to create a more flexible work-life balance.
For clarity, my niche (or at least the niche I am striving to create) is: “nurse mom lifestyle blogger with an emphasis on self-care and wellness.” My goal has always been to write about things that interest me in regards to nurse lifestyle and living a healthier, more purposeful life (with a little mom stuff thrown in).
I have been chipping away on my nurse blogging journey for about a year, and my (self-proclaimed) title has evolved a bit. I’m sure it will continue to change as I work to find my “voice.”
To explain how I became a nurse blogger, I have to take you back in time a bit…
Once upon a time, I studied journalism.
Way, way back in the day, before I ever even considered becoming a registered nurse, I was a striving college student at California State University, Chico. As a journalism major with a minor in women’s studies, I wrote for our student newspaper, The Orion, and I loved it. Each week I met with other writers to discuss ideas and topics that were going to write about that week. I enjoyed the teamwork and even though I felt way in over my head a lot of the time I absolutely loved the challenge.
Each week I met new and interesting people I would have otherwise crossed paths with. I interviewed athletes, a magician, doctors from the student health center, professors, and lots and lots of students. One time I interviewed a woman who made and sold her own essential oils and she gave me a few samples to take home with me. My 21-year-old brain was fascinated with the people I met.
The internet was in its earlier stages and many people still read the newspaper in print form. So, each Thursday I looked forward to walking on campus and picking up a copy of The Orion to find my name listed above my article.
A bad internship altered my career path.
I loved journalism. But my emphasis was in public relations, which I disliked immensely.
One summer break, I did a 3-month internship at a celebrity public relations firm in Los Angeles. I worked as an assistant to the president of the firm. He had me ghostwriting about how he was like Abraham Lincoln. If that sounds weird, it is because it was. I hated it. I felt used.
At the end of my 3-month internship, I left Los Angeles feeling like I wanted to go in a completely different direction. As I drove back up to Chico to complete my senior year, I considered new career options.
As graduation etched closer, I also started wondering how I was going to survive financially out in the world. The thought of paying my own way in the world and paying off my student loans filled me with worry.
I went from inspired writer to salesperson.
After graduation, I excepted a position selling medical equipment to hospital operating rooms. I thought it was best to follow the path that I thought lead to faster money. Frankly, it did.
Soon I became enveloped in the business of medical equipment sales. And unfortunately, I didn’t write again for another 9 years.
Medical device sales is an extremely competitive and stressful industry. But I continued to work hard. In fact, I was actually very good at my job. I consistently exceeded my yearly quotas. As a result, I made more money every year, which made it harder and harder to move into other more clinical roles.
I wanted to grow clinically and help my patients directly.
Those who know me, know that I’m not even the “salesy” type. However, I did enjoy talking about medical equipment that could improve the quality of life for our patients or even be life-saving in some circumstances. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I really wanted was to be an actual healthcare professional who worked with patients directly.
(On reflection, I am so am grateful for my time in medical sales and I want to go back to work on the business side of healthcare at some point. My experiences have given me a much different perspective than many of my nurse peers. Working in the medical sales industry gave me valuable business and communication skills. I met a lot of great friends with whom I still have close relationships with. My organizational and time management skills are much more fine-tuned and I learned how to be a professional in the workplace. I just think of myself as being a little more well-rounded now!)
Just for fun, I toyed around with so many career ideas.
I took an amazing photography class in Venice (I’ll be a professional photographer! Yay!). I love practicing yoga so I thought becoming an instructor would be a great fit (I’ll become the next big yoga guru!). I even considered becoming a professional dog walker at one point and started writing a business plan! (Dogs are awesome, what can I say?).
After years of thinking about my professional future (and having several near mental breakdowns about it), I jokingly told my husband that maybe I should go back to nursing school. He responded with something like “you can do anything you want, but please do something because you might lose your mind!”
So, I did. And I have been working as a nurse at a major teaching facility for the last 6 years.
I went back to college for a second time.
After three years of nursing school, I graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing and I had a whole new journey ahead of me. I began my career specializing on a neuroscience and stroke unit and earned certifications as a Stroke Certified Registered Nurse and Public Health Nurse. In 2017, I began a new phase in my nursing career as an emergency room RN.
I also complimented my practice by becoming an Urban Zen Integrative Therapist. My intention was to help treat my patients with a more holistic approach using yoga and in-bed movements, guided meditation, Reiki, and essential oils. (I didn’t know at the time, but these were topics that I would write about frequently as a nurse blogger!).
An itch to write came back again.
A few years into my nursing career I had an urge to write again. I missed the creatively I had when writing back in my early college days. In addition, I wanted to create a more flexible career path for myself now that I am a busy mom with two great kiddos.
I also really do have a passion for nursing. I love that I help others for a living and I enjoy the mental stimulation I get at work during my 12-hour shifts. Becoming a nurse has even helped me deal with the craziness of motherhood in some ways because it helps me distinguish things that I should be concerned with things that are not a big deal. (I have my time on a neuroscience floor and as an ER nurse to thank for that!)
Becoming a nurse blogger was a logical next step. I am having so much fun learning how to make and manage a website. However, since I am already a busy ER nurse with two small babies I am very limited on time. I only have 5-6 hours a week to spend on the blog. But as my kids grow older and go to school the time will be there. Until then, I will just keep chipping away at it after the kids go to bed in the evenings.
A nursing practice can take many forms.
As I grow older (and hopefully wiser!) I am discovering that there are so many paths that nurses can take. The sky really is the limit as long as you work hard and are open to continually learning new skills.
My goal is to create a career for myself were I can combine my journalism degree with my nursing knowledge and motherly experience. This is the first “career” I have ever had where I didn’t have to fill out an extensive application and interview for the position. For the very first time, I am warming to the idea of being my OWN boss. And I really like it!
Never in a million years would my 21-year-old college-newspaper-writing- self would have guessed that I would be a nurse blogger. But every experience I have had up until now has been an important stepping stone to this place. And I have goosebumps just thinking about what I can make happen next. Stay tuned for more…
Many nurses struggle with finding a work-life balance. With increasingly demanding 12-hour shifts, its tough to stay healthyand sane when you are continually going a mile a minute. In time you may become overwhelmed and unsatisfied with your nursing career and your personal life.
Nurse burnout is real. The journey towards a satisfying work-life balance as a nurse is within your control and will only be attainable if you make it a priority.
Consider doing a little soul-searching. Take a moment to sit quietly with yourself and pinpoint precisely what you need to simplify your life. Here are a few things to consider on your journey to creating a better work-life balance as a nurse:
* This post contains affiliate links.
1. What are your priorities?
Take inventory of both your nursing lifeand personal life. Is it possible you may be juggling too many balls in the air? What do you envision your life to be like in 5 years?
Sit down and write a 1, 3, and 5-year plan. Make specific goals. You simply cannot create a satisfying work-life balance without fine-tuning your personal and work goals. Be brutally honest. Are you making major life decisions based on what you want to do or what you feel like you should do?
Many people (ahem, nurses!) are inherent caregivers who often give more to others before themselves. Now is an excellent time to think about how you will care for yourself first. Your happiness and success is your responsibility. Start by prioritizing what is most important to you!
2. Manage your stress
You have to manage your stress to achieve a work/life balance. This is a non-negotiable!
Here are two helpful ways to manage stress: #1) get moving with some type of physical activity (may I suggest yoga?) or #2) meditate (or just take a little time to chill out by yourself).
The benefits of exercise and mediation on physical and mental health are well documented in literature. For example, The Mayo Clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate,” among many other benefits (my yoga practice has been a lifesaver for me!).
Also, a study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only eight weeks of yoga, the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a significant reduction in perceived mental pressure. Just imagine how much better YOU could feel as a nurse who commits to a regular yoga practice.
Note: It doesn’t have to be yoga (although yoga has remarkably changed my life for the better over the past ten years). Exercise can come in any form you want it to: running, hiking, swimming, pole jumping, dancing in your living room. The best kind of exercise is the kind that you actually do!
3. Create more flexibility
In addition to the (literal) flexibility I get from yoga, I have also found flexibility within my workplace and at home.
12-hour shift schedules are already rigid enough. To find a work-life balance that works for you, consider other alternative scheduling options available in your workplace.
As a per diem nurse, I am employed “by the day.” Hospitals need the flexibility of per diem nurses so they can manage daily staffing needs in the hospital. There are many pros and cons to being a per diem nurse, and it is the only way I can effectively be a working mom at this time. Here is another way to create flexibility in your life: Try squeezing your workouts early in the morning before your family is awake. Sure, you will be tired, but you will also feel incredible for the rest of the day! (I have been practicing hot yoga at 5:30 AM twice a week before my tribe wakes up, and it is helping me function so much better).
If you are a nurse suffering from burnout and looking for alternative career paths, you are in luck. Finding a new way to practice nursing may help you find the work-life balance you have been looking for.
Here are a few ideas, just to get your brain thinking outside the box!:
There are so many different types of nurses in various specialties that work within the hospital setting. So how do you figure out which one is right for you?
When I was initially toying with the idea of going back to college to become a nurse, I had no idea how many types of nursing specialties there were. I thought there was just a single “type” of nurse who did pretty much everything.
I was so wrong. That just shows how little I knew about the nursing world back then! I think many potential nurses who are contemplating getting a BSN may think the same thing as I once did.
The good news about starting in nursing school is that you don’t have to decide on what type of nursing specialty you want to go into right away. At least not until you get closer to the end of nursing school and start interviewing for jobs. Also, you can even change your nursing specialty during your career if you want (I did it and reignited my passion for nursing). So, if you find you don’t enjoy one specialty after a while, you can look into others that might better suit you.
This particular post explores nursing career specialties within the hospital. If you don’t want to work in the hospital, that’s OK. There are a ton of opportunities to explore as a new grad nurse outside of the hospital setting too! However, if the hospital setting is for you (as it was for me), then this is a quick and dirty explanation of the different types of nurses and nursing specialties that may be available to you!
There are dozens of different nursing specialties and levels of care in the hospital to choose from. When deciding on a specialty, it may help to start with the level of care that works best with your personality and then work from there. While some nursing students think the intensity of working in an emergency room might be exhilarating, others may prefer to start by learning on a medical-surgical unit instead.
The next step may be to consider which patient age groups you would most enjoy working with. For example, a nursing school friend of mine knew from the moment she applied to nursing school that she had to be a pediatric nurse. Yet another student friend was passionate about working in the geriatric community. Some nurses find that they love working with newborn babies or children, while others find that they enjoy the intensity of managing patients at the ICU level of care.
Lastly, as you start studying more about the different body systems and doing clinical hours, you can decide which specialties that you are most interested in. Being a student nurse is a great time to learn all about the different types of nurses in the hospital you might want to work in!
If you are interested in learning more about the types of nurses that in the higest demand, check out this video:
Types of nurses, based on credentials:
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
LPNs perform a number of duties under the supervision of an RN. They have a more limited scope of practice than an RN, however, they can check vital signs, give oral medication and give injections. LPNs are trained through a state-approved educational program, which takes 12 to 24 months to achieve.
Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered nurses (RNs) are nurses with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. It takes two years to complete an associate’s degree in nursing and at least 4 years to complete a BSN.
Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an experienced nurse who has also completed a master’s degree in nursing. CNS’s are trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses within a specific realm of expertise.
Nurse Practitioner (NP)
NPs work under the supervision of a medical doctor, however, they have the autonomy to diagnose diseases, prescribe medications, and initiate patient treatment plans. Educational requirements include a master’s or doctoral degree.
Levels of care in the hospital setting
Medical-Surgical Care, otherwise known as Med/Surg, is the largest nursing specialty in the United States. Med/Surg nurses care for adult patients who are acutely ill with a wide variety of medical issues or are recovering from surgery. Nurses on these units often care for 4-5 patients (or more) depending on acuity.
Telemetry Unit patients are often more acutely ill and need constant monitoring. Patients here are monitored with telemetry monitors that allow nurses to review a patient’s vital signs constantly so they can give more detailed care. Often, Med/Surg and Telemetry patients are referred to interchangeably as many Telemetry Units have both types of patients.
Intensive Care Units
An Intensive Care Unit, otherwise known as an ICU or Critical Care Unit is a unit that provides a higher level of intensive patient care. Patients in the ICU often have severe and life-threatening injuries that require constant, close monitoring. Nurses in the ICU usually only care for 1 or 2 patients at a time due to the high acuity of patient care.
ER nurses treat patients in emergent situations who are involved in a trauma or other life-threatening injuries. These nurses deal with patients from all age groups involving many different levels of patient care. You may have patients with illnesses and wounds, ranging from dog bites or minor burns to more serious conditions such as strokes or other trauma victims.
Patient age groups
Hospital units are also broken into different age groups to offer more specialized care. This is also something to consider when deciding on a specialty you want to work in. Some of the age groups include:
Here is a general list of hospital specialty units that many nurses work in:
What nursing jobs are you most interested in?
As you can see from the above information, there are so many different types of nurses and nursing specialties. You may want to pick a few that are most interesting to you and narrow your search in from there. Once you get your legs wet in the profession for a few years, you may even want to look into other alternative and unique careers in nursing.
Now that you have a better understanding of the different career options out there for nurses, you may want to brush up on your interviewing skills. Let us help you achieve that with this article “How To Land Your First Nursing Job In Six Steps.”
Are you thinking about becoming a nurse and wondering what nursing specialties might be best for you? Or do you have any other questions about the different types of nurses in the hospital setting? Please leave a comment or question below!
Do you currently work as a nurse and have been thinking of a career change? Or perhaps you’re an aspiring nurse looking for an unusual avenue? Here are a few unique careers to consider within in the field of nursing.
Work on a cruise ship
Many modern cruise ships are able to accommodate thousands of passengers. When out at sea, access to a hospital is limited, which is why it’s essential to have nursing staff on these ships. Getting into this role can be challenging as positions can be very competitive – while cruise ship nursing can be tough due to the variety of patient problems and limited facilities, you get the benefit of being able to spend your days off seeing the world, as well as taking advantage of the cruise ship facilities. It’s the ideal job for people that want to travel and are young with no commitments. Sites such as this one can help you to find cruise ship vacancies.
Work for an air ambulance
Air evac teams are pretty much paramedics of the skies – it’s their job to rescue people from remote locations who are injured and bring them to a nearby hospital or clinic. A medical background can be great when trying to get into this niche career. There are various air evac companies and it’s worth doing your research to find the best ones by reading air evac testimonials and reviews. An accident and emergency background can sometimes be better suited for this role.
Work in the military
Nurses are also needed in the military to look after soldiers suffering injuries, sickness or mental health problems. This is an expectedly high-pressure job, but it can allow you to see the world and feel as if you’re serving your country. You’ll often need to do some military training on top of being trained as a nurse. There are military nursing courses that you can take if you’ve not yet got a nursing qualification.
Become a home nurse
If the above jobs are all a bit too wild for your tastes, you could always consider becoming a home nurse. Many patients that choose to stay at home need 24 hour care and this requires qualified medical nurses to take shifts monitoring them at home. Many people that want a break from the fast paced environment of a hospital pursue this avenue, although if you’re working for a company you may find that you’re having to attend to multiple patients every day, every week.
Become a legal nurse
Legal nurses are required to help with legal cases where the opinion of a medical expert may be needed. This could include helping to interpret data to be used for injury claims or helping to defend against claims of medical malpractice. On top of having a nursing qualification, you may also need to take certain legal training to pursue this role.
Have you considered any of these exciting and unique careers within nursing? Please leave a comment below!