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.
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.
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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Additional Recommended Reading:
- Nurse Money: How To Pay Off Nursing School Loans Fast
- Why ER Nurses Are The Best
- How I Became A Nurse Blogger
- Pros And Cons Of 12 Hour Nursing Shifts
I would love to hear stories from other second-career nurses. What did you do in your first career, and how did you know you wanted to be a nurse? Leave a comment below!
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