Hundreds of North Carolinians make a life-changing career switch into nursing because they hope to make a difference in the lives of people who are sick.
By Hyun Namkoong
Greg Zinke had been working in the trucking industry for 17 years when he decided to become a nurse, at the age of 39. After taking care of his ailing grandfather in his last year of life, Zinke realized he wanted to do something more fulfilling with his career than cash a paycheck.
With his family’s support and encouragement, he quit his job and enrolled in an accelerated bachelor’s of science nursing program at Western Carolina University.
There are hundreds of students in North Carolina like Zinke who cross over to a nursing career. More than a half-dozen universities in the state offer accelerated bachelor’s of science in nursing programs that put folks on the fast track to a degree, and the kinds of people who make the switch vary in age and location. But their motivation is often the same: They’re looking to make a contribution.
The desire to provide care for others attracts a diverse group of people whose backgrounds are oftent unrelated to nursing or health care.
Zinke said that studying to be a nurse is a commitment of both time and money, but he does it anyway because he wants to make a difference in people’s lives.
To enroll in an ABSN program, students must complete prerequisite courses in subjects that include chemistry and biology and hold a bachelor’s degree. ABSN programs generally last 13 to 18 months.
Sentiments similar to Zinke’s were echoed by other students in ABSN programs around the state. Making a difference in someone’s life and providing care to a person in need is a common motivation.
Take Allison David, for example.
David, 37, quit her job as an elementary school music teacher at a charter school in Winston-Salem without any certainty of what she was going to do next.
“I finally got up the nerve to leave; I didn’t have a plan yet,” David said. “Over time, I realized that nursing was really my passion and my calling.”
David had battled a chronic illness her entire life and was in remission for the first time six and a half years ago.
“I’ve gotten to a place where I don’t have to think about my own survival every day,” she said. “Instead of worrying about me all the time, I can start caring about others.”
David has a degree in music therapy and flirted with the idea of starting her own business, but said that the sluggish economy presented several roadblocks.
Instead, she enrolled in the ABSN program at Winston-Salem State University.
David has been cared for by a number of great nurses.
“It’s from my own desire to heal, and my own experiences as a patient,” she said of of her motivation to become a nurse.
David emphasizes the importance of empathy and safety.
“Without empathy and without safety, what’s the point? You might as well have a robot take care of you,” she said with a laugh.
Nursing can get uncomfortable
Sarah Rozran, 26, is an ABSN student at Western Carolina. She loves to put on her scrubs and walk into a hospital.
“A lot of people just see me differently when I put my scrubs on,” she said.
Rozran formerly worked as a substance-abuse counselor in Maryland. Despite the occasional awkward moment, she loves being a nurse. She said that performing breast or testicular exams are aspects of nursing that can be uncomfortable.
“No matter who says it, or who does it, It’s just an uncomfortable situation all around to talk about genitals,” Rozran said. “But it’s not really going to be so uncomfortable when a patient who is vulnerable needs you to help them.”
She tries her best to put her patients at ease.
“I want to make a difference, because that’s what I’m here for,” she said. “That’s why I’m on this Earth.”
Connecting with patients
Jessica Leslie, 25, studied fashion and textile management at N.C. State University before switching to nursing. After a six-month internship in the fashion world, she quickly realized that the industry wasn’t for her.
“I learned a lot, and I liked it. But I just didn’t feel fulfilled at the end of the day,” she said.
Leslie said that she hated feeling like she wasn’t making a difference in her community or in anyone’s life.
“I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to when I’m able to really take care of somebody,” she said.
Leslie was hired for a temporary office job at a hospital and found that what she most enjoyed was talking with patients. She told her boss she was interested in nursing, so she shadowed a nurse for a day.
“I loved it. I started the process of looking into nursing school,” she said.
So she finished up her prerequisites and enrolled in the ABSN program at North Carolina A&T State University. The chance that a patient might remember Leslie 20 years from now because of the care she provided is what keeps her going.
Leslie said that she considered going to medical school, but that a doctor’s busy schedule doesn’t allow for time to really connect with patients.
“Nurses, they have more time,” she said. “That’s why I decided to stick with nursing and go for an advanced practice when I’m done.”
She said that it’s gratifying to hear patients tell her they can see that her heart is in nursing.
“I live for patients who tell me that,” Leslie said. “For me, it’s the furthest thing that I would imagine I’d be doing.”