I Graduated From Nursing School At 56 Years Old

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Hopefully, my story will help some people. I flunked out of college and was homeless. Yet, I managed to obtain my BA and have a successful career. Later in life, I earned my BSN and then my MSN and within two months of graduating had my dream job as an NP.

Has 1 years experience.

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I Graduated From Nursing School At 56 Years Old

My family had humble beginnings. As a child, we were working class. My father had only graduated from high school and my mother, who was an immigrant had only completed elementary school. However, they worked hard and by the time I was in high school we were solidly middle class.

In high school, I was a stereotypical nerd who got straight A's. However, I had a terrible secret. I was being horribly physically abused. One night, I remember being struck 700 times with a board about 1/2" thick and 3" wide. Actually multiple boards, because they kept breaking and then being replaced. I lost count at 700, so it was way more than that. And that was typical for me. I learned that after repeated blows, I would go numb physically and I also learned to transport myself mentally to a different place. I kept going by telling myself I would get into an Ivy League college and get away from my home and never go back. Well, I did! I got into Yale.

As a college freshman at Yale, everything was wonderful! I couldn't believe I had made it and I got decent grades. My parents were happy they could brag to all their friends that I was at Yale. After I made it clear that I would no longer accept any beatings, they cut me off financially. I was only 17. Yale was supportive, but explained that because I had entered school as a dependent, I would have to leave school, be self-sufficient for 2 years, and then Yale could give me a full ride so I could finish school. Well, I was so young and completely heartbroken that I fell into a deep depression and failed 2 classes my last semester. (The first of several episodes of major depression). I had nowhere to go, so returned home. Because I refused to be beaten, my mother threw me out of the house with nothing but the clothes on my back. She also stole my savings. So I was now 18 and homeless. Fortunately, some kind friends took me in for the Summer and I worked 2 jobs to save as much money as possible. Then I was able to get a secretarial job that paid well.

I ended up getting married at the age of 21 and becoming a stepmother to 2 wonderful children. However, the only job I could get as an Ivy League dropout was secretarial work and many employers humiliated me by saying "My secretary went to Yale" and laughing at me. I remember burning with shame and anger and vowed to finish my BA.

After a couple of years of working and saving, my husband and I were in a position to allow me to finish college at a state university. My GPA was bad at 2.9 because I would get A's in the classes I enjoyed and bad grades in the classes I didn't like. I was young and my study habits were poor. However, I did graduate.

But I had earned a liberal arts BA, and in the 1980s, for most women that meant starting out as a secretary. I ended up working for a very nice Chief Technology Officer who noticed I was good with computers, so he suggested I get a BS in a computer related field and the company would pay for it. So, I would drive an hour or more each way 2 nights per weeks to school and earned my BS in Computer and Information Systems Management. However, my GPA was again mediocre because I was working full-time and still did not have good study habits. Then I was able to start a career in high technology, ultimately working my way up to Director and Vice President level positions, making about $175 K per year. I traveled all over the world and lived all over the US - Washington DC, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles. But I felt unfulfilled and increasingly miserable in my job. (BTW - it was common in my field to work 60 to 80 hour weeks, 6 to 7 days a week and traveling on top of that - so no personal life! I could go for several months being out of town M-F and only coming home on weekends)

Fast forward to 2008, when the Great Recession hit. Like many people, I was laid off. At the same time, I was helping to take care of my mother, who was by then an invalid. I began thinking of my future - I had always regretted not becoming a doctor. I did some research and realized healthcare was a great field and I could apply my business and technology skills. So I used my savings to attend a two year executive education program at UCLA in Healthcare Management and Leadership and I got straight A's. Along the way, I realized I wanted to provide hands-on patient care, and based on my new knowledge, nursing seemed like the best fit. I took a Red Cross CNA course to make sure I could handle the patient care. It was soooo hard, but every day after clinicals, I would arrive home exhausted, but feeling fulfilled and happy that I had helped people that day. So I decided to pursue becoming a Nurse Practitioner.

Unfortunately, my mediocre undergraduate grades were now an issue. In addition, in California, the colleges were impacted, which meant you had to take nursing prereq's wherever you could win a "lottery" and get into one of those classes. I took my prereq's all over - various community colleges and also through UCLA Extension. I did well, getting all A's except for Chemistry (got a B). However, I did have to withdraw from Anatomy and retake that because I just was not prepared for all the memorization.

So, I applied to nursing schools. My father was skeptical, due to my advanced age, but I figured I had some valuable experience as a manager and leader, and I also understood technology (software like EMRs/EHRs), plus had general life experience. I was accepted by the UCLA Direct Entry MSN program and also by Johns Hopkins' ABSN program.

I decided to attend Hopkins and started the ABSN at age 53. Nursing school was the hardest thing I had ever done! Many times I cried by myself, wondering if I could survive. While I was strong academically, I struggled with skills such as setting up IVs, etc. I was always one of the slowest students in learning skills. A couple of instructors told me I wasn't cut out to be a nurse. I also struggled with depression and anxiety. (Interestingly my best support during this period was from MDs I knew, who said I had what it took to be an NP and were annoyed I hadn't gone to medical school).

After graduating, I immediately started the MSN program and found myself comfortable and confident in my physical exam skills! (I'm not sure what happened there). However, the Summer we had off from school, I had a major issue with my father which threw me into the most severe depression of my life and I had to be hospitalized for 5 days. When I started school again, I got C's on a couple of exams, which shocked my professors. I asked for help. Fortunately, they were very supportive and made sure I got the support and care I needed so I could regain my academic footing. I also had to repeat one clinical and will be forever grateful for the professor who went to bat for me so that I could graduate with the rest of my cohort. I graduated at age 56 with my MSN and was hired in 2 months for my dream NP job, starting at $95K and increasing to $140K within 18 months, based on performance. I also won a HRSA scholarship, which paid for the last 18 months of my MSN, along with a small stipend, in return for 2 years of public service. If I could have stayed in Baltimore, my preceptor on my last rotation would have hired me.

My advice: hang in there and work hard! And ask for help as soon as you run into trouble - my only mistake at Hopkins was not asking for help soon enough due to panic and embarassment. Apply to the best schools and don't be afraid of the price tag - many of the expensive schools have a lot of scholarships and good financial aid, so they are actually cheaper than some state schools. That is why I chose Hopkins over UCLA - it was actually cheaper with the financial aid I received and I am a California resident! Apply for every scholarship you can and ask all your professors and the financial aid people what is available - sometimes the professors know about scholarships that financial aid does not, or vice versa. If I were younger, I would have joined the military to get loan repayment. In addition, at Hopkins we had students who had been corps men in the military who were going to Hopkins full time and the military was paying for everything.

With regard to looking for a job, be flexible on location. I live in California and everyone wants to live in San Francisco, LA, or San Diego. Yet, there are many jobs in other parts of the state that are begging for candidates! I got a job in a stunningly beautiful area with a population of about 100,000 and a very low cost of living. For example, to rent a one bedroom apartment in San Diego area is now at least $2,000 a month (and much more in SF or LA). Where my job is, you can get a nice 1 BR place for $600 to $700 (on the water!) a month. The downside is I will have to live there for 2 years and can only drive to my home (I own a home) on the weekends. So, research where nurses and NPs are needed and be willing to go there.

Hope this helps some folks. Best wishes to all.


Primary care AGNP who graduated in 2016. Prior to becoming an NP, I was a high tech management consulting executive with 20 years experience. I live in California.

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17 Comment(s)

This is really inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story.

This is the best story about pursuing nursing I have come across. You are awesome. Your strength of character and purpose is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.

I liked this story, congratulations!

Wonderful story and a true inspiration for those of us who are feeling apprehensive due to our age. Your story offers the hope and encouragement I have been looking for. Thank you for sharing.

RhandaH, ADN, RN

Has 8 years experience.

Your honesty is so beautiful. You told us the good bad and the ugly of your story and those details make it inspiring!


Has 1 years experience.

A wonderfully, uplifting narrative!

Thank you shibaowner and I wish you much success!!!

Thank you for sharing.im 41 and im going for LVN in February. I hope to bridge to RN after i get experience. Im worried ill be the oldest in class but as of now im studying .i hope to make a good student and now im inspired thank you.

Wow! Kudos to you. Amazing story! :)

Your story touched my heart. I am going through a hard time now but your story gives me courage and hope. I will try to remember this every time I hit a bump in life. Thank you mam.

Great story,

I am 56 and was pondering going back to school for FNP, your past difficulties mirror mine in a lot of ways, and I have let discouragement put a pause to my goals. You are an inspiration my dear.

Thank you


Has 1 years experience.

thanks for this! This is very inspiring. I am only 29 but will only be starting nursing school when I am 32. I will have a 3 year old toddler by then and I am not sure how I will make it work since my husband is in the military and works long hours.