The Struggle and Rewards of Becoming A Nurse


By Kristi Essick

A path to a “second act” almost invariably involves setbacks. But Rachel Christian’s five-year journey to become a nurse is proof that even the largest of hurdles can be cleared.

For 25 years, Ms. Christian worked beside her husband, James, managing a commercial real-estate business. But she says the job never felt like a career, and she regretted putting off her dream to work in health care.

“I took classes in health science in college and always wanted to work in medicine, but I fell into real estate and it provided a good income and flexibility when raising my kids,” she recalls. “But in my heart, I knew doing a job just to make money wasn’t for me.”

At 52, she took her first steps to become a registered nurse. “It was now or never,” Ms. Christian says.

After two years taking prerequisite courses at a junior college, she applied through a lottery for a popular nursing program—but wasn’t accepted. Then, two weeks later, her husband suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to walk, speak or care for himself.

Not knowing when, or whether, James would be able to return to work—and not wanting to continue working in real estate—Ms. Christian spent the next year closing the couple’s business, selling assets and laying off employees, all while managing her husband’s round-the-clock care. She applied to nursing school again—and this time she was accepted.

“My two years in nursing school were the hardest of my life—financially, mentally and physically,” she says. “But I had an even bigger motivation to stick with it, knowing I’d be the sole provider in our family.”

She graduated from nursing school at 57. But the story wasn’t finished.

“It seems millions of people heeded the call to go into nursing all at once, and suddenly, there weren’t enough hospital jobs to go around,” she says. She sent out dozens of résumés but couldn’t find a full-time job in California.

Undeterred, she sold her home in California and moved with James to Oklahoma City, where hospitals were hiring new nurses. After gaining on-the-job experience there, she recently landed a full-time nursing post in California at the Sonoma Developmental Center, a state facility for severely developmentally disabled adults. (Outside of work, she continues to care for her husband, who is recovering slowly.)

Ms. Christian is the first to admit nursing is harder than she expected: long and inflexible hours, the stamina required to stay on one’s feet all day, and the emotional toll of working with people in need. She also makes far less than she did in real estate.

“I’m the oldest ‘new nurse’ I’ve ever met, but I have an attitude of wanting to learn from more experienced nurses, even if they’re far younger than me,” she says. “I thought you just went to nursing school and the day you graduated, you were a nurse; but the truth is, you become a nurse over many years as you develop skills.”

Despite the challenges, her new job isn’t just a paycheck, it’s a calling.

“It’s the best feeling in the world to help people,” she says.


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

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