MATC nursing student Andrea Verschage
Just two weeks
before he passed away from a brain tumor, Andrea
Verschage’s husband, Brad, wanted to have a talk about
the future. For most of their 20s, the couple had been
coping with the ups and downs of Brad’s illness, as well
as other health crises in their family.
Brad had worked
as an IT pro for a hospital system, and Andrea, with a
degree in communications, worked in television and as a
print journalist. For Andrea, though, a wish to be a
nurse lingered in the back of her mind, especially
during interactions with Brad’s nurses. As her husband
got sicker, she blocked out the idea — until her
conversation with Brad nudged her in that direction.
“He was very
encouraging,” she recalls. “He said, ‘I think you’d be a
really great nurse.’”
Andrea says when
Brad passed away, she “had a shift in my consciousness
that just led me down a different path. And my son was
7, so there was no way I could go back to school.” But
something “just really clicked” a few years ago, she
explains, and she decided it was time to pursue her
nursing degree. After completing her prerequisite
credits at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC),
Andrea, at the age of 40, is now a student in the MATC
Andrea is one of
many students who are turning to nursing as a second
career. Carol Sabel, Ph.D, chair of the School of
Nursing at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), says
about 10 percent of MSOE’s nursing students are over 30.
The majority of those are enrolled in the college’s
accelerated second-degree program, which allows students
who have a bachelor’s degree in another area to earn a
bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) in 18 months.
Sabel notes that
some have had personal experiences that inspire them to
go into the field, and some recognize that a looming
nursing shortage provides opportunities for career
security. The profession also offers flexibility, with a
variety of specialty areas from acute care to mental
health to surgery and emergency room nurses, as well as
“But a lot of
times it’s just because they want to be able to help
others in a more definitive way than in their other
career,” says Sabel.
Patti Varga, Ph.D,
dean of the School of Nursing at Alverno College, says
later-in-life students can struggle with fitting
schoolwork into schedules that include family and work
that students should be ready to ask for help when
needed: “My family and friends have been so supportive
about this. I think they realize this is a really big
step, to shift gears. People are more willing to help
than you’d expect them to be.”
Varga notes that
some students may need to adjust to reading for
understanding versus reading for pleasure. And for some,
technology can be an issue. “Doing work online is very
new for a lot of people,” she explains, but Alverno
offers those students support through its instructional
services and IT departments.
second-career students enrich the entire program
“because they bring all those experiences and
perspectives with them, and it’s really helpful” for the
Brenda Nicolosi is working on her third degree from
Alverno, after earning a bachelor’s in communications
and a master’s in education. She has enjoyed careers in
marketing and as a high school English teacher, but
still dreamed of being a nurse. Life always intervened.
Now she’s commuting from her home near Madison to
Milwaukee to achieve that goal.
“I have to say
that this is the most rigorous program I have ever, ever
done,” she says. “I must study 40 to 50 hours a week. I
couldn’t work and do this.” Although she acknowledges
that some of her classmates do just that.
Nicolosi has been
pleasantly surprised at the reception she’s had from
nurses at her clinical assignments: “They’ve all been
incredibly helpful and kind and encouraging and
generous. I feel very fortunate.”
Lorelei Martin tends a patient at the Milwaukee
Center for Independence Bay View campus.
Nursing was not the
first career choice for Lorelei Martin, who studied
police science intending to be a social worker before
teaching computer skills at Heritage Christian Schools.
She says she fought her desire to become a nurse because
she didn’t necessarily want to follow in her mother’s
footsteps. When Heritage closed, she made her decision.
learned is, when you feel something pulling at your
heartstrings to just jump in and do it,” says Martin.
She studied at Waukesha County Technical College for her
prerequisite classes and online at Grand Canyon
University for her BSN. She graduated in 2018
Although she had
been recruited by a top hospital, Martin instead chose
to accept a position at Milwaukee Center for
Independence, where she works with adults with
developmental and cognitive disabilities. Martin brings
her life experience, as well as her teaching skill, to
her nursing practice. She works with physicians and case
managers to address the immediate health needs and
overall well-being of each of her 180 clients.
“I know that, 100
percent, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” she
says. “Everything has come full circle.”