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A Meaningful New Path
Today’s nursing students aren’t always in their 20s.


May 2019

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 nursing program.

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 nurse educators.

“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 responsibilities.

Andrea emphasizes 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.

Varga says second-career students enrich the entire program “because they bring all those experiences and perspectives with them, and it’s really helpful” for the entire class.

Nursing student 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.

“What I’ve 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.” 


This story ran in the May 2019 issue of: