Second Career: From Sitcom Writer to Nursing

William Kenny was a successful television sitcom writer. Caryn Stapler spent 25 years at JP Morgan Chase, working in finance and human resources jobs. For reasons as different as their professional backgrounds, both eventually found their way into nursing.

There are 2.6 million registered nurses, which makes the field the largest in the health care industry, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The profession is expected to grow 22% by 2018, driven by advances in technology, a greater emphasis on preventative care, and an increased demand for health care by aging Baby Boomers.

With such an upbeat outlook it's no wonder that more people are finding their way into nursing as a second career. Here are the stories of two people who did.

For Kenny, being diagnosed with testicular cancer-and going through the surgery, radiation and chemotherapy that followed-set him on his new course.

Lying around the hospital gave him time to reflect on his work. He decided he wanted more contact with people faced with life and death situations like the one he had made his way through.

He returned to his television career but also volunteered at The Wellness Community in Santa Monica, which offers free support to cancer survivors and their families. He found he had a knack for making people laugh, even in the face of a family crisis. He toyed with becoming a nurse, but wondered if it was too big a change to seriously consider. Then he started seeing commercials sponsored by Johnson & Johnson urging viewers to "Dare to Care, Be a Nurse." They hit home and he eventually entered a nursing program. Now he works in the pediatric intensive care unit at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.

nursingFor Stapler, the shift away from her corporate career wasn't entirely voluntary. She was laid off-the result of a corporate merger-and realized that with her industry consolidating she was better off "redefining" herself rather than just searching for a new job in her old field. She chose health care because it is a growing sector and enrolled in a nursing program. She works in the telemetry unit at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY.

Kenny and Stapler's career changes took time, money and a fair amount of commitment. Both leveraged their B.A.s to gain a small shortcut. Kenny got into an accelerated B.S. program at Mount St. Mary's in Los Angeles, which got him his nursing degree in just one year. Stapler entered a four-year program but was able to complete her degree in half that time.

Kenny and Stapler concur that the friends and family who know them best were the most supportive of their decisions, Among their wider circles the change raised eyebrows. When Kenny told co-workers about his decision, he says, "most people were simply dumbfounded because they know how hard it is to break into show business."

But so far, neither has looked back. "I enjoy advocating for patients, comforting them and being part of a process that helps save lives. Every day I use my head, my heart and my hands in my work and that is very rewarding," says Stapler.

Kenny adds, "working with children is especially rewarding because they are so genuine and appreciative." Moreover, they laugh at his jokes. "As a comedy writer, there's nothing more rewarding than making a kid laugh, especially when he or she is afraid," Kenny notes.

For other people pondering a career change that requires a large amount of retraining, Stapler has this advice: "It's never too late. Even after a 25 year career in one field, you can make a transition," she says. And nursing in particular, "is very welcoming of people of all ages."

Kenny says the best way to make such a change is to "take it one step at a time.

"I often think that if I had known how many hoops I was going to have to jump through to reach my ultimate goal, I may have given up before I even started," He says. "But as hard as my training was, it was so worth it in the end."

Stapler says the people who do well in nursing have strong communication and time management skills, as well as the ability to prioritize and stay organized, but Kenny points out that with so many different types of nursing, there is a fit for all types of personalities. Those who enjoy technical work might enjoy the ICU, for example, while those who like a fast pace might prefer the ER.

But Kenny adds, "all nurses need to be compassionate, good listeners, detail oriented and eager to learn new things. The field is constantly changing."

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