After being a stay-at-home, home-schooling mom, Anne Nelson went back to college to finish the degree she had started 25 years earlier.

September 2, 2021 6:23 pm

By Shelley Hunter

Listen to the Episode

Feeling "Too Comfortable" as a SAHM

After being an all-in, stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her kids, coached their sports teams, volunteered at church, cooked and cleaned and did all the things an involved mother of four would do, Anne Nelson found herself out of a job when her youngest decided to attend public school. At a time when many women would have dropped into a recliner and taken a well-deserved nap, Anne decided she needed something else to do.

She said, "I was feeling quite comfortable being a stay-at-home mom with not a lot of responsibilities. My kids were raised and three of them were already through college."

Without any students to teach, Anne decided to go back to being a student herself.

With a goal to simply explore the possibility of finishing the nursing degree she had started 25 years prior, Anne went to see a counselor at the local community college. To her surprise, the counselor said Anne had all of the prerequisites necessary to apply for nursing school immediately. So she did. 

Anne got accepted into the nursing program only to encounter another career delay--a three-and-a-half year waiting list. But she didn't let that stop her.

In this interview, Anne shares the many starts and stops she had en route to landing exactly where God needed her to be--in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) at a local hospital.

Feeling Uncomfortable as a Nursing Student

Now at age 57, Anne says becoming a nurse was the hardest thing she's ever done and she credits her family for giving her the support needed to finish, even when the process got difficult.

Anne recalls, "It really was a full immersion, it was hard, especially hard on my husband who was so used to having me available all the time. There were a few times partway through it that I would have to say, 'I would stop doing this today. I will call them today. I will say, 'I need to drop out today if that's what you want.'" 

But she didn't drop out.

They kept going.

"They prayed through it," Anne explained.

For me, it was obvious that GOD had given me the GREEN LIGHT because of all the different WAYS things

BECAME AVAILABLE to me.

- Anne Nelson, RN -

Feeling at Home as a NICU Nurse

As a NICU nurse, Anne is now helping other families through some of the most profound moments of their lives.

In the joyous deliveries that go as planned and the heartbreaking deliveries that don't, Anne has the skills necessary to help when she can and the faith necessary to pray for comfort when she can't.

Anne is acting as the Lord's hands in such critical moments and it seems obvious to me that He guided her there for that purpose.

Five years from now, I’ll be 50.

This will be a LOT OF WORK,

but I'll either be 

50 WITH A DEGREE or

50 WITHOUT A DEGREE.

- Anne Nelson, RN -

What You'll Learn in this Episode

  • How Anne Nelson worked her way through a grueling nursing program
  • The starts and stops that forced her to pivot in unexpected ways
  • A leap of faith she had to take in her career
  • Blessing she could not see for herself in taking this journey
  • Most Importantly: how she has seen the Lord’s hand in her career

Mentioned in this Interview

Download the Transcript

 Going From SAHM to Nurse as a 50-Year-Old

Guest: Anne Nelson

Shelley Hunter: You're listening to the Faithful Career Moves Podcast. I'm your host Shelley Hunter, and this is the place where we talk to people who have found the career they were born to do and have seen God's hand in the process. 

Welcome to Episode 23 of the Faithful Career Moves Podcast. Today I'm interviewing a woman who went back to get a nursing degree after raising four kids. 

The surprising plot twist is that she had done all of the prerequisites for nursing school before putting that goal on a shelf to dive fully into being a stay-at-home, homeschooling, all-in mom. When she got the inkling to go back to nursing school, the groundwork had already been laid.

Had she waited any longer though, it would not have been the case. 

Though my brief retelling of this makes it seem easy, I was surprised to hear how many times Anne made a move only to be forced to pivot. The journey back was certainly guided and paved in many ways, but she kept hitting roadblocks that forced her to reroute, which if you know how this podcast goes, you know those roadblocks helped her get exactly where she needed to be. 

Alright, meet Anne Nelson. She is a nurse in the newborn intensive care unit at a community hospital along California's central coast. I asked Anne to start us off with the journey.

Anne Nelson: I started my nursing school journey in 2011, but I was hired my first nursing job in 2014, so it's just now seven years since I started.

Shelley: Where were you before that?

Anne: I met my husband at a Christian school in Watsonville, California, and as I was finishing my high school and trying to decide where I would go, the things I had in mind for a career, one was to be a physician, the other was to be a nurse. I figured if I would at least just start, I took pretty much all of the prerequisites required, the general ed required to get into our local junior college RN program. Then, Steve and I got married when we were 20, and our first two years of marriage, he finished his college at Cal Poly and we had two kids while we were down there in those two years. [chuckles] I spent the next 20 years raising my family. We went on to have two girls. We homeschooled.

I loved homeschooling my kids. I found myself as a homeschool director for about six years and volleyball coach and I loved being a stay-at-home mom. I loved just every aspect of it. I was a homemaker, I loved keeping house, I didn't love cooking, but I cooked for a larger family. Anyway, so I loved just participating in their lives and getting to raise my four kids and raising the girls. It seemed like a dream. [chuckles]

Shelley: You're homeschooling, you love it. What prompted you to go back to school?

Anne: When my youngest daughter was 16, originally had a school option for her where she could go half homeschool and half in classroom. The following year, she decided her junior year of high school to go 100% to school. For me, it was like, "Okay, I don't have any students left." [chuckles] I just thought, "Okay, I did all these prerequisites, I'm going to go talk to a counselor at the junior college and see what the value is," and so I sat with someone and they said, "You can apply to a nursing program today." I thought, "Okay, I might as well apply," so I did. It was a three-and-a-half-year waiting list.

Shelley: Wow.

Anne: Yes. The interesting thing about that is today, my 25-year prerequisites would not be valid because they're only allowing five-year-old prerequisites. I feel like that was one of the things that was my first open door and I just feel like God opened many, many, many doors. I could list 100 things that I just feel like were so ordered by the way God wanted to lead me into what I was called to do.

Shelley: Okay. There was a three-and-a-half-year waiting list, but then what happened?

Anne: During that three and a half years, they asked me to update my sociology classes because the culture was looking a little different 25 years later. They wanted me to take a sociology class and then the other was not a requirement, but a recommendation to take bacteriology and physiology because those are the only two that had really changed a whole lot in 25 years. I did, there was a lot of prep, like six months before starting there was prep for math exams and different things.

Shelley: Were you nervous?

Anne: I was definitely nervous. I had only held two jobs in my life before, and I didn't really interview for either one. One was working at Wendy's and one was working for my father-in-law at a research facility. I was a little nervous, but mostly really excited. My husband has his own company and I just knew I needed something else for me. This was more along the line of my interests and I think I have a love for it.

Shelley: During that three and a half years with the waiting list, that didn't get shortcut for you, you just had other classes and stuff that you could get current on while you waited. Is that correct?

Anne: Yes, and three and a half years felt like a very long time and I remember thinking before, "I'm 45-ish and it'll be three and a half years plus the two years. Five years from now, I'll be 50 and I know there'll be a whole lot of work, but I'll either be 50 with a degree or 50 without a degree." [chuckles] 

I'm a task-oriented person, I always need something to do. I don't very easily while away time. I get into other people's business if I have too much time on my hands, [chuckles] so it just was best for me to find something to keep busy with. I just kept heading in that direction and the Lord, like I said, kept opening the doors.

Shelley: It's kind of the perfect time to get started, but at the same time, you're 50.

Anne: Exactly. [chuckles]

Shelley: What was it like going back to school at that age?

Anne: I'm 57 now. I want to say I was 46-ish when I went back to junior college and it's probably one of the most intense things you can do. I've heard from people on all sides of all kinds of academics and such, but to have a two-year associate degree, they get a lot done in two years that sometimes in a BSN, I know a four-year degree is also equally as difficult, but I think this one's even a little bit more concentrated. 

It was something that I knew that I had to be fully invested in. With my relationship with my husband and my kids and some of them were having kids, and I just had to talk about the idea that "Mom's not going to be as available as she used to be, and I'm choosing this, but I'm also asking your blessing to give me the freedom to be fully occupied in this for two years." 

It really was a full immersion, it was hard, especially hard on my husband who was so used to having me available all the time. There were a few times partway through it that I would have to say, "I would stop doing this today. I will call them today. I will say, 'I need to drop out today if that's what you want."

We would have to work through some things because it really was difficult to have somebody that you're so used to being emotionally connected with or engaged with who all of a sudden is not there. We prayed through it, it was hard, and we kept going, and it's the hardest thing I've ever done.

Shelley: You graduate and then what happens?

Anne: I graduated in 2012. 2013, January, I took my national licensure examination (NCLEX) and passed and I was really happy that I decided to take it as soon as possible because it just can be a daunting test. A lot of people wait and study and I'm like, "You know what? I'm just going to do it."

Shelley: I got to do it.

Anne: I'm so happy I did it right away, January, and during that year that I graduated, it was shortly after the economic downturn, so a lot of the nurses were not retiring. They had lost a lot in their 401k, so there were no jobs. 

As I'm graduating, I'm just thinking, "Great, I've done all this and I'm never going to get a job," and if I were to get a job, the things that were available were nights in skilled nursing facilities, and I'd never stayed up all night before. [chuckles] I just have heard so many hard things about working in a skilled nursing facility. I just thought, "I don't know if I can do this."

One day I saw through my Facebook feed, Azusa Pacific University had an online bachelor's program. I thought I'm going to just contact and that's another one of those things. I feel like the Lord ordered my steps because I applied and I got in and Azusa Pacific had a current program for nurses who were new grads who could not get work. It was called a transition to practice and Azusa Pacific is probably a seven-hour drive from my house in Southern California. Most of it was online, and because I was a new grad without a job and doing classes online, they required me to do clinical down in Southern California.

Anyway, the cool thing with that was, and the reason I bring it up, is my daughter was going to school down at Biola at that time, and she was living in a house and she had space for me. It was just neat to be able to spend some time and stay with her, and so it was pretty neat. I did get my bachelor's degree and my last week of my bachelor's degree, I had a friend from my hometown who went to our church. We were friends, one day she texted me and she said, "Watsonville Hospital is hiring 12 new grads. You need to put your application in and she's going to interview people starting tomorrow, so hurry."

I'm going to have an hour to get in my application and my resume was, fortunately, something we worked hard on in doing my BSN. [chuckles] Anyway, long story short, I did get one of those new grad positions, which was phenomenal because a new grad position basically gives you 12 weeks of training versus two weeks of training.

Shelley: Wow.

Anne: Yes. Another time where I saw the Lord order my steps, like, "Okay, I'm never going to get a job," and then I get a job five minutes from my house. It was really my dream. Now, I have a job and now I'm working nights and I'm like, "How am I going to work nights?" I got off nights within four months. I know people that didn't get off of nights for 10 years. Then I'm like, "Okay, my husband travels a lot. God, I really need a per diem position because per diem means I can work six days in six weeks," so I can travel with him. I can tell them when I want to work. I have to work six days, but I can tell them which six days I want to work. I'm 57 today. I have a day 12 hour per diem job.

It was hard to visualize at the beginning like, "What is this going to look like?" I did have a couple other ideas beyond NICU. My original thing was adult ICU, but I have a neat story on that too of how the Lord just redirected me away from adults, and especially at my age, though I'm somewhat fit. I'm fit for a 57-year-old, but adult ICU, sometimes you have to support the weight of a man and the Lord just knew what I needed and he opened this in specific because I liked the ICU aspect with the intensive care, but now I'm doing it with eight pounders and four pounders [chuckles] instead of a 300-pounder.

Shelley: When you didn't get a job right out of the associate's program, beyond getting to spend time with your daughter, in hindsight, why do you feel that was purposeful for you?

Anne: For me, my two years with Azusa Pacific, so my associate degree was at a public junior college, but my bachelor's was at a Christian school and there were 15 people in my cohort that I was online with. I had faith-based instructors, which was a whole new idea for me. To me, those relationships were really, really special because we were going through hard things together. Half the class actually, of the 15, probably 11 of them had already had positions, so they were in ICUs and they were doing some of this intensive nursing, but they were getting their bachelor's because they were wanting promotions.

Of our 15, four of us were trying to get a job and the other 11 of us were trying to get promotions. It was 15 out of 15 within a month or two after we finished our bachelor's degrees. I think it definitely made me in some ways more marketable as a new hire.

Shelley: What does the day-to-day look like for you now?

Anne: Right now we've gone to 12-hour shifts. I work seven shifts in six weeks. A week and a half ago we had a really hard delivery. Thursday and Friday, I went in, I had two 12-hour shifts. I was a postpartum nurse. I was taking care of moms and babies after they delivered, so I do a lot of that because our NICU census is low, but I'm also per diem, which the benefits of per diem are great but also there's a few drawbacks in that I'm the low man on the totem pole. I get canceled first or I get pushed out of the NICU first. When I get pushed out of the NICU, that means I'm doing postpartum which I actually don't mind and I'm growing in my confidence.

I was two days on postpartum. Then, on Saturday, I got on-call, which I loved. I needed a break. I'd just worked two 12-hour shifts in a row. I get on-call at 6:45 in the morning. At 11:00 they called me in and I got there and as I'm walking in, this is one of the hardest things for me about being on call, is they tell me that we have a bad baby and I need you to set up in the NICU and then I need you to go to the operating room and see what they need there because it was an emergency C-section and [sighs] it was a really hard day. [chuckles] We get a very wide variety of very easy, very quick, very no problem term baby deliveries. We also get some very early premature babies.

As a NICU nurse, I have three roles that I can find myself in. One of them is in the NICU taking care of babies. The other one is being at a delivery for the baby's sake in case they need any kind of resuscitation or support. The third one is the postpartum one I was talking to you about, being with a mom and a baby. I would say most of my shifts have been, we call it resource, where I've been the nurse for the baby at the delivery.

Shelley: Anne, can you tell me about a leap of faith you had to take to get where you are now?

Anne: I think just getting the ball rolling was probably my biggest leap of faith. I was feeling quite comfortable being a stay-at-home mom with not a lot of responsibilities. My kids are raised and three of them were already through college. For me, it was a leap of faith, I think, just making a commitment to really be all in because it meant a loss of flexibility and having my own schedule. I think that was the biggest commitment and the biggest leap of faith. I felt like that was the initial decision. After I made that decision, I just feel like I watched so many things unfold of how God ordered my steps.

Shelley: That is a big trade-off. Raising kids is a lot of work and then homeschooling on top of it and being a very involved mom, you were definitely making a major life shift at that point.

Anne: Yes, I'm big about my responsibilities, so I didn't want to leave anyone behind, and I think just knowing that I had their support. I think, for me, it was obvious that God had given me the green light because of all the different ways things became available to me.

Shelley: Have there been any unexpected blessings, something you couldn't see for yourself in doing this?

Anne: I would say it goes back to that little bit of a brotherhood and being in a profession that is very, very, very hard, but also very, very, very rewarding. One of the nurses I worked with on Saturday, that was that really hard day, she has been a nurse for 25 years and she said, "This was my hardest," and we cried together. We all share the hard thing, the challenging thing, we had all these skills, but yet even though we have all these skills…still…

The neonatologist called us two weeks later and just said, "Thank you all, you did everything you could. There was nothing missing." To have that kind of a bond with people, to me, is something that you don't experience in a lot of normal functions of life.

My friend who recommended me, she and I worked together the other day, and that's another blessing, just to have somebody who was a good friend is now just a real solid colleague.

Shelley: I guess I never really thought about how important it would be to have that support system in your line of work. The thing I keep thinking about is this is such a pivotal moment for families and it's exciting, but it can also be so scary. I just picture you praying through the procedures and calling on God to be there.

Anne: Absolutely. When you're a nurse in the position that I'm in. I think in general, most nurses in acute care you're maxed out on your limit. I don't get an easy assignment because if anyone gets an easy assignment, then they must be able to send one nurse home and give two assignments to one nurse. It's always demanding. For me, those first couple of years, I wasn't as available in my mind to pray because my mind was so occupied with all of the data points. I feel like now that I'm gaining more experience, I can stand back and I'll be in a C-section and can see that the OB's struggling to try to get the baby out, and I'll just be able to sit and pray and, "Okay, God," multiple times.

I do feel like that is a gift, and I'm being able to experience that part of my career a little more recently than I used to.

Shelley: You mentioned earlier that God gave you the green light to do this. It just seems to me like he most definitely was preparing you to be his hands in those moments. Anne, how have you seen God's hand in your career?

Anne: It's Interesting that you say that because when I was in nursing school and the associate program, we would have to go to different hospitals and do different clinical rotations and my clinical rotation at the hospital that I'm at right now, my teacher nurse kept sending me to the NICU. I kept thinking, "Don't send me to the NICU." [chuckles] It's funny because that all ties together, when I was raising kids, and I had a lot of girlfriends raising kids, a lot of them wanted a video at their delivery. I was probably at 10 or 12 of my friends' deliveries videotaping it.

It felt that God was giving me and ordering my steps in a way such that I had many experiences in a room where babies were being born and new life and new family dynamics. Part of me resisted it for a time, and it's interesting because that was like 10 years ago that I was being put in the NICU by that instructor, and I work with her today, and it's pretty cool. I just feel like it is an honor. Most of what I witnessed on many occasions is a deep and profound joy of a daddy meeting his child for the first time and a mommy. I just was thinking more towards this last time when witnessing that same, a deep and profound grief of a daddy and how he put his forehead on the baby's forehead.

That was his hello and his goodbye to his little one. It's a privilege.

Shelley: That's going to make me cry. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Anne: Thank you for asking.

Shelley: As I'm home with my last child, my baby, who is now a senior in high school, I got to be honest, I'm tired. The thought of going back to school for such an intense profession would be too much for me, but I love that Anne got to rekindle a former passion. She was interested in medicine before having kids and in hindsight can see that she had more experience in the delivery room than originally thought. Though she may have resisted being there, I can't help but marvel at how God did in fact guide her steps, walking her into the very room he obviously wanted her to be. Helping families in their most joyous and sometimes heartbreaking moments.

For me, this is just another beautiful example of how God expects us to use our gifts to serve others. He has people in need and he's waiting for us to develop the skills we need to be there to be his hands. Thank you, Anne, for what you do, thank you for sharing your story with us, and thank you for listening. 

Thank you for listening to the Faithful Career Moves Podcast. If you want to know more about how to connect your natural talents and abilities to job opportunities and business ideas, then visit our website at faithfulcareermoves.com.

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Shelley Hunter

About the author

Shelley Hunter is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach with a passion for helping people up-level their careers, return to the workforce with confidence, and identify their strengths so they can find the career they were born to do. She is also a work-at-home mom who left a traditional career as a programmer to be unapologetically home with her kids.

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