Becoming an RN at 40
With almost 20 years experience in corporate sales and marketing, Nathan Swanson
made a life-changing decision in his mid-30s to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
degree from LaGrange College.
“It was definitely a change from one world to another,” says Nathan, who had worked
at corporate Home Depot and Lowe’s offices and was working at a car dealership
when he decided to go to school to become a Registered Nurse.
“Six years ago my wife and I met, and I had been divorced and single for 10 years
with a daughter, and my wife had been divorced for five years with two children,”
“She is a teacher, and we started looking at options for me so that I could find
a job that would be more conducive to family life.”
After considering teaching, they both decided that nursing was the way to go.
“We have friends who are nurses, and we talked with them about it,” says Nathan,
who will graduate this May. “When you become a nurse, the whole world opens up
for you. You can travel anywhere and still be able to find a job in your field.
You will always be able to find a job in the health care field, especially as baby
boomers are starting to retire. And with health issues now, there’s a shortage
for nursing. I’d never had any background in this, so going into health care was
kind of scary, but it was a good fit for what the market was doing.”
He delved into classes in 2009, and two years ago he applied for the George E.
Sims Nursing Scholarship, a program unique to LaGrange and funded by the Fuller
E. Callaway Foundation and managed by the LaGrange-Troup County Hospital Authority.
The scholarship includes all costs associated with fulfilling the requirements
of a nursing degree, and in turn, the recipients agree to work at West Georgia
Health for one to two years after they graduate, depending on the duration of the
scholarship. Around that same time, he landed a job at West Georgia Health to work
as a technician in the Emergency Department. He and his wife also had another son,
who is now 3.
“It really came together and just fell into place all around the same time,” he
says. “ As a husband and as a father, the Sims Scholarship really has been the
lifeline to be able to do what I’ve done.”
Nathan says he felt at ease the first time he set foot on campus to visit the
“I just felt immediately at ease with Dr. Hay,” he says, speaking of Celia Hay,
Professor and Chair of the Nursing Department. “I didn’t even have an appointment.
I just dropped in, and she invited me into her office and was just so easy to talk
to. I automatically felt comfort and a feeling of ‘This is where I should be.’”
Nathan’s senior class has 38 students and is a good mix of traditional and non-traditional
“We’ve spent two years of nursing classes together, and we’ve gotten to know each
other very well and are encouraging to each other,” says Nathan, who was voted
the nursing senior class president by his peers even though he didn’t run.
“That meant a lot to me, but it was just another example of this place, the acceptance
people give you along with the high level of education you get.”
He says the faculty and staff also have been encouraging and that they understand
the complex lives both traditional and non-traditional students must juggle.
“The classes are rigorous, and they know and understand that my schedule is maxed
out with my family and work at the hospital, my church life, and everything else
I do,” he says. “And of course, I’m not the only one like that. I have classmates
who have kids, single moms who have been doing this way longer than I have.”
Nathan says he would urge anyone thinking of going into the nursing field to meet
with a nursing professor to get a feel of how supportive the learning environment
is at LaGrange.
“If I could speak to an adult student thinking of getting a nursing degree, I
would definitely say a BSN rather than an associate degree is the way to go because
of the doors it opens for you,” he says. “I knew I could always find work in sales
and marketing, but with how the market is changing because of the economy, those
jobs are not as fulfilling as they once were with cuts to company cars, smaller
territories, fewer clients.
“If you’re not satisfied with what you’re doing now or things are changing in
your job, you owe it to yourself to look at what is best for you. Coming back to
school to get a degree may be exactly what you need to be doing.”