A midlife occupational shift may seem like an unsurmountable challenge for some, but big changes can also yield big rewards. And the idea of having a truly fulfilling career does not have an expiration date.
It was with this in mind that Robin Cifaldi made a monumental career change in her 40s, from a married restaurant owner to a single mom and ICU Critical Care Nurse in the Cardiac Unit at Hilton Head Hospital.
While the transition wasn’t easy, as Cifaldi approaches her seventh year in her new vocation, she said she loves and appreciates her new life as a nurse and feels lucky to have been able to make the change and find her “calling.”
“It was the hardest thing I ever did. Going back to school… I was the oldest person there,” Cifaldi said. “But there was a fire inside of me that said, ‘You can do this.’ I had to let go of my ego and just do it.”
Indeed, Cifaldi jokes that it “took a village” to accomplish the career change. At the time she decided to make the change to become a nurse, she was going through a divorce from her husband and had small children. Thankfully, she was able to lean on family members and friends to help her successfully juggle her many responsibilities.
Going back to school for her nursing degree meant taking classes while the kids were at school and studying while they were asleep late at night or early in the morning. She waited tables and bartended when it fit in her schedule to earn money.
With her steadfast determination, Cifaldi was able to complete her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and get to work in just three years.
Cifaldi said she looks forward to going to work every day.
“I feel privileged to do what I do. I love nursing because I learn something new every day. I bring my personal experiences in life to the table as well as my training to help care for others,” Cifaldi said. “As a nurse, I have to problem-solve, think critically about different situations, and rise to the challenge for every patient.
For several years now there has been a huge demand for nurses, so finding a job can be fairly easy for those entering the nursing sector, even if they are older and entering the field as second career candidate. As a result, Cifaldi was able to line up work while completing the final portion of her BSN – the required clinical hours, where one gains real life experience in a hospital or doctor’s office.
“This is where you get to use what you learned and see what you may have an inclination for; what type of nursing you want to be in,” Cifaldi said. “The thing about nursing is that it is such a versatile field, you can do so many different things with it.”
In 2016, Cifaldi decided to work as a nurse in the Cardiac ICU unit in Hilton Head Hospital, a demanding unit with high stakes, as patients’ lives are on the line every day.
“I feel privileged to do it, because I’m with patients and their families at a very vulnerable and traumatic time and I help them feel safe and care for them in critical situations that are constantly changing,” she said.
And perhaps its Cifaldi’s life experience – having cared for her sick mother and grandmother prior to becoming a nurse – that allows her to draw on just the right kind of bedside manner for these critical situations and mix it with her new nursing expertise. In fact, Cifaldi said that her personal experience caring for family members may have planted the seed for her second career. That experience meshed with a commercial she saw about Julia Child having begun her famed occupation as a chef at the age of 50.
“That fact about Julia Child stuck with me and I thought, if she can do it, I can do it,” Cifaldi said.
Bringing life experience to nursing as Cifaldi has done is in fact a great asset to the field, according to her supervisor, Christina Brzezinski, market chief nursing officer for Hilton Head Regional Healthcare.
“Second career nurses are so determined and looking for a more rewarding career,” Brzezinski said. “They have made a choice to sacrifice things and disrupt their lives to become a nurse.”
Brzezinski also noted that their prior work experience, time management, life skills and relationship building skills all come into play to make second-career nurses the best they can be, a facet of nurses that should be fully embraced.
“And it certainly shows when they work,” she said.
Having come to nursing much later in life and through hard work and sacrifice, Cifaldi does appreciate her second career as a nurse and values how it has enriched her life.
“It’s a part of my DNA to help people. I finally found something that is all mine, that I accomplished and that I’m meant to be doing,” she said. “I now know it’s never too late to find your calling.”
Shannon Copcutt is a children’s book author, magazine writer and editor who recently moved to the Lowcountry.
National Nurses Week, May 6-12.
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