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AARP Bulletin

Life Reimagined

The Late Shift: Second Acts in Nursing

See why these 4 people switched careers to care for others

second career in nursing for Sheryl A. Ramstad, judge

Retired judge Sheryl A. Ramstad completed her master's in nursing and is entering a doctoral nursing program. — Ackerman + Gruber


Age: 64

Current Job: Nursing doctoral student, University of Minnesota

Previous Experience: Judge, Minnesota Tax Court, and commissioner, Minnesota Department of Corrections

Sheryl A. Ramstad learned about the value of nurses the hard way. In 1979, at age 29, she was training to be a pilot when the engine of her Piper Tomahawk sputtered and quit and the plane dropped "like a lead balloon," she recalls. Ramstad suffered serious burns and nearly lost her right hand. "It was burned down to the bone," she says.

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In the burn unit at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center, Ramstad struggled to live. She developed an infection that required a six-hour surgery. "My chances of surviving were probably 10 percent," she says.

During her long convalescence, a photo by her bed showed her jogging. Ramstad remembers the challenge a nurse issued: In two years, you'll be running a marathon. Ramstad completed the race two years later with a time of 3 hours, 53 minutes.

See also: Reimagine your life

Ramstad, who recently retired as a judge, got her master's in nursing last year and will soon enter a doctoral nursing program. For Ramstad, a critical duty for nurses is motivating patients to look "beyond the injuries."

During training, she met a woman who was unable to look at her own burned hand. One evening, Ramstad revealed her scars to the patient and "talked about what I had to do to get movement back." The patient responded. "I had the feeling," Ramstad says, "that I was really able to make a difference."

second career in nursing for Chris Tower, monk

Chris Tower spent 22 years as a monk before becoming a psychiatric nurse-practitioner. — Ryan Pfluger


Age: 62

Current Job: Psychiatric nurse-practitioner, Hampton Bays, N.Y.

Previous Position: Buddhist monk

Private practice meant something very different to Chris Tower when he was a Buddhist monk known as Reverend Kinsei. Tower, who lived for 22 years in a California monastery, recently graduated as a nurse-practitioner and specializes in psychiatric care.

In 2003, Tower, then 52, left the life of a monk. Financial need as well as his biology background motivated him to choose nursing. After nursing school, he landed a job at a hospital in Long Island, N.Y., but the job proved overwhelming. He also questions whether colleagues unconsciously overestimated his skills. "I think they thought I would be like a samurai, jumping around giving IVs from a distance. A lot of people have misconceptions about what it is to be a monk."

He found a better fit at a rehab facility for substance abusers. "One of the things that they stressed in nursing school is, everybody can find their niche. I kept that in mind as kind of a mantra," Tower says.

Tower often borrows from his monastic training to calm anxious patients. At his abbey, he once served as guest master, something of a spiritual concierge. He asked his teacher for advice about managing less-enlightened guests. Treat everybody like the Buddha, his teacher said. "The important thing is to see everybody as a Buddha, and that operates with my patients."

David Wallis is a freelance writer based in New York.

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