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Career Crisis: Considering a Second Act

Nursing provides a steady paycheck, but she wants to become a personal trainer

Can this job be saved? Trish Confer

Photograph by Patrick James Miller, wardrobe styling by Ellen Silverstein; Hair and make-up by Angela Huff

Nurse Trish Confer is tired of paperwork and long hours.

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The crisis

Trish Confer, 57, has been a nurse for 34 years and currently works for a New Jersey nursing home. Mentally, she's not ready to retire — and she needs the money, which can be up to $25 an hour. Although she works part time, she can pick up 32 or more hours a week. Her husband had been sick and recently retired from full-time pastor work, which means the two no longer get free housing and health care benefits. They have a new mortgage, and Confer now pays her portion of health insurance through the church. Also, she loves her coworkers and the flexibility to take off when she needs to; this was critical when her husband was diagnosed with melanoma nearly five years ago. He's better, though he has had relapses.

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Her heart just isn't in nursing anymore. "This is not what I want to be doing the rest of my life," says Confer, who has four children and six grandchildren.


She says she's not a slacker and gives 100 percent at her job, but she's just not having fun. She's tired of the paperwork. And it's hard work lifting heavy patients. Then there are the evening, overnight and weekend shifts.

Confer would like to quit her job and become a full-time personal trainer. After getting a pacemaker a few years ago, she was terrified of working out too hard or lifting weights. Over the summer, she used a personal trainer, who taught her how to exercise safely. She was amazed at the results. And she's been invigorated by the idea of doing something she really enjoys. She's already giving colleagues nutrition and workout tips. She figures she could make $25 to $30 for each half-hour session, and a bit less at a gym. "Maybe," she ventures, "I can change where I'm going?"

See also: 10 tips for career changers

Friendly advice

"I know she's not been happy," says Jessica Moore, Confer's friend and coworker. "She is always saying she needs more hours. She's cognizant of needing to step up and be the breadwinner." Plus, there's the pressure: "In this field, you make one mistake and it's time to move on."

Career counseling

Given Confer's skill set and experience, she's in a good position to ask for more hours, more money or a different set of responsibilities, says Oakland, California–based career coach Marty Nemko. If she doesn't get that, she should start looking elsewhere, with the dual goal of more money and less stress. If she's determined to go the personal-training route, she needs to carefully consider the challenges of earning a living. At a fitness center, she'd earn less than she currently makes, and it would take her two to three years to build up a practice. She'd have to bring in her own clients, spending 10 to 30 hours a week to woo them.

The takeaway: Stay put for now

Confer chose not to negotiate for better conditions and remains convinced she can make it as a trainer. But based on Nemko's advice, she'll keep her nursing job and concentrate on marketing and branding her next career as a trainer. She plans to start her own YouTube channel offering fitness advice. If she finds clients, she may cut back her nursing hours. "If it starts taking off, I'll be in seventh heaven," she says.