By Laura Raines, for the AJC
How far would you go to find a career that fits your passion? When do you give up the excuses, ignore the odds and surmount the obstacles to begin a career where you can make a difference?
“Now!” is the advice of three professionals who decided to make nursing their second — and last — careers.
Robert Angstadt, BSN, RN
With an MBA, Robert Angstadt, 47, had worked his way up to regional sales manager in the automotive industry. He was working six days a week, traveling constantly and not enjoying it, when a serious car crash in 2000 made him rethink his priorities.
“I wanted to do something positive and work in some kind of helping profession,” Angstadt said.
He had several family members who were teachers, but Angstadt kept remembering the nurses who touched his life when his father died at 40 and his brother died at 15.
“I didn’t realize they had such an effect on me, but they must have,” he said.
Angstadt volunteered at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta so he could observe the profession up close, and then began taking prerequisite courses for nursing school in 2003.
“My mom was horrified and I thought my boss would come out of his chair when I told him,” he said. “I did it on faith, but I was terrified. I had never even taken a [college] science class.”
Angstadt graduated cum laude from Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing in 2008.
“Having some age on me helped,” he said. “I just didn’t let little things bother me. They still don’t.”
Angstadt is a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
“When I’m at work I give 110 percent to my patients and their families, and they appreciate it,” he said. “Most new parents don’t anticipate ending up in the NICU.
“It’s sad and scary, but most of those children go home eventually, and I like to think I play a little part in that happening.”
A recent thank-you card from a grateful grandmother made his day and affirmed that his work matters.
“I love what I do and, for the first time in my life, I’m content,” he said.
Lorraine Withers, RN, MSN, FNP-C
Withers, 45, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, served in the Army for five years and then worked as an engineer for Proctor & Gamble, but she found herself drawn to medicine.
“I’m a process person and so system-oriented and, of course, the human body is all systems and processes,” Withers said.
She considered attending medical school, but she had young children and decided that nursing was more feasible and offered multiple career paths.
She earned her associate degree in nursing from Darton College in Albany in 1999.
“I started working in the emergency room, doing trauma nursing, and loved it. Then my best friend said we should become nurse practitioners,” Withers said.
It wasn’t an easy road.
“I was able to get a scholarship to Emory and the two of us commuted three-and-a-half hours for two days every week for two-and-a-half years,” Withers said. “We rented a basement apartment from a friend and sometimes my kids would come with me.
“I was still working as an ER nurse and people would say, ‘You look tired.’ I heard that a lot, but with the backing of my amazing husband, I made it.”
Withers graduated from the RN to MSN bridge program in 2003, and now is a nurse practitioner at Lung Diagnostics, a private pulmonary practice in Albany.
“I love the complex pathology and the critical care aspect of being able to help really sick patients and seeing them respond to treatment,” Withers said. “I’m passionate about what I do and have never looked back.”
She also became the charter president of the Albany Nurse Practitioners Chapter.
“Anyone can say, ‘I’m too busy,’ ” she said, “but if it’s something you value, I say, ‘Just do it.’ ”
Thomas Tucker, MSN, MBA, RN, GNP-BC
For 14 years, Tucker, 57, traveled more than 400,000 miles a year working in commercial sales for aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas.
A hospital stay for depression when he was 30, and taking his mother for chemotherapy treatments in the early 90s had left him with a favorable impression of nurses.
“Work was just work and I had thought about doing something humanitarian,” Tucker said. “Boeing buying McDonnell Douglas in 1997 pushed me into action.”
He started taking nursing prerequisite courses at night and applied to Emory University’s nursing school, wondering if his [then] 53-year-old brain could cut it.
Tucker shouldn’t have worried; he graduated magna cum laude with his BSN in 2005 and became a staff nurse in the long-term, acute care unit at Wesley Woods Geriatric Hospital in Atlanta.
“I was used to being in management, so giving direct care was an adjustment, but it made me feel wonderful when patients would say, ‘I want you to be my nurse,’ ” he said. “My former job demanded customer service, so I go the extra mile to keep my patients healthy and happy.”
While working, Tucker went back to school in 2007 to become a nurse practitioner, specializing in gerontology. He’s now the nurse practitioner for the Budd Terrace Nursing Home at Wesley Woods.
He wears a lab coat and a bow tie to work.
“The staff gives me funny looks, but the patients love it,” he said. “At this point in life you’d like to think that you did something that made a contribution. I just want to keep nursing as long as I can.”