College of Healthcare Sciences
15 March 2023
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Ready to make a mid-life career change
Edwina Shepherd always wanted to be a nurse. But for a long time, decades in fact, the timing just wasn’t right.
It wasn’t until Edwina, her husband and their two children moved to Mount Isa seven years ago that the stars aligned, and she was able to become a full-time university student at the JCU Mount Isa, Murtupuni campus — aged 49.
“You don’t hear a lot of stories about people who have gone back to university after having a family. You find yourself thinking ‘oh my goodness, I’m too old’ and that sits with you for quite a while.
“I think women, in particular, put our lives on hold when we have children. For me, in my late 40s, our kids were more independent and suddenly it was like, what am I going to do now?”
The answer turned out to be a new career that brought new passion for Edwina.
Never too late to take on a new career
Edwina started her career in aged care working with dementia patients, a job that was rewarding but very demanding.
“I ended up quite burnt out and needed a break, so I stepped away from the sector for a while,” she says. “My husband, who is a paramedic, was offered a job out west so we made the move and have been Western Queenslanders ever since.”
As the years rolled on, the call to nursing remained strong and Edwina became an enrolled nurse, but always intended to complete a Bachelor of Nursing Science to become a registered nurse.
“We lived in Cloncurry initially and at that time you couldn’t become a registered nurse by distance education. We had just started a young family so physically attending university wasn’t an option. I put my study plans on hold,” she says.
After a 15-year stint in Cloncurry raising her two children and working a few different jobs, the family decided to move to Mount Isa.
“By then my kids were older and more independent, the timing was right, so I started studying nursing at the JCU Mount Isa, Murtupuni campus,” she says.
“Being able to study at a campus made the whole experience more enjoyable, I think having the face-to-face contact with the lecturers and tutors makes a big difference.
“Being that bit older, I felt it took me a bit longer to get my head around some of the concepts around university study and, in terms of nursing, things had changed a lot. The basic skills hadn’t changed — the showering, the dressing, they never change. But the medications had, and going from an enrolled nurse to a registered nurse, the expectations in terms of responsibilities and knowledge went up a few notches.”
But she says her family, her biggest supporters, were behind her every step of the way. “My family were absolutely amazing; I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Nursing where it's needed most
Since graduating in 2019, Edwina has hit the ground running, filling the all-important role of floor nurse in Mount Isa’s unpredictable emergency department.
“In our city there is no average week. I think the best way to sum up a week in emergency in Mount Isa is busy,” she says.
Edwina says she looks forward to nursing in Mount Isa for another 15-plus years.
“I love it. I don’t think I’m always going to be a shift worker because shift working takes so much out of you, but I will definitely keep nursing for many years,” she says.
Edwina says the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for nurses across the globe, but she was able to adapt. “COVID-19 hit in February 2020, just as I started working in emergency, so I don’t know how to nurse outside of the influence of COVID-19," she says.
“We were lucky out here because the strict lockdowns meant that it took a long time for COVID-19 to get to Mount Isa, but it was still scary. We have a large Indigenous population that is susceptible to respiratory illnesses and everybody was worried about how the population would cope.”
Even as the impacts of the pandemic have reduced in recent times, Edwina says elements of her job continue to challenge her every day.
“I think nursing is really tough no matter where you are these days. I think COVID-19 changed things and peoples’ expectations of nurses and emergency departments in general are completely different to what they once were.”
However, Edwina says nursing — and starting a new career in mid-life — has been difficult, wonderful, and 100 per cent worthwhile. She says anyone contemplating a career change, at any age, should dive right in.
“Go for it! No matter how old we are, it doesn’t matter that we are changing direction. Challenging ourselves by learning something new is what keeps us vital, it keeps our brains ticking over,” she says.