9 Lives for Women Blog

The Candy Striper Revisited | June 27th, 2012

When Irene Bick of Bronxville, New York was in seventh grade she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up:  a doctor or a nurse. Ever determined, she figured out how to become a Red Cross volunteer and then a candy striper in an osteopathic hospital.  Though she took her volunteer job very seriously, it would be more than 30 years of corporate twists and turns before Irene would return to the nursing world.

Irene’s early penchant for nursing morphed into diverse public service, marketing and advertising interests—including a direct marketing stint in the music industry.  For many years her focus was less on helping people, and more on helping companies market consumer products.

An insurance marketing job focused on the retirement market inadvertently brought Irene back to her nursing roots.  She started to see more of the people side of business—studying the psychological issues retirees face and how they become more reflective and focused on core values.

At the time Irene was feeling unfulfilled in her job, and all the focus on retirement issues made her consider her own choices for later life.  She realized she was missing the opportunity to help people and make a real difference.  Thinking that she might want to move back to her childhood “career”, Irene started taking biology and statistics courses at night.  These are general prerequisites for many medical fields of study—including the interests she had in medical technology, physical therapy or nursing.  Because corporate insurance is adjacent to health care, she even convinced her boss to send her to two public health courses that could expand her health care reform knowledge base for her current job and lay the groundwork for a masters in public health.

It’s always nice to consider a new career path when you have the comfort of a full-time job.  But this security is both a help and a hindrance:  a full-time job leaves little time for new pursuits.  Time soon became a non-issue when Irene’s corporate job was eliminated.  Suddenly she had a wide open schedule to consider many new possibilities.

Irene sent an email to friends and family letting them know her job had been eliminated and that she was moving in very different directions.  She talked about her interest in pursuing a health care career –but noted, “sadly, it’s too late for me to become a clinician”.

A family member who received Irene’s email had just completed an accelerated nursing program.  She challenged Irene’s assumption that she was too old to pursue a nursing career, and pointed out that there had been many older women in her program.  Irene then met with a woman in her mid-50s who had just finished the program—and networked with many other students and school administrators.

Before too long Irene decided to take her candy striper experience to another level.  She is now taking prerequisite courses for accelerated nursing programs, and planning to apply for admission in the fall.  Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner either in a senior living facility (leveraging her retirement work) or in a primary care family practice.  With the RN degree she also has the flexibility to pursue corporate jobs that are focused on improving the health care system.

One look at Irene’s Linkedin profile tells you she had a distinguished corporate career.  Though she found marketing both fun and challenging, she says there were many days she wondered what she accomplished for the world.  Work with meaning is now foremost on her mind—as she becomes the grown-up, professional version of the candy striper volunteer.  —KAS

  • Remember what you wanted to be when you grew up:  sometimes you’ll find the seeds for reinvention.
  • Take baby steps toward new possibilities while you have a job or as you research.
  • Never think you are too old to pursue any career:  where there’s a will there’s a way.

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