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Nursing as a second career: How four HopeHealth nurses found their way

The journey to becoming a nurse is a winding path for many nurses. The median age of a newly licensed nurse is 29 for an RN and 32 for an LPN, according to the 2020 National Nursing Workforce Survey. During National Nurses Week May 6 through 12, we’re happy to tell you how these four HopeHealth nurses found their way to a purpose-driven career.

Cynthia Brown, RN, CHPN, Clinical Educator

Cynthia Brown understands the needs of adult learners. She was one herself when she went back to school after two decades.
Cynthia Brown understands the needs of adult learners. She was one herself when she went back to school after two decades.

She was a professional seamstress for 23 years, operating her own custom drapery workroom and making costumes for clients. But when Cynthia Brown’s youngest child was preparing to start college, she decided it was time to sew herself a new career.

Still, Cindy was a little worried. She was 46 years old. Then she received some very good advice from a friend.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness. I’m going to be 50 when I graduate,” she recalls. “And they said … ‘Well you’re still going to be 50 anyway.’”

Cindy enrolled at the Community College of Rhode Island and spent two years completing the prerequisites before being accepted into the associate’s degree and registered nurse program. She graduated in 2007 on the same day her daughter graduated from Skidmore College.

During her clinical training, Cindy worked in the neurosurgery unit at Rhode Island Hospital and ended up working there for three years after she graduated. The experience led to her interest in working in the hospice field.

“I saw many patients with less than a peaceful exit from this world,” Cindy recalls. “I knew I would someday end up working in hospice.”

Cindy worked at another home hospice and palliative care agency for two years before coming to work at the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center in 2012. After six years on the inpatient unit, she took on the added role of per diem educator, teaching clinical skills and Medicare documentation to new hires and providing clinical training for students from area universities.

In 2018, Cindy became a full-time clinical educator. She oversees HopeHealth’s program supporting staff nurses and aides studying for professional certification exams. And she easily identifies with adult learners like she had been, not so long ago.

“The years have gone so fast,” Cindy says.

Rosemary Fakunle, LPN, Home Care Nurse

Nurse sitting in her car as she gets ready to drive to her patients home
Rosemary Fakunle is enrolled in an online degree program to advance her nursing career and become an RN.

She comes from a family of nurses, including an aunt who had her own home health care agency. But when Rosemary Fakunle graduated from high school and headed to the University of Rhode Island, she chose psychology over nursing as her major.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Rosemary worked as an activities assistant director at a nursing home in Providence. She enjoyed planning exercise sessions for patients, and for the family members who often visited their loved ones. Many of her patients had Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and didn’t remember participating in the activities. But Rosemary saw the positive effect it left on the patients and how much it meant for families to be able to participate.

“They were getting that quality time and it makes the family member feel better,” Rosemary recalls. “It was challenging. I think that drew me to nursing.”

Rosemary went back to school to earn a nursing degree and became a licensed practical nurse in 2013. She worked in long-term care facilities before joining HopeHealth Visiting Nurse in 2019.

“What I like especially is the one-on-one,” she says. “They always say nursing is a very rewarding career. I feel that even more during this pandemic. You’re coming into their homes. Now, you’re not just a nurse but you’re their friend.”

Bonding with her patients has been especially meaningful during the pandemic. Rosemary helped a few patients who had difficulty getting their COVID-19 vaccines by calling their primary care doctors on their behalf.

Now she is enrolled in Labouré College of Healthcare’s accelerated LPN to RN program to advance her nursing career.

“A lot of people appreciate what we do but now more than ever,” Rosemary says. “I will literally go to the store and if I have my uniform on, I hear ‘Thank you for your service.’ I’m not used to hearing that.”

Brooke Wheeler, RN, CHPN, Manager, Care Navigation

Nurse smiling in front of greenery
Brooke Wheeler realized nursing gave her the opportunity for a rewarding career after being disillusioned while working in finance during the subprime mortgage crisis.

Brooke Wheeler intended to work in the criminal justice system when she majored in sociology and criminology in college in North Carolina. Now her eye for detail serves her well as manager of HopeHealth’s six nurse care navigators, the team that connects patients to hospice, home care and palliative care services.

After graduating in 2003, Brooke moved to New Jersey and took a job as an accounts payable clerk with an HVAC company while waiting to sit for a civil service exam. She wanted to be a probation officer but as the wait dragged on, she started working as a commissions analyst with now defunct global investment bank and financial firm Bear Stearns.

“Absolutely hated it,” Brooke says. “I said to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ I was already making double what I would have made as a starting probation officer.”

Brooke knew she wanted a career where she could earn a good living and grow professionally. So she turned her attention to nursing.

“I thought to myself, ‘You really like people and you’re not squeamish about blood,’” she says. “I wanted job security and I wanted to do something with people.”

She earned her associate’s degree from County College of Morris in New Jersey and became an RN in 2008. She worked as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse at a New Jersey hospital before landing a job at Roger Williams Medical Center in Rhode Island. In 2012, she was hired as an admissions nurse at HopeHealth.

It’s been a long and winding road since she monitored compliance with curfews and drug testing while interning in college with a probation department in North Carolina. It was good training to become a nurse, Brook says.

“Those social skills and learning how to read a room and care for family members dealing with difficult situations, it really did give me the skills to stay very level-headed and help those in need,” she says.

Katie Vilardo, RN, Case Manager

Nurse stands smiling in front of painting
Katie Vilardo was inspired to become a nurse after becoming a mother.

Katie Vilardo entered the workforce as a dietary aide at Newport Hospital when she was a teenager. Then she earned an associate’s degree in education and worked overnights in call centers at three different hospitals.

Even though Katie always worked in a hospital setting, it wasn’t until she had her two children and saw nurses in action in the maternity ward that she finally realized what she wanted for a career.

“The nurses were so good,” she recalls. “That’s what I wanted to do.”

Katie decided to go back to school to earn an associate’s degree in nursing from the Community College of Rhode Island. She became a registered nurse at the age of 32. Nursing gave her the opportunity to work a schedule she could balance with her role as a parent.

“I didn’t want to be away from my kids at night,” she says.

Now her son is 13 and her daughter is 12. They know their mother’s job means she has an important role in helping families through a difficult time.

“They understand and I talk to them about life and death,” Katie says. “It’s good for them to know.”

On the job, Katie often hears about proverbial bucket lists from talking with patients and families. She listens when they express regrets about not spending more time with family. Becoming a hospice nurse has not only given her a better work schedule to be a mother, it has also given her a deeper appreciation for life. For this perspective, Katie says she feels especially fortunate.

“I make sure I spend my time with my kids,” she says. “I give them every last hug they ask for.”

Discover diverse nursing career opportunities today! Explore your path to a fulfilling future. Learn more about our openings in nursing!

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