Launching a Second Career Instead of Retiring

A couple in their 50s delays retirement to become nurses

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Starr and Cody Buck, a 50-something married couple in Lubbock, Texas, started a second career together as registered nurses in January. Cody, 58, was a chief lending officer for a bank until the company was sold in 2007. Starr, 53, ran her own child care business, which she enjoyed. But Starr was looking for a change of pace from the regulations and licensing requirements necessary to run the business and constantly competing with other child care providers.

[See 30 Fast-Growing Careers for Older Workers.]

By the time the last of their three children had moved out of the house for college the couple was ready for new careers. The Bucks decided to go to nursing school together. They were the oldest people in their courses. “Everybody else in the class was in their 20s,” says Starr. But the couple had no trouble finding work. They graduated in December 2009 with jobs already lined up at the Covenant Health System, the second largest employer in Lubbock. "I think there's always going to be a job open for a good nurse," says Buck.

About 581,500 jobs for registered nurses are expected to be added to the economy between now and 2018, according to a recent Northeastern University analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau data. Researchers Barry Bluestone and Mark Melnik ranked registered nurses as the second fastest-growing career for older workers, behind only primary, secondary, and special education teachers. Growth will be largely driven by an aging population, which is much more likely than younger people to need nursing care.

[See 7 Tips for Working for a Younger Boss.]

The Bucks now each work three 12-hour shifts a week. Cody is in the nephrology department and Starr works with critical care patients. To Starr, after running her own business, working a set schedule feels like “partial retirement”. The couple makes less money than they did before becoming nurses, but they enjoy the work more. "I am moving to a stage in life where I am looking for some type of reward other than just financial," Cody says. "I think as people age everybody has some kind of additional need to make some kind of contribution, some kind of personal fulfillment."

The work can be exhausting and the shifts are long, but the couple says they feel rewarded in their new career. “Anybody who is in a hospital, they want to be talked to and treated like a person instead of as a patient,” says Cody. “I feel good any time I feel like I have made somebody’s stay easier for them.”

Check out these 10 Places to Launch a Second Career in Retirement.