Second Careers – First Responders, a Good Fit for Nursing

As a nursing student, Mari Moriarty visited elderly patients for a class assignment. It only took one visit to the first elderly patient’s home for her to be inspired by home health nursing, which later became her full-time career.

Nurse Moriarty works for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), which provides home care services to thousands of elderly patients across the New York metropolitan area. While enthusiastic about her career, she remains concerned about how the critical nurse staffing shortage will impact that nation’s surging population of aging Baby Boomers.

Mari Moriarty decided to take matters into her own hands and to begin recruiting others to join her profession and enter the nursing field. In 2003, Moriarty, along with VNSNY, began a series of recruitment workshops aimed at recruiting first responders –New York City firefighters and police.

“This is a workforce already trained to respond to emergencies and with significant experience dealing with all types of dire situations,” Moriarty says. “New York’s first responders also possess other qualities that you need to be a successful nurse. They are problem solvers who are dedicated to public service, and are energetic and passionate about their work.”

Moriarty’s husband, Ed, was a New York City firefighter and was similarly inspired to become a nurse after witnessing nurses in action during and after September 11, 2001. Two other members of the Moriarty extended family, also firefighters, made the career switch to nursing.

Ed’s first day on the job with the VNSNY ironically fell on 9/11/2006, five years after he witnessed so much nursing heroism on his own.

The VNSNY nursing career transition workshops are now recruiting almost 200 New Yorkers a year. Both Moriarty nurses have also shared and used nursing recruitment materials supplied at no cost by The Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future. And though interest in career change is strong, funding the required nursing education remains a challenge.

“Funding for a career change is always an issue,” according to Ed Moriarty, who served as Deputy Chief of Human Resources for the FDNY. “Police and firefighters do not receive funding for education. In addition, due to the ongoing faculty shortage in nursing schools, many qualified applicants are turned away or placed on waiting lists.”

Yet, Mari Moriarty remains positive about the ongoing success of her efforts. “I love to see the positive impact that nurses make in peoples’ lives and the tangible results that a nursing career can offer. As our aging population is going to continue to grow, we are going to continue to encourage New Yorkers to consider a second career in nursing,” Moriarty says.

Currently the VNSNY employs 10 former police officers and firefighters, with expectations of adding more with future transition candidates in nursing schools and training now.

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