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Career changers make switch to nursing

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Kesha Eason
Former social worker Kesha Eason, the daughter of a nurse: “I’m glad I changed careers.”

Photo: Kathryn Marchetti

Five years of refereeing fights between litigants was enough for Dina Zissimopoulos.

A civil litigation attorney for a large Wall Street firm in New York, Zissimopoulos began questioning her desire to continue her legal career. The passion she felt for her job had waned.

An avid student who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Urbana-Champaign and with high honors from Duke University Law School, Zissimopoulos decided to return to school in the College of Nursing’s Graduate Entry Program.

“It’s very intellectually challenging, more so than law school,” Zissimopoulos said. “I used to think there was a large volume of information in law school, but nurses know so much more.”

Initiated in January 2005, the Graduate Entry Program is designed for individuals who hold a baccalaureate degree in a field other than nursing and wish to become nurses.

The 15-month program is intense, and once completed — 27 students graduated in the first class, and 35 more, including Zissimopoulos, will finish in May the students will be prepared to take the examination to become a registered nurse.

They will further their education by working on a master’s degree in specialty areas such as pediatrics, administrative studies or occupational health.

Nurses have been in demand since a shortage began in 1998; it is reportedly the longest-lasting nursing shortage of the past 50 years. Programs like UIC’s could change that.

According to a recent study published in the journal Health Affairs, people entering the nursing profession in their late 20s and early 30s are helping to narrow the nursing shortage.

The study found that the substantial increase in older individuals becoming nurses will decrease the expected shortfall to 340,000 registered nurse vacancies by 2020, instead of a previously projected shortage of 760,000 registered nurses.

UIC’s students in the program come from varied backgrounds: law, social work, finance, public health, fine arts and other professions.

“They are incredibly motivated,” said Barbara Simmons, clinical assistant professor of nursing and program leader.

“They had a job they thought they wanted, and maybe it didn’t work out. Or else they have this passion and this is what they’re always wanted to do. Then they go for it.”

As the daughter of a nurse, Kesha Eason thought she would follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a health care provider. Fascinated by her mother’s medical books, she spent hours hours trying to understand the photos of the human anatomy.

However, after beginning her education in pre-medicine, she decided to pursue psychology. She earned a master’s degree in social work and helped homeless families through the Catholic Charities’ New Hope Apartments program.

“As a social worker, you burn out pretty quickly, especially if you work with your heart,” said Eason, who received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UIC.

“I never lost the itch to get into medicine. The program is fantastic. It’s a lot harder than what I hoped for, but if you’re going to be entrusted with someone’s life, it should be hard.”

Along with her full-time course load, Eason is a student nurse apprentice at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, giving her a glimpse of her future professional life. She will specialize in midwifery and women’s health in the master’s program.

“I really enjoy the Graduate Entry Program because we support and encourage each other,” Eason said. “I’m glad I changed careers.”

Zissimopoulos worked in the education department at the Field Museum upon returning to her native Chicago from New York. While she enjoyed the job, she thought it would be more interesting to be a scientist rather than just talk about it.

“I credit my doctor for my career change,” she said. “We were discussing jobs in the medical field and she is a big supporter of nurses. She put me in touch with some nurse practitioners, and after talking with them and taking some preliminary science courses, I knew nursing is what I really liked.”

With the demanding coursework, her part-time job at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County and all the activities she has at home — she is the mother of two young children and the wife of an attorney — Zissimopoulos has to manage her time wisely.

“I haven’t found it to be overwhelming but you have to be very efficient,” Zissimopoulos said.

“I’ve been very pleased with my education and happy with my choice of becoming a nurse.”

Below: "I've been very pleased with my education and happy with my choice of becoming a nurse," says Dina Zissimopoulos, shown here at her part-time job at Stroger Hospital.

Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin Dina Zissimopoulos

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