It all began in 2010 when my four children were still at home, my husband at the time was making a great living and we were quite comfortable. Out of boredom, I decided after being out of the full-time workforce for 15 years, I wanted to utilize my nursing skills as I had worked so hard for, many years ago. I started out by taking a required refresher course mandated by the state to bring me up to speed on the latest healthcare trends and national health issues and assured that my license was current. Shortly after that I offered myself up to the Georgia Department of Public Health as an extern in their Vaccines for Children program over the summer to flex my public health muscle. I also did some worksite wellness for Chick-fil-A corporate as well as health fairs and lunch & learns on requested health topics by small local businesses.
Little did I know that over the next five to seven years our lives would drastically change. By 2012, we had endured my husband's layoff which ended up lasting 3 1/2 years. It hit us quite hard given we had four children with my oldest in college in California. We began to pull back from our activities, club memberships, traveling, and gradually started liquidating our assets as well as selling off beloved heirlooms. Things became more stressful for all of us. By 2016 we had lost our home to foreclosure, but were granted a period of time in which we could find a new place to live. By 2017 we had not only moved into a rental, but we were hit hard again by yet another unexpected layoff, this one a little shorter totaling only 2- 2 1/2 years. By that time we also had our car repossessed as we were no longer able to make payments and still trying to recover from the first extended layoff. My husband was in his early 60s and the job prospects looked very grim. Friends either disappeared or began to keep their distance from us, as though they were afraid they would “catch our disease”. Both of our families could only offer us minimal support if any at all. We were both only children, so we had very small extended families. By this time, my twins were in college and we did the best we could with loans and scholarships. I wasn't sure when this nightmare would come to an end.
By the fall of 2017, I had to step up to the plate or my family would be homeless. The madness was taking its toll on all of us. I polished up my resume and attended free classes every week at Roswell United Methodist Church CareerNet , one of the largest Christian career coaching groups in the country. I received free resume and interview coaching, attended a lot of inspirational speakers, and received a lot emotional support from their staff. In addition, I acquired two new suits for interviews as the church also offered “gently used” business apparel in the basement of their building. I reached out to colleagues and other members of my profession from my past for insight and support. I even reached out to a few LinkedIn members who were more than willing to engage me over the phone and help me with ideas. After much soul searching and researching local hospice companies, I decided to take a chance in hospice nursing. I had no prior experience, but I was told that my basic skills set proved very valuable. I decided that when I walked into that interview with Amedisys Hospice, they were going to love me and make me an offer. I projected an air of confidence, desire, humor, and professionalism as I discussed with the director why I felt I was the best one for the job. It wasn't 15 minutes until I walked out of that room that I received a text from the recruiters saying, “ They LOVED you!” I couldn't believe it. After 15 years of being out of the full-time workforce and being 55 years old, it was a true miracle. How in the world did this happen? A sense of gratitude washed over me that I couldn't explain. I was the one who was going to save my family.
Besides seeing patients during normal working hours, I was also on-call one night a week and one weekend a month. When I wasn't on-call on a weekend, I was working in the Home & Kids department at Kohl's. I was doing everything I could to keep us afloat. I was exhausted all the time, but I just kept going. Maybe because I knew that at some point there would be an end in sight. Finally, my husband had landed some contractual work, so after 18 months of straight hustling, I could take my foot off the gas a bit, but we still had a long way to go. I ended up loving my work, my patients, and their families, and it became a peaceful escape from the stress at home. And the more I did, the more I wanted more. Between learning the new technology, learning new medications and symptom management, I continued to grow and become more and more confident in my role. Some nights I would stay awake and tearfully think, ‘I’m doing it all. I'm taking care of my patients and my family. My time will come…’
By my birthday in March 2019, I had been in hospice nearly three years and had a burning desire to try something new. Maybe end my days as a clinician? As a birthday gift to myself, I took a six-week, online certificate course on legal nurse consulting. How interesting that would be to offer my services to the legal community! At the same time, my marriage had fully deteriorated, and I was contemplating moving to Charleston SC to be closer to the ocean once my youngest child started college in the fall of 2020. Sadly, the market was so sparse there due to the Covid shutdown, I ended up back in Atlanta. I had to put my dreams on the shelf and wait for my opportunity, I thought. After settling my daughter in at UGA, I continued working in hospice hoping that an opportunity would arise soon. One day, while I was caring for a hospice patient whose family was so grateful for my care, the oldest daughter approached me and told me that when I was ‘ready to leave hospice’ to reach out to her. My eyes widened as she told me she was the director of recruitment for Pruitt Health. She also knew about my recent studies and assisted me in landing a full-time position at the corporate office on Pruitt’s compliance team. What a game changer. Higher salary, better hours, no holidays, and no more on-call nights. A nurse’s dream.
I have been with Pruitt Health since October 2020, and it has truly been a career change. Between preparing charts for audits, writing appeals or doing education with any of our administrators in the four states we serve, I am learning a lot about the laws that surround Medicare and the importance need for compliance. Is this the last stop for me at nearly 60 years old? Only time will tell.
We caught up with Karolyn to dive a little deeper into her relaunch story and the advice she has for other relaunchers...
What do you think the most frustrating part of relaunching was for you?
I think it was very personal. I think it had a lot to do with my confidence, my ability to present myself as marketable at this age and at this stage. I had been out of the workforce for 15 years as well as being 55 years old. I felt like I was starting from the ground up. It was really my confidence that made a huge difference. Once I was feeling more sure of myself and where I wanted (and needed) to go, I was able to present a confident image to the employer. Because when you go in and you sit down with that employer, and you're feeling unsure of yourself, they can sense that trepidation.
It's almost like when you go shopping for a car, that sales person knows that you're hesitating. It's the same type of thing. if you really want that job, you have to believe that you want that job, that you are that job, that you're not going to leave without that offer. And you've got to go in there and get it just like you're going to walk in and you're going to buy that car at that price today. When you make up your mind to do something, it's amazing what you can accomplish. But it is really a personal obstacle to convince yourself that you're able to take that leap. I think the hardest part is really turning on the self-confidence and really believing it.
What was the most exhilarating or energizing part of relaunching?
Honestly, finally getting that offer was really the most exhilarating. And what was really interesting was I thought to myself, "Okay, I'm going to walk in this room. I'm going to give them my absolute best. I'm going to be as genuine and as solid as possible and let them know that I really want this job, and that I can really be a great asset to their team." I wanted to sell myself so I served up my very best because I needed this for my family. And I walked out and it wasn't 15 minutes, my phone was buzzing and I got this text from the recruiter. "THEY LOVED YOU," in capital letters. "They want to give you an offer." My head was spinning- I felt like I won the lottery. I had this little information sitting in my hand. Nobody knows this right now but me, and I'm just going to hold on to it. I don't want to tell anybody yet, because I own this right now. The first thing that I did was take myself out for a great lunch at a really great Indian restaurant to celebrate my win. I literally sat there basking in my little victory.
After an hour or two, I went home and I shared the news with everybody, now feeling a little nervous about new doubts and concerns. You're stepping onto this platform that you haven't stepped onto for many years. And the world has changed in those 15 years. You're thinking, "Am I going to be able to stay on board?" They gave me the offer and sure, it was the end of one chapter, but it's the beginning of another one. If you're starting this new thing thinking, "Okay, am I going to be able to meet their goals? Am I going to be able to be a good member of the team? Am I going to give them what they want?"
The whole experience shifts, because you get the excitement when you get the offer, you get the benefits, and then there's a whole new set of worries that come along. And so that was chapter two. One of my favorite quotes of all time is Richard Branson's, "When an opportunity knocks, take it and figure out the rest later." It is absolutely right. And I thought to myself, I'll just figure it out later. They want me, they like me. They chose me over somebody else, and I got it. So I'm going to run with it and I'm going to make mistakes.
And the thing is too, I did make some mistakes while adjusting. I was actually sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store, about to be on my way to see a patient. And I just lost it...I started to cry, because I was getting flustered with the electronic charting system. I wasn't sure I was inputting the information correctly. I called my manager and I said, "Oh my God, I put the wrong note in, I put it in on March 4th and it should have been March 14th," whatever the mistake was. And she's like, "Don't worry, don't worry."
It meant so much to me because I didn't want to screw up my first job, I didn’t want to fail them and I was so nervous about making a mistake. When I look back on it now, I think, Karolyn, why in the world did you get so upset? It's because it meant so much to me...I didn't want this opportunity taken away from me.
What did you find most helpful during this process, during your relaunch?
Given we were on a budget...as much as I wanted to hire a career coach, those were very expensive. But I did reach out to a lot of people in the community and found resources that were helpful in my relaunch. The first one was a church here in Atlanta called Roswell United Methodist Church Career Net. It's one of the largest Christian career networks in the country. They have meetings and classes at night, whether it’s helpful topics by a psychologist, a resume writer, a photographer for LinkedIn headshots, someone to help with public speaking or interview skills, all free of charge, sponsored by the church. I went and I learned so much and it was very empowering. They even had a Dress for Success closet in the basement of the church where they had gently used business suits and separates that you could try on and take with you. It was just incredible what they were doing. They were doing all kinds of really great things to help get people back on their feet.
The other thing I did that was really helpful was I reached out to colleagues on LinkedIn. The reason I did this is because the LinkedIn platform lends itself to a supportive type of environment, and very rarely do I see people bashing or judging others.
I used LinkedIn to approach a few nursing recruiters thinking they would be a great resource and may be willing to provide me with some tips. I was able to establish some connections with some really nice, well-meaning people on LinkedIn who are willing to help, including a recruiter for one of the large hospitals in Texas who was kind enough to call me a couple of times and just chat and brainstorm with me.
When approaching these conversations though, my advice is that you can’t be afraid to ask. I think a lot of people think they need to be extremely formal, but if you just send an email or a private message,’ Hello, I really love what you're posting and you seem to know the industry well. I'm getting ready to come back to the workforce and I was wondering if maybe we could chat for maybe 15 minutes?’ I think people are really flattered by that because it's such a form of admiration that you want their expertise. I was surprised by some of nice responses I received.
The other piece of advice came from networking and reaching out to my college alumni group, which also had a career coach service where I got tips on interviewing, presentation and some other career related things to think about. But the best advice I learned from her is that because people are very busy and don’t have a lot of time, you can’t leave them guessing. She advised - the workforce is very provincial. When somebody says, 'What are you looking for?' Don't say, 'I don't know.” You need to have an answer, you need to be focused." And so when I would reach out to these people, I'd say, "Hey, could you help me with some interviewing skills? I have a question about how to open an interview." And that's a very direct and specific question. When I would approach someone else, "Oh, I'm really having a problem with my history on my resume." You have to be real specific about what it is you want, about what you are asking of someone because if you say, "Oh, I need help with my resume." That's a pretty broad question, and a pretty big time commitment for that person that could go on for hours.
What kind of upskilling or reskilling did you have to embark on to relaunch?
I'm an RN and my background was mainly in cardiac medicine, and later open heart and transplant. And so I left the workforce, and while I was out, of course, I didn't know that I would be going back in such a capacity...life is truly full of surprises.
At the beginning, I was doing very temporary contractual work, which we call PRN work. I was involved with worksite wellness, health education, and did assessments for a local home health company.
When I came back to the full time workforce, I was mandated by the state to take a refresher course. I had already kept my license, but this refresher course was separate from my license and was almost a year course through Kennesaw State, a local community college here in Atlanta. It involved online coursework plus a clinical at a local hospital with a preceptor.
How did you determine what kinds of roles or positions you were interested in relaunching into?
I knew I had a solid general medical, surgical, adult care background and I also knew that I didn't want to return to the hospital setting. I had narrowed down that I wanted either home health or something more autonomous. I spoke to a lot of nursing colleagues, whether it's through the nursing school, or other people that were already in the workforce. I would share ideas with them and use them as a sounding board. Then one person said to me, asked me if I had considered hospice. It wasn't even on my radar! But as I reflected on it and thought back to what a great job the hospice nurses did caring for my mother several years ago, I felt like this would be both a professional as well as personal move where I would be giving back.
As a medical professional, I mentioned this path wasn't even on my radar. Most people think nursing, they think OR, the hospital, but who would ever think of going into something like this? The more I thought about it and once reflected on my personal connection to it, having gone through the experience of hospice caring for my mother, I just thought, okay, I'll try it!
My next step was to begin researching and reading about what they were looking for. They needed prior adult care experience. They saw I had taken the refresher course. I was upfront with them and I said, "I'm just going to be honest. I have not had current clinical experience. However, I do have past clinical experience and I did take the refresher course through Kennesaw State. So I would like to try it."
This is another thing relaunchers have to figure out in terms of how you want to present yourself and set expectations with yourself and with your prospective employers. You want to be confident, but not overconfident. You don't want to say, "Oh, I can do this." You want to say, "Okay, I'm going to try this and if it doesn't work, I'll try something else." And so this was actually, "I'm going to try this." I thought with my background and the more I read about it, the more I learned that my skills were very transferable and I was able to use them actually in hospice.
What was really interesting was, my assessment skills that I had from Emory fared me really well because I was working with nurses that needed help with their assessments. They would actually drag me in to see, "Karolyn, come take a look at this patient, I don't know how to do..." And I would dive into the assessment and all of a sudden it just came back to me. I was being pulled into situations where my expertise was valued because these other people couldn't handle them. And I'm like, "Oh, okay! I think I'll be okay here. They need me." You know you have something and you don't realize that it's valuable to someone else.
What do you wish that you could change about how career breaks are perceived?
What's really interesting is on LinkedIn there is so much talk and discussion about giving the 50+ age group a chance, but meanwhile, they are still getting passed over. From an optics perspective for employers and industries, this narrative sounds really good and it looks really good, but that's not the reality. I will be 60 in March and I really feel that we have a lot to offer. We have years and years of great experience. Granted, maybe our technical skills aren't the best...but we have a lot of rock solid theory and a lot of wisdom and insight that we can share with younger members of workforce. I think that we need to be given more of a chance.
The reality is that the employer sometimes sees older workers as a liability, because they feel that they're going to run into health problems, and they're going to be out more, and they're going to be expensive. But here's the flip side to all of that: we have experience. And you can always teach a skill, you can't teach experience. A lot of younger workers may have the skill, but they don't have the experience.
To illustrate the merits of experience...first I was in nursing school, gaining my skills and learning, then I went out into the workforce and got my experience. I didn't go back to graduate school until 10 years later. But the funny thing was when I walked back into that classroom for my master's program, I hardly ever cracked a book...I wrote papers from experience. And while everyone else is looking up terminology and referencing concepts from the book, I'm like, "I'll tell you. Hey, I'll tell you what's going on." Of course, there was research involved at a master's level. But, I could honestly be very confident about certain things because of the experiences that I have had in the workforce.
What I really wish is that the workforce would be a little bit more open to older candidates. I've also watched my ex-husband who is 65 struggle with this, getting turned down over and over again. The other problem is that employers have a certain assumption about older workers that they are more expensive. While this may be true for some individuals, I think that it’s something that would probably be negotiable, especially if that person is really looking first and foremost for employment.
Did this story motivate you or inspire you!?
Do you have a relauncher success story of your own to share with us and the rest of the relauncher community?
Sharing your inevitable success is a great way to give back as your story will inspire and motivate other relaunchers, especially if your story is not the typical story that is told.
It is our hope that all relaunchers are able to see themselves reflected in relauncher success stories as we all know how important representation is. We respectfully ask you to share only the details of your relaunch you are comfortable sharing, but to indeed share your story with us so we can be sure to document and feature a more diverse population of relauncher experiences, background and identities.