Redefining retirement for nurses: New ventures

By Joanne Evans and Patricia A. Tabloski | 06/08/2018

In this chapter from Redefining Retirement for Nurses, five nurses share challenges they faced when embracing new ventures after retirement.

Risk-taking, skating on thin ice, and now for something completely different!
What is on your wish list? Is there something you have always wanted to do but never had the time, money, or motivation? This is the time to do it.

Redefining Retirement for NursesSometimes an opportunity arises to do something you would have never thought of, and it brings you more joy than you could have imagined. Maybe you were able to overcome some of your fears and gained an abundance of personal insight. On the other hand, maybe you had to face some unexpected challenge you were not anticipating. It was not what you had planned at all, and now you need to do something completely different. How about starting a new business? Is it too late to do this? Is this the time to relocate? Where would you relocate if you could? These five nurses are sharing with you what new ventures they took on and the challenges they faced in the process.

Shirlee P. Davidson

A world of travel, caring, passion, and service
Shirlee P. Davidson, Tennessee
Shirlee could never have imagined all the places she would travel or things she would do when she graduated from the University of Iowa College of Nursing in 1966. She started out majoring in English, speech and drama, but after working in a lab at the University Hospital and observing the excitement of nursing and other professional students, and after much prayerful consideration, she felt a “calling” and transferred into the College of Nursing.

Upon graduation, Shirlee accepted a temporary 4-month position with the Department of Health in southeastern Iowa working as a public health nurse with Mexican migrant workers, visiting their camps and providing primary and preventative nursing care. Shortly thereafter, she and a nurse friend were bound for Germany, where she found herself on a medical-surgical unit at the University of Heidelberg Hospital, and not being able to speak a word of German! She and her friend then headed to Frankfurt, Germany, where they worked for a year at the 97th General U.S. Army Hospital caring for soldiers injured in the Vietnam War. Before returning to the United States, she spent 3 months traveling throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and Turkey.

Shirlee knew when she left nursing school that she was ultimately interested in a career in psychiatric nursing. When she returned to the United States, she was hired to teach a clinical course in psychiatric nursing at the University of Iowa College of Nursing. She soon realized she needed and wanted more clinical experience, so she walked across the street to the psychiatric hospital and was hired that day to work during the evening shift on an adult acute care unit. She was so successful that within 3 months she was asked to create the role of nursing supervisor in the outpatient clinic. During Shirlee’s 6-year tenure in this position, she frequently presented her work at academic and scientific meetings. Utilizing Hildegard Peplau’s theory of interpersonal relations in nursing, she developed a therapeutic admissions process and was one of the first nurses involved in an interprofessional group therapy training program.

Shirlee met and married her husband in 1971, and in 1972 they joined the faculty and staff of World Campus Afloat (now called Semester at Sea) for a voyage around the world, docking in six ports in Africa and seven ports in Asia. Shirlee was the ship’s clinic nurse for 400 students and 63 faculty and staff.

When Shirlee and her husband returned to the U.S., Shirlee became an adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and was the firsts psychiatric liaison-consultation nurse in the general hospital at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois. For 20 years she remained there, caring for patients and staff, taking graduate courses, teaching, conducting research, organizing conferences, and frequently lecturing throughout the country on the topic of psychosocial nursing care. Studying how faith, geography, culture, and medicine impact the caring and curing of the sick allowed Shirlee to travel to Japan, China, and Israel.

Shirlee’s next move was to Nebraska, where she returned to school at the University of Nebraska to earn her master’s degree in nursing with a clinical specialty in psychiatric-mental health nursing. During graduate school, Shirlee became affiliated with the Eating Disorders Treatment Team at the University of Nebraska Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Following graduation, she was hired by CAPS and appointed as a liaison counselor to the University of Nebraska Athletic Department. With concerns about increasing stress and anxiety in the international Chinese student body on campus, Shirlee and another nurse colleague conducted a survey to determine the reason Chinese students were not utilizing CAPS. The results of this survey were used to create new counseling services designed for all international students with emphasis on cultural sensitivity and the provision of services within the context of safety and confidentiality.

In 1997, Shirlee and her husband moved to New Mexico where she lived for almost 20 years. She was hired to be the first counselor and director of wellness at the United World College of the American West, an international high school and one of only 17 in the world. Here she could utilize her knowledge of cultural diversity and group dynamics as she counseled and developed health programs for students representing 90 different countries. She created a student Wellness Board and developed peer education teams for HIV/AIDS, Alcohol and Drug Prevention, and Eating Disorder Prevention. Shirlee taught the Constructive Engagement of Conflict and researched and developed protocols for students struggling with severe homesickness.

Shirlee completed the final 12 years of her full-time career in New Mexico as a faculty member teaching Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Theory and Clinical at Santa Fe Community College Department of Nursing Education and serving on the college curriculum committee, the accreditation committee, and the student incident review committee. While teaching she became involved in the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, New Mexico Chapter, and served on the board for 11 years, including being president. She also served on the board of directors of the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence for 7 years.

Shirlee decided it was time to retire from full-time teaching when there were significant administrative changes in the college and in the nursing department, and she began to have concerns regarding the impact of these changes on the overall educational experience of the students. Prior to retiring, she had begun teaching NCLEX review classes throughout the state and country, which proved to be an excellent segue away from full-time teaching. She was then appointed to be a health commissioner with the Santa Fe County Health Policy and Planning Commission and a member of the Santa Fe City Health and Human Services Committee. With these volunteer positions, Shirlee could bring her nursing expertise to the table to work on assessment and planning for the health and well-being of the citizens of the city and county in which she lived.

One of the things Shirlee enjoys most about being retired is having the opportunity to pick and choose what she wants to do. For 3 years, she and her husband considered moving to Nashville, Tennessee, to be closer to their children and grandchildren. This was a difficult decision because they both loved Santa Fe and had many friends and colleagues there. But, move they did! Even though most of their friends were downsizing, they decided to buy a larger home than they had ever had, which Shirlee feels was an excellent decision. They now have room for everyone to visit and to celebrate with family and friends.

In addition, the house has lots of stairs so she and her husband get more exercise than they did in any of their previous homes. Shirlee also exercises at the nearby fitness center, takes tai chi, eats healthy food, and tries to avoid sugar as much as possible. She has always loved and played music, although she did not have much time for it when working. Now she has a music room in their new home and plays the piano daily and is also taking autoharp lessons on Music Row in Nashville.

Nurse Stories: Shirlee Davidson

When asked what she felt was important to consider when retiring, Shirlee suggested finding an area in which you are passionate, whether it is a professional organization or a local community group, and becoming involved. For example:

  • Shirlee will always be involved with her nursing profession and the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA).

  • She will always take courses to broaden her horizons, whether they are in her professional field or not.

  • Since retiring she has become a certified APNA Recovery to Practice Facilitator and a certified APNA Competency Based Suicide Assessment Facilitator.

  • She continues to serve on national and community boards and is involved with P.E.O. (a woman’s philanthropic organization).

  • She is active in Sigma Theta Tau International.

  • She works with refugee children in the community.

Regarding finances, Shirlee and her husband have always saved money for retirement and do not feel this is an area they should worry about since they have lived their lives within their budget and have not had to dip into their savings. Spirituality has always been important to them, and they are active members in their church and have developed a new group of friends since their move to Nashville. Additionally, they love spending time with their grandchildren which is so important to them as well as helpful to their daughter and son-in-law.

What Shirlee loves most about retirement is that everything is on her own time. She can do something or choose not to do something. She also has time to connect in meaningful ways with friends and family members and is not distracted with an abundance of tasks. For her, nursing is her professional career in which she will always be involved, whether she is working or not. Shirlee believes it is vitally important to keep a balanced life that is full of compassion as well as creativity.

Shirlee was definitely into taking a risk when she decided to leave New Mexico, a community where she had lived for 20 years, and move across the country to Tennessee. In a previous chapter, we identified the pros and cons of relocating, and Shirlee was able to share what this experience was like for her. In addition, she did something completely different. While many others were downsizing, Shirlee actually bought a larger home so she had plenty of space for her activities as well as entertaining family and friends.

Catherine DischnerAn unexpected twist to well-made plans
Catherine Dischner, Pennsylvania
Catherine could never have imagined the retirement she is having in her wildest dreams! Catherine chose to be a nurse following in the footsteps of her mom, who was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh 5-year baccalaureate program. When Catherine graduated in 1973, she and her mom became the first mother-daughter team to graduate from the same school of nursing. Catherine recalls her mother was a trailblazer and pioneer who went on to become one of the early nurse practitioners.

Nursing was not the first calling for Catherine. Catherine wanted a military career and saw nursing as a vehicle to become a naval officer. She reports, “I came in at a time when women didn’t go to the Naval Academy. Nursing gave me an education that enabled me to excel in many directions.” She applied to the Navy Nurse Candidate Program in her junior year of college and launched her military career.

For the next 41 years, Catherine served as Navy Enlisted, Navy Officer, Navy mom, Marine officer’s wife, a Navy officer’s wife, Navy contractor, a civil service employee, and finally a member of the government’s Senior Executive Service. She left active duty in 1976 after the birth of her first child and returned to the Reserve 13 years later to enter school for her graduate degree and graduated during Desert Storm. Catherine then went on to become a contractor managing the emergency department at Navy Hospital Bethesda for 3 years. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she met her wonderful husband Tommy (an active duty nurse), and they were married years later.

When asked to describe the single event that most impacted her career, Catherine cites her work as the national project manager for the implementation of the Veterans’ Suicide Hotline. She states, “I had a role in a project of national importance to help save lives.” At the height of her administrative career, she served as the Deputy Director of the Office of Health Care Transformation and then the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Integration at the Veterans Health Administration. Catherine credits her experiences and education in nursing for providing the clinical, social, and psychological training and knowledge to succeed in many different venues along her career path.

Catherine had planned that she and her husband Tommy would be retiring at the age of 65 and getting on planes and traveling someplace warm every year, as well as traveling with friends and having lots of leisure time for reading and painting. She says:

I thought that I would have time and money to travel, indulge my grandkids with trips to Walt Disney World, take afternoon naps, read all the books I could get my hands on, and begin to paint pictures again. I thought I would be able to go to bed when I wanted to, get up when I wanted to, and take a nap when I wanted to.

However, this never happened at all. While at work one day, she received a call from a nurse in Oregon to say that her daughter had delivered a 2 pound, 4 ounce premature baby boy who was in the neonatal intensive care unit. This was somewhat shocking, as Catherine had only recently become aware that her daughter was pregnant and hadn’t had contact with her for some time. Catherine flew out to Oregon to see her daughter and the baby and soon realized her daughter was incapable of caring for her infant son. Catherine was informed that she and her husband could take guardianship of the baby or he would be placed in foster care. At that time, Catherine was in a high-profile position in the VA, and her days were filled with meetings and very long days often lasting from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Catherine and her husband decided to bring the baby home after he had been in the hospital for 6 weeks and then weighed 4 pounds. She returned to DC with her infant grandson, and life was immediately and forever turned upside down. She now needed a full-time daycare provider to be with him while she was away at work. The first year was extremely difficult, challenging, and expensive. In retrospect, Catherine reports she and her husband spent over $40,000 for daycare, diapers, baby food, and other supplies. Additionally, Catherine had to curtail her time at work and could no longer work until 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. on projects, as she needed to be home to assume care from the daycare provider. Her boss was extremely supportive and understanding, but after 1 year, Catherine and her husband felt that the arrangement was not working. They were all exhausted, and in May 2014 Catherine made the decision to retire and, “It was a good decision. Both my grandson and I have been the better for it.”

In addition, she and her husband had originally planned to relocate to North Carolina and build their retirement home, but now with a child to care for, they decided to move to the Gettysburg area. The decision to move there made sense as there was a large military community in the Gettysburg area and Catherine wanted to stay close to Walter Reed Hospital in the event that they needed medical care at some time in the future. An added bonus included “remaining close to our children and the grandkids, but far enough away to let them live their own lives.”

When you end up being the caregiver
Catherine and her husband formally adopted their grandson in January 2014 and she became a “grammy-mommy.” He turned 4 in April 2017. She laughs when saying that none of her 60-year-old friends have toddlers, often making it difficult to arrange get-togethers. Catherine feels many of her friends are not interested in going out for dinner with a 4-year-old, and they have learned it is better to have friends over to their home where they can put the baby to bed by 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. and enjoy some adult time. Catherine says that so far, there has not been a lot of time for relaxing in her retirement, but she expects things will get better as the baby gets older. Catherine’s husband also recently retired and now he is at home more often, sharing responsibilities for care and assisting with childcare duties.

Catherine notes she is now beginning to find more time for herself and has taken up tai chi classes, painting, and baking. She especially enjoys sewing dresses for her two granddaughters in Arlington, Virginia. She laughs as she reports her favorite forms of exercise consist of running after a toddler, carrying groceries, and struggling with car seats. When things settle down a bit, Catherine and her husband hope to begin volunteering in their community and taking day trips to local attractions. As Catherine looks forward, she sometimes wonders with a little bit of anxiety about how she will be viewed when attending parent night at school, participating in school fundraisers, and attending soccer games. She notes, “It’s been a while.”

Catherine says she has learned many things about herself over these past several years.

  • She is much more comfortable accepting her limitations, including that her body does not work the same way it used to.

  • She has learned to be much more patient and tolerant compared to when she was a younger mom raising her own two children.

  • She appreciates the free time that she now has to focus on her son-grandson much more completely compared to when she was working full-time.

  • Participating in tai chi has made her much more philosophical.

Despite all the unexpected expenses resulting from childcare, Catherine is very glad she and her husband saved money over the years and have the resources to enjoy a comfortable retirement. Instead of spending money on Disney trips, Catherine is investing in the future by raising her grandson. Despite the abrupt and unexpected return to motherhood, Catherine notes there are advantages to be enjoyed, including “living in jeans and not worrying about the need for makeup.” She has also learned to enjoy shopping online so that everything can be delivered to her front doorstep and she does not need to go in and out of stores!

Nurse Stories: Catherine Dischner

Catherine has come to appreciate that retirement is day to day and that even with the best and most perfect plans, life circumstances can intervene at a moment’s notice. When asked why she would like to tell her retirement story, Catherine replies, “Well, I think you will fi nd I am unique in many ways.” Catherine, we agree wholeheartedly and we thank you for all your years of service. 

Joanne EvansFrom candy striper to RV’er!
Joanne Evans, Greater USA
This story is about a remarkable nurse who has enjoyed an expansive professional nursing career for over 45 years. Joanne knew from a very young age that she wanted to be a nurse and began her career in high school as a candy striper in a local hospital. As a 14-year-old candy striper, Joanne enjoyed delivering newspapers and snacks to patients and their families and spending time listening to their stories. Joanne’s dedication and enthusiasm were noticed; the local newspaper published an article about the work she did as a candy striper and shared her picture in her uniform. She was clearly off to a good start!

High school was academically challenging for Joanne as she had auditory processing learning disabilities, which were undiagnosed and unrecognized in the early ’60s, resulting in mixed academic grades, with the sciences being particularly difficult. Her guidance counselor knew that Joanne wanted to be a nurse but recognized that she might have difficulty being accepted into a nursing program due to her science grades. She therefore suggested Joanne apply as a physical education major to a small private college that allowed students to change majors once they were accepted and before they started their freshmen year. This was a perfect solution as Joanne was accepted into this school and then transferred to nursing.

Upon graduation, Joanne began her career on a medical-surgical unit—which was recommended for all new graduates—in a major urban hospital in Boston. Within a short time, she became the charge nurse on the evening shift and was well-liked and respected by her colleagues. The staff nurses frequently told her how much they appreciated the way she prioritized pain medication for post-operative patients, because they recognized these patients healed more quickly and began to ambulate earlier in their recovery. Pain experts now agree with Joanne’s approach and note she was ahead of the curve in her thinking!

Joanne then moved to New Hampshire to care for patients in a small intensive care unit (actually a home that had been converted to a hospital in a major New Hampshire ski resort). This position allowed her an opportunity to ski and continue her passion to provide care to those with serious medical problems in a small community hospital. This experience increased Joanne’s awareness of her patients’ fear and anxiety regarding their injuries and upcoming transfer to other facilities for additional treatment and care.

Joanne then moved on to a large hospital in Virginia, accepting a position in the psychiatric unit because there was a shortage of psychiatric nurses and no openings in the medical-surgical units. Although reluctant, she found she excelled in communicating with those who were experiencing severe emotional distress and enjoyed her work thoroughly, prompting her return to school to earn a master’s degree from the University of Virginia with a specialty in counseling education. Shortly thereafter in 1976, she received her certification as an adult psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist. The next step in Joanne’s career was the opportunity to work in emergency service programs in local mental health centers. She was the first psychiatric clinical nurse specialist to join a team of psychologists, social workers, and physicians.

Several years later, Joanne moved to North Carolina with her family and took 2 years off to be with her three children. Later, she joined the faculty at a state university for a year, supervising students in mental health settings, combining her love of teaching with her expertise in community mental health nursing. Additionally, Joanne’s role-modeling and advocacy for her patients helped students decrease their feelings of stigma toward those with mental health issues.

While in North Carolina, Joanne also continued her volunteer work and served as the president of the county Learning Disability Association and representative to the state board. In that role, she helped to develop a summer program for children with learning disabilities to prevent them from falling behind their peers over the summer break. Of course, Joanne made sure everyone also had lots of fun while attending.

After 3 years in North Carolina, she returned to Maryland and was asked to direct a grant to produce a play developed for children to teach them about “good” and “bad” touch. Joanne and company visited several schools in the state of Maryland and worked with local Child Protective Services when needed if children revealed they had been abused or touched inappropriately. Joanne later became the clinical director of a sexual abuse trauma program for adult and child victims of sexual abuse, and received recognition from the Maryland governor for her efforts.

Joanne then decided to return to the emergency department. For the next 12 years, twice a week, she evaluated psychiatric patients in a community emergency department while also teaching psychiatric nursing in an academic setting. It was in this setting that she became certified in holistic nursing, and she integrated music therapy into the care of psychiatric patients in the emergency department.

In 2004, Joanne was selected to bring her education, leadership, and organizational leadership skills to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), where she was employed for 10 years on the management team. In this role, she received awards and recognition for her leadership and volunteer work.

Nursing Spectrum twice honored Joanne for her volunteer work, which also included travel to New Orleans for hurricane relief efforts after Katrina. Joanne utilized her mental health background to find placements for psychotic patients who were living in shelters and temporary housing. Joanne also accompanied displaced adults on “tour buses” to the 9th Ward to witness the storm’s devastation of their neighborhoods. Later she organized her friends and colleagues to provide holiday gifts for over 200 families who had lost all they owned and were living in trailer parks. She also traveled on medical missions to the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Ecuador, where she assessed and cared for local inhabitants in need of care. Joanne acknowledges that these experiences were crucial to her personal development and states, “I was reminded once again of the strength of the human spirit and the coping ability of those who had so little.”

After a very successful full-time career in nursing, Joanne retired in 2014 with many wonderful ideas of what she would like to continue to do in this new phase of her life. When Joanne met with her financial advisor to discuss future plans, he was so impressed with all her plans that he asked her if she wanted to do presentations for him, because he had many clients who were entering this “retirement phase.” Joanne’s response was “absolutely not” because she thought she still had much more to learn about this new phase.

Joanne Evans quote

After a couple of months of retirement, Joanne returned to ANCC as an independent consultant on a very part-time basis and worked on various projects in 2014, 2015, and 2016. She was easing into retirement!

In addition to other projects, Joanne has a longstanding interest in health and plant-based nutrition, and she has started a business educating others about the benefits of a plant-based diet. She serves as the executive director. She has spoken on plant-based nutrition and chronic disease at many national nursing conferences and meetings; published articles on this topic for national nursing journals; and completed studies, with lab data, to enhance public knowledge and improve the daily lives and health of nurses and others.

In addition, Joanne continues to volunteer in community organizations, including an advisory board for an organization providing services to survivors of sexual abuse and an organization supporting adolescents lacking life independence skills who were raised in foster care who have not been adopted. Joanne loves being a grandmother and will drop almost everything when her children call and request her assistance. In addition, she takes them all on road trips that are always fun and filled with new adventures.

This year, at the age of 68, Joanne decided to make one more major change. After living in the Washington, DC area for 42 years, she sold her home and is now a full-time RV’er! Selling her home was a major decision and one she did not make easily. She would be leaving long-standing friendships, community groups she had started, a spiritual community she was active in, and healthcare professionals as well as contractors she was very familiar with. She purchased a 30-foot RV, which sleeps six, and plans to travel extensively throughout the United States. In addition to sharing her traveling adventures with children, grandchildren, and friends, she expects to sign up to be a member of the DOVES, which is a group of RV’ers that help the Red Cross in disaster areas. 

Redefining Retirement for Nurses

Who would ever have believed that the dedicated young candy striper would go on to have such a wonderful, exciting, and challenging career? We thank Joanne for sharing her story and challenging us to follow in her footsteps!

Sandra Seidel
On the verge of new beginnings

Sandra Seidel, Tennessee
At the age of 35, Sandra found herself a single parent. Luckily, Sandra received sage advice from her brother, a college administrator, who suggested that based on her employment options, she should either major in nursing or information technology. She started studying nursing, looking for a profession and thinking it would be interesting to work in the operating room. However, Sandra was left-handed and she soon found that the operating room was not a good fit for her—she frequently contaminated the sterile field during hand-offs from right-handed surgeons. Sandra had never considered psychiatric mental health nursing, but when she worked as a technician on a psychiatric unit during college, she recalls, “I felt so comfortable. It was like I was slipping on leather gloves.” When Sandra finished her baccalaureate degree at the University of South Dakota in 1987, she had found her ideal career and graduated with a love of psychiatric mental health nursing.

Sandra remarried in 1990 and went on to graduate school, receiving her master’s degree at Vanderbilt University in psychiatric nursing and in 1992 became credentialed as an adult psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist (PMHCNS). In 1994, she was employed by Vanderbilt University in a teaching/practice/research position. Shortly thereafter she was granted prescriptive authority and became one of the first psychiatric nurse practitioners to prescribe. She was re-certified as an adult psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) in 1997. Then in 2007, to maximize her success in academia, Sandra decided to return to school to begin study for a doctoral degree.
Taking advantage of senior discounts

Sandra’s 42-year career as a nurse with 23 years as a nurse practitioner has provided her with the feelings of confidence and competence that reward those who have successfully chosen their careers. Sandra accomplished much in her career and was selected for a fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in molecular genetics. She also developed and managed the psychopharmacology course for psych-mental health nursing students attending Vanderbilt University for 23 years.

Sandra has had a longstanding interest in web-based distance learning and helped to develop a cutting-edge online psych-mental health program at Vanderbilt University. Because Sandra was educated both in psycho-pharmacology and as a cognitive behavioral therapist, she served as a prescribing provider and a therapist on several federally funded grants. Her career culminated with being selected as a Founding Fellow of the Academy for Cognitive Therapy. Sandra proudly reports she was honored to be the first psychiatric nurse to receive the Rebecca Culpepper Award at Vanderbilt University for excellence in teaching and practice.

Recognizing the signs that you're ready

Sandra decided to retire in 2016, when at the age of 70, she began to want more free time. When asked what she anticipated retirement to be like, Sandra replied, “I thought I would have free time for personal projects and that we would travel.” Sandra’s retirement was initially off to a good start and she enjoyed an extended trip to the Greek Islands with her husband. However, things soon changed. It was only about a month and a half into her retirement that her husband (who is 10 years older than she) became critically ill. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and he started on a rigorous chemotherapy program. Shortly thereafter, Sandra’s beloved dog of 13 years died, and within that same month, her sister also suddenly died. Sandra’s plans for retirement were definitely not going as planned or imagined, and “at that point retirement was more of a drudge.”

Possibly resulting from stress, grief, and disappointment, Sandra became ill herself and required major surgery. At first, Sandra was unable to manage her own health issues and care for her husband’s complex healthcare needs but, thankfully, family stepped in to assist. Her daughter, who was the director of nursing services for a hospice program, also recommended a palliative care program for Sandra’s husband to lessen the burden of care for Sandra.

Preparing financially for more than one option

Currently, Sandra is working on recovery of her health and has drawn strength from her years of professional experience working with psychiatric patients. She states, “I was often humbled by my patients.

They taught me patience and perseverance. Moving forward, I hope to establish a schedule that will include retirement activities of exercise, yoga, and socialization.” Sandra is planning to join two book clubs and is especially interested in a volunteer gardening program offering urban children the opportunity to plant and harvest their own food and learn more about the environment. Sandra and her husband have been members of the same church for 26 years, and she plans to become involved in some church-related volunteer activities and rejoin the church choir. Sandra now realizes she and her husband must plan to enjoy travel by taking shorter trips and staying closer to home.

In somewhat of a reversal of roles, Sandra says that in the past she and her husband have often been caregivers for anyone in need in their very large family. However, they are now the ones in need of support and care, and she proudly states that their family has stepped up to the plate and been very supportive, providing transportation, food, and housekeeping as needed.

Retiring while you're still ready to change and grow

Retirement has emerged as nothing at all like Sandra planned, but she is learning to make the best of it and is looking forward to making it more of what she expected with some modifications due to health challenges. She hopes to soon be going to the senior fitness center several times a week as well as walking with a neighborhood friend. Next, she will be taking yoga twice a week and learning to eliminate some of the chaos in her life by practicing contemplation and meditation. Finally, Sandra plans to maintain a healthy eating style and diet that will help her be more physically fit.

When asked why she wanted to tell her retirement story, Sandra replied, “I think retirement in the past has been looked at as an end to something instead of new beginnings.” Despite setbacks, challenges, and losses, Sandra remains optimistic. She is looking forward to a new start to retirement at the end of her husband’s cancer treatment. She is planning a trip to Iceland with two female friends in the fall. We are confident that Sandra’s strength and perseverance will make those new beginnings a reality.
Kathleen Keating YanksNow solo and enjoying the journey
Kathleen Keating Yanks, Florida
By the age of 7, Kathleen had already thought about being a nurse. She idolized her older sister, Mary, who was a nurse, and wanted to follow in her footsteps. Kathleen remembers she was always the kid in the classroom who recognized when someone was ill or needed a little extra help.

After a detour into elementary education for 6 years, Kathleen went on to receive her diploma from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1968. While working in an intensive care unit, she continued her education to receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of Miami in 1971.

When she went to graduate school, she knew she wanted to go into the mental health field to address the emotional impact of sudden critical illness or injury on patients and family in a medical-surgical setting. She found such a program at the University of Maryland. During graduate school she was assigned to an internship at the newly developed Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Hospital. Her role was to address the impact of these sudden traumatic events on patients and the families. As the patients were critically ill, requiring rest and intensive treatment, she worked with families to process the emotional impact of this experience in a way that helped them define the resources in their lives who would be emotional supports.

She graduated in 1973 and was credentialed as a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist (PMHCNS). At this time, she was hired to continue working at the Shock Trauma Center.

In 1974, Kathleen continued studying Bowen family theory and therapy at the Georgetown University Family Center. In 1978, she began an internship at the Family Center and was on the faculty there from 1979 until 1993. Over most of her career, Kathleen worked primarily in medical-surgical settings. She consulted with patients, families, and staff, addressing the multigenerational process that impacted the lives and illnesses of patients and families.

In 1979, Kathleen moved with her husband to Frederick, Maryland, and in January of 1980 they had the opportunity to adopt a son. This was a very exciting time for Kathleen as she had been working on adopting for close to 2 years. In 1983 she heard from a faculty friend at the University of Maryland about a position for someone to start a 24/7 crisis program in the emergency department at the community hospital in Frederick. It was a perfect fit and a grassroots program—and she was hired. It allowed her to use her family systems training as well as her leadership and administrative skills.

In 2001, she left the Crisis Management Service to move to Florida when her husband retired. By then the program had grown rapidly as a result of the excellent service provided by Kathleen and her team of clinical nurse specialists. She received an American Nurses Association State Award for developing this program and was honored for her creativity and commitment to the establishment of a care delivery system with high standards of clinical excellence.

Since Kathleen was not interested in retiring, she supervised nursing students at the University of Central Florida. During this time she noticed a hospice care center very near her home. For a while her father had lived with Kathleen’s family in Frederick when he had terminal cancer, and hospice had been involved in his care. Kathleen was impressed with and grateful for the nursing care her father received from them as well as the support the family experienced. She decided to look into this nearby hospice center and was fascinated with their philosophy and the focus on holistic care, comfort, and quality of life. She applied for a job there and found herself part of an excellent, well-functioning interprofessional team.

Through this hospice program Kathleen began to study Healing Touch and eventually Medical Intuitive Therapy. She has found these techniques are a “gentle way” to continue her nursing practice and these interventions are entirely consistent with her view of life and holistic approach to caring and healing. As she discusses this phase of her life, she describes her 42-year career as wonderful and a blessing that taught her many things.

She met people in situations that seemed unworkable, yet they came through. She learned from them all and says that they prepared her for many unexpected personal events. She also experienced situations in nursing that forced her to grow up and stand in her truth.

Kathleen recounts how she never liked the concept of retirement and therefore hasn’t used it when describing her situation. She prefers the word transition, reflecting her view that this period is a process of moving from one phase to another. Kathleen and her husband separated in 2010 and divorced in 2014 when she was 73 years old. This was a huge transition for her, affecting all aspects of her life.

Learn to deal with your finances

During the first year of the separation, Kathleen traveled to Maryland to receive the support of friends. When she returned to Florida she moved closer to Orlando, her hometown. She recounts the time it took her to get settled. Her two nephews and their families as well as her son live in the state. She says, “We all have active lives but enjoy visiting and gathering at holidays.”

Spirituality has always been important to her; she describes herself as a liberal Catholic and she is involved in her parish. She volunteered to go to Haiti on a medical service mission and is a member of the very active Peace and Justice Committee serving on the Sex Trafficking Task Force for the Diocese. All of this has helped her establish a network of friends and acquaintances.

She has continued to practice her healing and energy work on herself and her friends. She located a rescue center for abused horses that utilizes energy work in the recovery of these horses and she volunteers there to help provide healing treatments. She says she finds this work personally grounding and describes the horses as “amazing, open and forgiving.”

Kathleen now checks the box marked “retired” on forms and applications but does not feel she is truly in “that” category. Happily, she reports that this phase of her life is satisfying. Her primary rule is to only volunteer for things that she loves. Fortunately, she is interested in and loves many things.

Kathleen has learned that by planning ahead and being frugal, she can travel and has completed two significant hiking trips. At the age of 76, Kathleen went backpacking by herself in County Kerry Ireland and spent some time “walking in” her family’s history and meeting relatives. Just last year, she walked the Camino. It is a 500-mile pilgrimage that begins in France then crosses the Pyrenees and continues into and through Northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Along the “Way” she stayed in albergues, which are establishments for pilgrims where she could rent a bed for the night, meet other pilgrims, compare stories of the day, and enjoy a communal meal. She learned that one is really never alone on the Camino. While on the trail she met many other women who came to the Camino alone.

To make these trips, Kathleen had to define and overcome what she calls “obstacles of worry.” For example, she found herself apprehensive about developing an itinerary, making reservations, hiking alone, and estimating the cost of the trip. She found wonderful help with these issues through the American Pilgrim Organization, Facebook, YouTube, and friends! Next on the agenda, Kathleen is interested in camping and exploring a few national and state parks. She may investigate the Road Scholar program as she makes these plans.

In the 6 years since she last worked for pay, she can see that several important things have happened. Whether through journaling or writing stories and/or life experiences, she finds herself gaining clarity and perspective. When thinking about what has been important in this transition phase, she thinks doing what you love is central and also guarding against over-commitment. Kathleen, like most nurses, is programmed to help and to give. It has been a challenge for her to decide how she will spend her time a little differently while still allowing regular time for fun, to write, to care for herself, and live in the present. In the past 3 years, Kathleen has been part of an ongoing writing class and has been writing her “stories.” She thought writing this story would also be a useful exercise.

Kathleen made the initial decision to move from Maryland to Florida despite having read that the most successful retirees stayed where they had raised their children and experienced their careers. In retrospect, she wonders if it was a good idea to move to Florida or if she should have remained in Maryland. She does, however, make frequent visits to Maryland to stay in touch with friends.

Don't settle for feeling invisible

In conclusion, Kathleen advises, “Don’t let old baggage weigh you down. Look it in the eye, deal with it, and move on. And remember to have a good time.” What wonderful advice from a very strong and resilient woman who is enjoying her journey.

What an adventurous and courageous group of nurses these are! They shared their stories of taking risks including launching new businesses, moving from a smaller to a larger home, and leaving a home and moving to an RV as a full-time residence. Additionally, skating on thin ice included becoming a grammy-mommy to a premature infant and accepting and wholeheartedly committing to all the joys and challenges incumbent with that responsibility. Many of these changes involved rapid life shifts requiring the budgeting of scarce resources such as energy, free time, and money. These may have been difficult decisions for some of these nurses as this may have been a necessary task for the first time in their lives. Retirement has brought new opportunities and challenges to all these nurses and they have shared their experiences as examples of love, commitment, and resilience. 

Joanne Evans, MEd, RN, PMHCNS-BC, retired in 2014 from her full-time position as assistant director of the Credentialing Knowledge Center at American Nurses Credentialing Center. She is the owner of Healthy Nurses… Healthy Communities and lectures nationally on plant-based nutrition. Evans travels the United States in her RV, spending time with her family and friends as well as continuing her professional and volunteer work.

Patricia A. Tabloski, PhD, GNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN, has committed her career to teaching, practice, administration, and research of gerontological nursing since 1978. She serves as associate professor at the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College. She enjoys spending time with her family and volunteering in her community, including serving as board secretary to the Sudbury Council on Aging and executive vice president of BayPath Area Agency on Aging.

Click here to purchase Redefining Retirement for Nurses: Finding Meaning in Retirement. 

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