Nursing studies

I’m a man in my fifties, and I’m a nursing student

After initial doubts, Mark Walsh now says he has never felt more fulfilled

After initial doubts, Mark Walsh now says he has never felt more fulfilled


Being in a cohort of younger people made Mark panic at first.  Picture: iStock

As a male nursing student over the age of 50, I am something of a rarity on my course.

I have felt up against it from the start and it can be challenging at times, but I knew what I was letting myself in for and have no regrets at all.

It was a conversation with a Marie Curie nurse that started it all; I was working as a Marie Curie healthcare assistant (HCA) and she had observed me caring for our patients nearing the end of life.

When she suggested I train as a nurse, I had my excuses ready at first – ‘I can’t afford to be a student,’ I said. ‘I’m too old, and I’m a man.’ But she was having none of it. ‘You will make a good nurse,’ she said. ‘You have compassion. You can do it.’

Initial nerves

Her belief in me boosted my confidence and helped me believe in myself, but I was still extremely nervous when I attended the interview for the course, just two months after our initial conversation.

All the other candidates were female and very young. What was I doing there? It was only after watching a video about the mistreatment of a person with dementia in a nursing home that I remembered why I had chosen this path.

I passed the interview and before I knew it, the first day of university had arrived. Entering a room full of anxious, noisy, nursing students clutching their mobiles, I was the only male present.

‘Before I knew it, the first day of university had arrived. Entering a room full of noisy, nursing students clutching their mobiles, I was the only male present’

Panic started to take hold but I told myself to breathe, calm down, and remember why I was there. ‘The NHS needs nurses,’ a voice in my head was saying. ‘The NHS needs you.’

Three months later I started my first placement on a large surgical ward, working nights. I felt lost and hopeless, and I must have looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

I passed the interview and before I knew it, the first day of university had arrived. Entering a room full of anxious, noisy, nursing students clutching their mobiles, I was the only male present.

Three months later I started my first placement on a large surgical ward, working nights. I felt lost and hopeless, and I must have looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

I didn’t want to tell my mentor I had never worked in a hospital before, but it soon became obvious. Fortunately, I was allocated to work with a brilliant HCA, who took me under her wing.

After a shaky start, my confidence grew

It took a while to get to grips with things, and of course I made mistakes. I also had arguments with my mentors – the time I wheeled a confused patient into the nurses’ station because I thought he would fall out of bed is particularly memorable. I thought I was showing initiative.

‘As I progressed to my second year, my fears of inadequacy were replaced by a growing feeling of belonging’

But I started to experience good days as my confidence grew, and I would go home feeling I had made a difference to someone’s life. That first placement was challenging, but I survived it.

I struggled with writing assignments at first but I was well supported by the university staff and my fellow students.

As I progressed through my first year and into my second, I felt my fears of inadequacy start to move shift, replaced by a greater nursing competence and a growing feeling of belonging.

There will always be setbacks in life that will erode your confidence, but I have surprised myself by how well I have adapted. It turns out that being 53 has its advantages after all.

‘Being the only man in a female-dominated environment does have its upside’

At the end of my second year, my last placement was on a rehabilitation ward in a small country hospital. Working with a warm, caring and compassionate team, everything started to come together. It was my best placement so far and I felt like a real nurse for the first time.

It was hard work – after a 13-hour shift I felt my years and wanted to complain, but I didn’t. When my legs and back were aching, I took inspiration from a remarkable 79-year-old full-time HCA I met who still works nights.

And two years of often being the only man in a female-dominated environment does have its upside – at least everyone knew my name.

I have never done more rewarding work

The NHS is full of remarkable people. I have been a barman, a postman, a cleaner, a carer and a schoolteacher but have never experienced such rewarding work that touches people’s lives so deeply.

Nursing is never boring so be prepared for the unexpected, and don’t expect an easy ride. Nursing can be physically and mentally demanding but helping people in need is remarkably rewarding and will sustain you when you’re tired and feel fit to drop.

I have learned that you are never too old to be a nurse. If you are good with people and find it easy to talk, and if you can smile, show you care and feel the patient’s pain, a career in nursing may well be for you.


Mark Walsh is a third-year nursing student at Bournemouth University

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