Centralia College graduate shares her story of becoming an RN at the age of 62


In June 2023, Christy Nelson graduated from Centralia College with a registered nurse (RN) certificate at the age of 62.

“As I’ve worked this last year, I cannot count the times that people have stated, ‘Wow, so I’m not too old to go back to school?’” Nelson said.

As she prepares to celebrate both her 63rd birthday and the one-year anniversary of her graduation this spring, Nelson decided to share her story with the hope it will inspire others to pursue new careers, no matter their age.

“If you have the desire to try something new, you should go for it. In no means will it be easy, and oftentimes life’s challenges will cause you to work a little harder, but by all means, go for it!” Nelson said.

The bulk of Nelson’s post-high school career was spent in the banking, real estate and corrections fields, in addition to odd jobs running at-home businesses and working as a night cleaner and cocktail waitress.

“But what was always missing was, I never loved any of my jobs,” Nelson said. “... I always had a good work ethic. I worked hard, but I was never truly happy.”

From 2015 and 2017, Nelson accompanied her husband, Ken, who was a traveling RN, on visits.

“While traveling, Ken said to me, ‘You would be a good nurse, and I would like for you to have a good career to be able to care for yourself, in case something ever happens to me,’” Nelson recalled.

“My first response was, ‘It will take four years and I will be 60 years old before I have my license.’ Ken responded, ‘Yes, and you will be 60 years old in four years with or without a license.’ And so the journey began,” Nelson said.

At the age of 56, Nelson enrolled at Olympic College in 2017 and soon transferred her credits to Centralia College when she and her husband settled down in Centralia.

“Completing my classwork came with many challenges. First, I found I worked a little slower than my younger classmates, and I needed to spend more time studying than they did to make sure it all sunk in. Also, my math skills were at an eighth grade level. My science skills were absent, and I honestly didn’t know how to take notes in lecture classes,” Nelson said.

Those academic challenges, combined with her husband’s colon cancer diagnosis in 2018 and two family deaths in 2019, meant it took Nelson an extra year to complete the necessary prerequisites for Centralia College’s nursing program.

“I had an amazing supportive group of new friends at college, countless caring professors and advisers along with my son and step-children. Everyone was always offering support and cheering me on,” Nelson said.

She and her husband ended up moving to Aberdeen in June 2020 for her husband’s job.

Nelson was soon accepted into the Grays Harbor College’s nursing program and began classes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was a COVID-educated nurse. What I mean by that is, that my classes were Zoom meetings, my lab time was in full PPE and our clinicals were constantly being adjusted due to breakouts …  We all supported each other’s education, having study sessions with distance precautions, or Zoom study sessions. We all needed and supported each other,” Nelson said.

Nelson passed her first year in the nursing program in June of 2022 after having to retake a quarter due to her grade falling less than 1% below the passing criteria. 

She took and passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in the summer of 2022, earning her licensed practical nurse (LPN) license.

Meanwhile, Nelson’s husband accepted a new job in Chehalis, and the family moved back to Lewis County.

“I contacted my previous adviser at Centralia College and let her know that I was back in town and that I have my LPN license, and that I’ve sent all my records over and hope to join in the fall of 2023 for the second year of the RN program,” Nelson said. “My adviser was so excited and stated my timing was amazing … and that the current year class has six open spots they are trying to fill, and since I have my LPN, as long as I got everything in by the deadline, I could be a part of the second year and graduate June of 2023.”

Nelson learned she’d been accepted to the program one week before classes started, she said.

Then, the first week of school, she contracted COVID-19, which led to her missing some classes and scoring low on her first exam.

“I had to spend the rest of the quarter fighting to get that grade up to 80% so I could stay in the program,” she said.

Her work paid off. Her high grades earned her a spot on the Dean’s List and a membership to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society ahead of her graduation in June 2023.

A month later, she passed the NCLEX again to earn her RN license.

“With all the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, I am so thankful that I stuck with it. I had a supportive spouse, family, educators and friends, which is the most important thing for anyone considering going back to school, because nursing school is very time consuming and you must have support to get through it,” Nelson said.

Specifically, Nelson thanked Lindsey Kargbo and Debi Brogan at Grays Harbor College and Teneal Gustafson, Lori Speer, Jeff McQuarrie, Emily Sprafka and Lisa Welch at Centralia College for their support. 

Nelson now works as a hospice nurse for Assured Hospice of Centralia and, for the first time in her working life, truly loves her job.

“I find comfort and purpose in providing support to families. My husband was right, I do make a good nurse. He saw it first, but I had to do the work to get it,” she said.

Of all the challenges Nelson faced in the six years it took her to get her RN license, she said her age was not a factor in her success.

“I was educated and treated equal to all the other classmates. I loved going to school with the younger generations and gained several close friendships at both colleges,” she said.

For those considering going back to school, Nelson recommended against completing the pre-requisites and the nursing program at different schools.

“Pick one and stick with it all the way from pre-reqs to RN. Life will be easier,” she said.

Despite the challenges she faced and the extra time it took to get her RN license, Nelson said, “I would not trade the experience for anything in the world.”