While some people are collecting Social Security, Betty Fisher is getting a new lease on life.
This spring, at 67, she completed San Jacinto College's licensed vocational nursing to registered nursing transition program and was the oldest College graduate to walk across the NRG Stadium stage.
She reminds fellow seniors now is the time to pursue your dreams. And San Jacinto College is the place to get started.
"There's a lot of support for the older generation at San Jac. If you have to go back to school and learn a new trade, the College can help you through that transition," she said.
Long Road to RN
According to Fisher, earning a new degree is possible for anyone with tenacity to start and finish, and she has almost a decade from start to finish of her nursing education to prove it.
"When you go into anything as an older person, you have to believe you can do it. It might not be as easy as it is for others, but nothing is going to stop me," she said.
After retiring from trucking, Fisher hit a patch of boredom. A friend suggested she pursue nursing since she had always enjoyed caring for people.
Uncertain, Fisher, then 56, enrolled in a San Jacinto College psychology class to get her feet wet.
"My instructor, Sunshine Gage, made me believe I could do anything. It was like a light switch went on. I realized how fun it was to learn new things," she said.
Although nursing programs can be highly competitive, Fisher got accepted into the vocational nursing program at the South Campus on her first try.
But a year later she received the big diagnosis: cancer. Determined to finish what she had started, Fisher completed the program, then immediately started cancer treatments.
When she could finally transition to the RN program, she first had to repeat some out-of-date prerequisites.
"It seemed like a snowball effect to catch up," she said.
Fast forward to 2017. Fisher faced another setback: This one, named Harvey, left her home flooded. But thanks to encouraging instructors and her own stubbornness, she persisted in reaching her goal.
"The RN program is very intense, not for the weak of heart," she said. "It's intimidating when you're the only person there who's a senior. Can I keep up? The answer is, 'Yes, I can' — because I graduated."
Terry Berg, South Campus associate degree nursing transition program professor, chaired the RN admissions committee when Fisher applied. She remembers Fisher as the only applicant ever to submit a detailed letter about how she had prepared to succeed in the program.
Later, as her instructor, Berg witnessed firsthand this nontraditional student's dedication.
"Betty kept to her plan. She was one of the first students to class and was always prepared," she said.
During clinical rotations, Fisher put 110% into her tasks, whether making patients feel like old pals or scouting out every learning opportunity. According to Berg, she took responsibility for her learning.
"Betty does not find excuses. She finds solutions," Berg said.
Go for the Dream
After acing her licensing exam this July, Fisher is excited to launch her career as a long-term care nurse.
"Nursing is truly where I belong. I have something to offer the nursing field out there — today," she said.
Advice Fisher has for other seniors changing careers in their golden years?
"If you've got the dream, do it. Go to an academic counselor to find out what you need to do," she said. "When you start, it's not easy to adjust. You've already been through life, and this is a whole new thing. Can you make the change? The answer is, 'Yes, you can.'"