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Debating on two career paths, Engineering or Nursing

  1. Sep 9, 2014 #1
    Hi, I'm having trouble deciding which path I would like to take career wise. I'm debating between nursing or engineering (don't know which field for certain.) I have read on both allnurses website and this one to try and help me decide, but I figured I would post and ask. Allow me to give a short background that will help me to explain why I'm having difficulty deciding.

    Since I was a kid (I'm almost 20 now) I wanted to join the military. It felt like something I had to do with my life and I wanted to help people. I was so focused on this that I didn't even apply myself in classes in high school, despite taking all the CC and AP classes I could. Needless to say my plan didn't work out of enlisting in the military due to my asthma. I worked out a lot and was one of the most fit kids in my school, but MEPS weren't able to see that on my medical records. Pretty much after that, my confidence plummeted and I had no back up plan, let alone an idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

    After a year of working to pay off some bills before attending college, I took an EMT class during this summer. I had been going through career options like crazy, and decided to give the medical field a lot. By doing this I went way out of my comfort zone. I had no experience/knowledge in the medical field besides whatever I learned while working out. However, I am happy to say I am a licensed EMT now and that it felt amazing to try something I felt uncertain about and succeed. I also met a few people there that are now my friends. We were in a team together and have somehow formed a bond with each other and remain in contact and hope to keep it that way.

    Anyways, to get to wanted to talk about. I had applied to an electrician apprenticeship at the beginning of the year during my crazy career search. My uncle is an electrician and got me to apply, I'm good at working with my hands. However, that process was going really slow so that's when I decided to take the EMT class. However, half way during the program the apprenticeship came back up into play and a company asked if I wanted to work for them (I wasn't accepted into the apprenticeship yet, but the company needs workers and it would give me experience and hours for when I finally did get accepted.) This is where my uncertainty to go nursing or engineering comes into play.

    I loved my EMT class and the fact that I would be able to help people. I, at first wanted to be a doctor but decided against it due to the debt aspect. Call it a debt phobia if you will. Then I looked into nursing. I'd still be able to help people, and the pay is pretty decent. From what I understand, I'd still have a family life which is important to me. However, I wouldn't want to stop at an RN. I would want to become a NP because I still want a role in the diagnosing and patient care like a doctor would do.

    Then there is engineering. If I took the electrician apprenticeship, I would be able to go to school very part time (1-3 classes a semester.) I would like to do it this way for several reasons. First, having an electrician license would be a good fall back career if I ever was laid off (however, I worked 3 weeks with a electrical company and I DO NOT want to work construction my whole life.) Secondly, during high school, as I said, I didn't apply myself enough to even see if math or science or anything interested me. All I cared about was the military. I'm wary if I'm good enough in these subjects to even be an engineer. That's why I'd want to take the classes slow. If I didn't have as big of a work load, I could focus more on each class than having many classes at once. Lastly, since I am young I'd have more opportunity to invest my money while in the apprenticeship. I would be making decent money and could save it/invest for retirement and stocks (not that I couldn't do this during school for nursing but it would be harder.) Finance is something I'd like to learn more about personally. Again, I don't know if I'm good enough for engineering, but every career test I take (whether you guys believe in those or not, I'm ambiguous towards them) always has engineering on there and coincidentally nursing. Oh and a side note, I want to make a six figure salary some day, probably by 35, don't ask why, it's just a personal goal i've set out for myself.

    I'll stop my post here. I know the post is long and I do apologize. I have been thinking heavily on this for a little bit and looked into many variables. I didn't know how else I could simplify it. If anyone has any experience or advise to give, it would be much appreciated. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to PF!

    It seems your passion is the medical field and nurse practitioner fits with your EMT training and is a good choice although you could also consider a physician's assistant. PA's get the same training as a doctor, cover things similar to a nurse practitioner but from a doctor's perspective. PA's work under a doctor's supervision so the there's less liability to contend with although you will still need some liability insurance just in case.

    To become an NP you will have to become an RN first I think. I'm not sure about the PA requirements.

    With respect to the electrician trade, that's also good. However it seems you problem is deciding between your passion and how to make money to support a family. Family comes first but if you can swing it your passion would server you better in the long run.

    Lastly, you can always dabble in stocks. However, the best advice I've heard is to invest in index funds as they always seem to match or beat other types of funds but you really need to do your own research. Its always good to simply save money too as you're going to need to put your kids through school.
  4. Sep 9, 2014 #3

    Doug Huffman

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    Gold Member

    We have trod similar paths.

    I dropped out of an honors biology/entomology/pre-med curriculum (probably leading to pathology/ medical entomology) to dodge the Viet Nam War draft in the USN Nuclear Power Program. I benefited greatly from the military discipline in my math and physics classes. After my enlistment was up, I did a four year IBEW marine electrician apprenticeship, and worked two years as de facto leadingman for no one else having the experience with reactor instrumentation and controls. I then qualified as engineer (civilian world title, Start-up Engineer) and nuclear engineering technician whence I retired.

    Late in my tenure as an electrician I trained as an EMT by challenging the pre-qualification test and practiced under Dr. N. McSwain as a volunteer that also included state fire control technician qualification. Late in life I have taken hundreds of hours of university physics and mathematics as hobby and largely free to seniors.

    Looking back on my career, I would have made more money in the civilian nuclear power world. Looking ahead it appears to me that no one will enjoy career stability as I had; engineering practice is mostly at the technician level, so are the medical arts.
  5. Sep 9, 2014 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to the PF.

    Have you worked any EMT shifts yet? I'd recommend doing the electrician training and working some part-time EMT shifts for a while. It's important to work for a while as an EMT to see how you like the reality of the day-to-day patient contacts. If you really like them (as do I), then the RN to PA (or NP) route may be the best for you, and you can finance that schooling with your electrician shifts.

    If you find after a while that you are having difficulties with a number of your Pt contacts, and you are getting burned out, then that may be a good indicator that you should go the technical EE route.

    (BTW, I'm an EE full time, and work part-time EMT shifts on the side. I enjoy Pt contacts and learning more about medicine...)

    EDIT -- And remember what you learned in EMT school about PTSD and CISD. Talking things out after a very stressful call is very important. One of my favorite mantras is "I did not cause this. I'm here to help." :smile:
  6. Sep 9, 2014 #5


    Staff: Mentor

    Nice mantra.
  7. Sep 9, 2014 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    Yeah, it's helped me a *lot* over the years. I learned it from a FF/P (actually the Paramedic of the Year in my city a while back). :biggrin:
  8. Sep 9, 2014 #7
    My physics professor at El Camino College had a poster on the wall with all the excuses not to be an engineer.

    "But I'm artistically inclined"
    "But I want to help people"
    "I'm not sure what I want to be"

    And after each one it had an answer as to why these were lame excuses to not be an engineer. Being an engineer will make you better at all the above. I don't think it's an either/or proposition. The medical field needs engineers more than ever.

    My 2 cents' worth. :)
  9. Sep 9, 2014 #8

    I have done a ride along with the fire department. We only went on two calls in 12 hours. It was pretty boring besides the times we went on those two calls or worked out. I wouldn't have a problem financing schooling with my current job. I'm makine roughly 18.50$ an hour and can work part time during school. The reason I wouldn't want to do the electrician apprenticeship if I decided to do nursing is because I'd want to put my full attention and effort into the program. I worked at a nursing home and have connections to the nurses there. They agree if I went into nursing that I should go the NP route. My friends who are going into the medical field would be great support for me as well. They're the kind of people that we could meet up at a coffee shop and talk for hours and have a blast. I really loved the intellectual stimulation I got from my EMT class and that I'm assuming I would get from engineering. Before I dropped out of college due to financial reasons, I was majoring in Mechanical Engineering. It was only the first semester and I was only in for 3 weeks so my exposure is very little but I have an arduino i could play with and a solidworks booklet. ALong with that khanacademy has a computer programming thing I could test out and see if I liked it. When I was working construction I became bored immediately, which is where I found out I don't want to do that for the rest of my life.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 9, 2014
  10. Sep 9, 2014 #9

    I have been thinking of doing biomedical engineering if I went down that road just to have that satisfaction of helping people through medical devices. Sounds weird I know.
  11. Sep 9, 2014 #10
    Not weird at all! I don't know too many engineers who want to design things to make people's lives more miserable. :)
  12. Sep 11, 2014 #11
    I know a weapons engineer...

    But on OPs topic, nursing would guarantee you job stability won't it? Considering the shortage of nurses and all...
  13. Sep 11, 2014 #12
    Admittedly, I only skimmed through your post, but if you're interested in both electrical engineering and medicine, biomedical engineering might be a really good way to go. A lot of people don't realize how important biomedical engineering is. When you think of the medical field you think of doctors, nurses, surgeons, EMT's, etc. But think about how much fancy technology is used by all those people. Who do you think designs those technologies? :smile: Engineers may be behind the scenes, but they're a very important part of the medical field.
  14. Jul 10, 2015 #13
    I am in the same boat. I have grown up planning on going into engineering. I loveeee science and math! However, once I became a mom I decided that an engineering career might be harder to start with a child. So, I decided to go to school for nursing since medical sciences really interest me and the schedule is really appealing. I am in nursing school (BSN) and I am starting to feel like bedside nursing isn't for me. I work really well under stress by my issue is that I am not the best as showing compassion or just communicating comfortably with patients. I'm hoping that I can work on these skills (I'm only in 1st semester) and start my career with getting some experience at bedside. The great thing about nursing is there is soooo many options for career path. You can further specialize in nursing (nurse researcher, CRNA-nurse anesthetist, NP-nurse practioner). Nurses can also work with engineers. Biomedical engineering (BME) really interested me so I am going to get a minor in BME and if I decide to go the engineering route later I can always get my masters in BME. Another cool thing that nurses can do is work in pharmaceuticals: research/engineering(probably need further education) or sales.

    Honestly, this first semester of nursing has kind of freaked me out because it is so centered around bedside care. From what I am seeing, these skills/attributes are necessary to be a skilled and satisfied nurse: critical thinker, multi-tasker, works well under pressure, good observational skills, adheres to standards of practice and understands limitations, does not need positive reassurance, comfortable with people, good communication skills, caring and able to show empathy. Nursing is also much more patient centered and we take a holistic approach in our interventions and treatment. Physician treatment is more focused on the medical diagnosis and medical pathology. So, if you feel like you are comfortable with the above and you have a passion for directly helping people, I would encourage you to go into nursing. There are ways to incorporate engineering into nursing (2 year RN degree + degree in engineering or BSN + minor (or later masters) in engineering.

    I would suggest working as a CNA before starting nursing school. Working as a CNA can help give you insight and experience in the nursing /medical field. This can help you decide if nursing is right for you and can help you out A LOT in nursing school (classmates that have worked as CNAs are much more comfortable in clinical and have more background knowledge). Nursing school is a tough and rigorous program so it's best to only go through it if you plan on using your nursing credentials.

    I hope this helps a little.

    Do any nurses have experience/advice in moving away from bedside care? Or working with engineers or in research? Or nurse pharmaceutical reps?

    Any engineers that have experience working with nurses?
  15. Jul 12, 2015 #14
    Hello! I'm in *kind of* a similar situation. I've already finished a vocational nursing program and plan to apply to RN soon. I've always had an interest in physics though, and it's my life goal to obtain a degree in physics. So I hear ya. I don't necessarily think you have to choose one or the other. As an RN, you'll have the income and the schedule flexibility to go back to school to be an engineer. Many nurses do per diem work, where you pick up shifts as you need them. Engineering is TOUGH and will require most of your attention, but if you can make it through nursing school, you can make it through anything. (Nursing school is also very demanding, so be prepared for that.)

    There are also other career paths that combine the medical field with physics. I came across a medical physicist at a hospital recently and asked him about his job and the educational requirements (you can find more information here: http://www.aapm.org/medical_physicist/). He said he was very happy with his job and makes good money. (There was a Stanford Medical Center emblem on his lab coat.)

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck in your career! Don't be afraid to create your own path. :)
  16. Jul 12, 2015 #15
    Hi! :) I'm not an RN but I just graduated from vocational nursing school (going to apply to RN next). I've spoken with nurses from all walks of life and there are quite a few management positions that are cropping up that revolve more around training nurses and managing them vs. bedside care. I know one nurse manager who basically is in charge of all the training/in-service stuff and never actually does bedside care and she makes BANK. But you need to go through that staff nurse junk for a few years before you can land a job like that. I've gone through 3 semesters of clinical rotations and I can say that it does get easier. Once you have confidence in your skills, it's like second nature. Best of luck in your studies and your future! :)
  17. Jul 12, 2015 #16
    Engineering is great but Computer Science/Software Engineering is great too. With your interest in helping others in a medical field way you can either apply your engineering or programming skillsets to medical technologies, both have well respected & high paying senior positions as career outcomes. While nursing is completely different IQ range and job description (however I consider nursing more physically and emotionally demanding where it lacks in technicality and intellectual rigor), for example you'll be busy with hygienic methodologies and practices instead of applying multivariable calculus & second order differential equations to varies biomedical/medical engineering models and what have you solving mechatronic, chemical, material & physics problems or tend to the "consequences of illness, disability, and infirmity, as well as the risks and consequences of the treatment of illness. Protect patients from the risks that occur when illness and vulnerability make it difficult, impossible, or even lethal for patients to perform the activities of daily living -- ordinary acts like breathing, turning, going to the toilet, coughing, or swallowing." (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/520714_2).

    (Sorry can't access my original account right now)
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2015
  18. Jul 12, 2015 #17


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    It seems to me that it comes down to a question of whether you are most concerned about, and want to work with, people or things? Each choice involves some of both, but there is clearly a difference in emphasis.
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