From bricks to scrubs: Thanks to a nurse’s encouraging words, stroke victim John McElroy found his way from the factory to the hospital

Your nurse was not always a nurse. Take Annell Farris, who became a nurse at age 59 (!) and won one of our nurse photo contests. People can come to nursing from very different backgrounds, and former brick maker John McElroy is a great example.

“I worked in a local brick factory for about twenty-five years,” he told CNN. “Life in the factory was quite tough.” It wasn’t until he was 44 that he started on his path to becoming a registered nurse. It took a tragedy — and the inspiring example of a nurse who offered some crucial advice.

Video still: John McElroy, brick maker turned registered nurse

John McElroy, brick maker turned registered nurse (CNN video still)

One night in 2007, he was hit by a dizzy spell. By the next morning, “the world was spinning like 500 miles an hour”. He was soon diagnosed with a stroke, and faced a difficult road to recovery. “I was speaking but the words — it was just jibberish. That was scary. Without my wife’s support, I probably would have gone into a downward spiral.”

Instead, he turned his medical recovery into a new start in life. “We were struggling financially,” he told CNN. “I was thinking I’m not ready for the scrapheap. I am too young.” That’s when a nurse who treated him told him: “You would make a fantastic nurse”. Her kind remark rekindled a childhood ambition, he said: “When I was younger I always wanted to be a nurse”. She had some stern advice too, however. “You will have loads of excuses to not do this, to fail, to quit,” she told him. “But you’ve got to carry on.”

He did. Step by step, he succeeded. He enrolled in college even as he was battling his brain injury. He was accepted into a fast-track nursing program at a university. He was awarded $4,000 in scholarships to complete his studies. Five years after suffering his stroke, “he achieved his childhood dream, graduating with his nursing degree”.

On our blog we have highlighted, time and again, stories that bring home the life-changing role nurses can play when they encourage, support, teach and mentor other (future) nurses. Ja’el Mitten told us about the kindness of a nurse educator who pulled her through when she was young and inexperienced. Larry Bass told us how he was moved to enter nursing at 42 after half a lifetime in the restaurant business by the inspiring example of the nurse who cared for him through the ordeal of three open heart surgeries. McElroy’s story brings home the message again. It also underscores the role scholarships can play in helping people find their way to nursing, which is why NurseRecruiter has just established a scholarship as well.

People like McElroy, Bass and Farris, entering the nursing profession at a later age, are contributing to a trend where nurses over 40 play an increasingly dominant role. Persuading men from very different backgrounds to venture into nursing can also help increase the disproportionately low share of male nurses. Take marine combat veteran and martial arts instructor John Lanning for example, who was interviewed by Healthline about how he’d “gone from taking lives to saving them” when he became a nurse. With more and more blue-collar jobs giving way to so-called “pink-collar” ones, we can only hope that more people find their way across as successfully as John … but without the medical emergencies!

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