Changing career paths one nurse at a time

Jessica Low (L) and Jenn Dalen



A newly developed nursing programme offered by Massey University is allowing people from all walks of life with existing degrees to switch career paths and take up a role that is needed now more than ever.  

The Master of Clinical Practice, a graduate entry to nursing programme was launched in July and has seen an uptake of 26 students from Whangarei to Dunedin.

Although the programme is one of six offered throughout New Zealand, Massey is the only university where students studying the programme can study some of the content via distance. 

And taking up this opportunity is Wellington based mother and previous manager of the Science and Humanities Collections, at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Jenn Dalen. 

Mrs Dalen’s background includes holding a Bachelor of Science (Biology) and Master of Molecular Biology/Botany which she has employed over the past 15 years at Te Papa.

But nearing the end of 2019 she began questioning if it was a career path she wanted to continue with. And then the COVID-19 alert level four lockdown hit earlier this year causing her to have as she calls it “a career moment.”

Her husband came home with an advertisement for the MCP and having thought about pursing nursing on and off over the years she thought “this is it.” 

“Obviously I’m older, but there’s a point where I felt at a crossroad when you realise you’re doing something but then there’s still time to do something else. COVID made that really apparent for me. If you’ve always dreamt of doing it then why not have a go. People have all kinds of circumstances which mean they can’t and I I consider myself lucky that I can. Some people don’t have that luxury to go back to  study so I really want to make the most of the opportunity.”  

She did not want to go back and start another long-term degree so when she saw the programme she felt it was very fitting for someone like herself that was mid-career change, had a degree under her belt already and  it  allowed her to study some of the theory distance and in a condensed timeframe.  

Although she loved how the museum collections connected people, she wanted to make a “different kind of difference” and have another kind of fulfillment in her own career.  

“I thought about nursing off and on over the years, there’s something about that connection with people and being able to help people in that intimate space. I really like working with people.”  

She says being a scientist often things were quite linear and then when she began to manage people, she realised she thrived on problem solving and everyday being different from the last and finds nursing is very similar with no day ever being the same.   

Mrs Dalen started her first placement at Kenepuru Community Hospital in Porirua this week and says she has found the programme “intense and challenging but in the right way.”  

With a new change in life she is keeping an open mind as to where she would like to end up working as a nurse and says she is loving being exposed to the diverse and complex territory that comes with nursing.     

Due to the intensity and progressive nature of the programme it cannot be studied part-time at the moment as students are required to complete six theory-based courses and four clinical courses that are completed in labs on the Manawatu campus.  

Students are also put into clinical placements over the four semester, two-year programme completing more than 1100 hours of practice. 

Student Jessica Low is a mum and a former Police Officer living and studying in Whanganui and has also decided to take a new course in life.   

Straight out of high school, Miss Low completed one year of a Bachelor of Nursing degree before travelling and at 26 she joined the Police where she remained for seven years.  

Her time as a Police officer included being on the frontline and working in family harm, basic investigation and at times preparing documentation for coronial enquiries, in areas such as Counties Manukau, Tokoroa and Taumarunui.   

In 2016 after moving to Taumaruni from Auckland she dropped down to part-time hours and completed a Bachelor of Arts and also became pregnant with her first child who was born in 2017.  

After her daughter’s birth, returning to work became logistically difficult so she spent two years off work caring for her child before moving to Whanganui in March 2019 where she began restorative justice facilitating.  

“I’ve always had people as my focus and restorative justice was a good fit with my policing background but started thinking long-term about what I might do and nursing had always been in the back of my mind, I’ve always been interested in health and wellbeing.” 

Students complete six theory-based courses and four clinical courses in labs on the Manawatu campus.

Miss Low tossed up between post-graduate psychology or nursing and then started looking to the universe to give her some signs on what career path she should pursue and that is when she saw a similar nursing programme advertised at another university, but it did not offer distance based learning.  

“I thought wow that would be amazing if I lived there, and then saw Massey advertised a similar thing and I thought that might work extra-mural, as I’ve studied via distance before and it’s flexible, so I thought I would like to do that, but we can’t afford it but then the scholarship came up and I got it and here we are.”  

As part of the inaugural programme launch a number of scholarships were offered to students.

Although the programme is full on, Miss Low says she is really enjoying it and believes it will be a pathway to be able to help people that is aligned more with her interests. 

“I’m finding it has a lot of transferrable skills such as my love for being able to communicate with people, I enjoy getting to the bottom of things and being curious and advocating for people where I can.”

Miss Low began her first placement at Te Oranganui Trust in Whanganui this week and says eventually she would like to end up in the Intensive Care Unit or the Emergency Department and possibly make her way into a leadership role but says she has never been a nurse while being a mother so will have to wait to see how well the roles coincide. 

Like all nursing programmes in New Zealand, the Masters of Clinical Practice meets the Nursing Council of New Zealand’s education standards for registered nurse scope of practice. 

Graduates will be able to apply to the NCNZ to enter the register as a New Zealand comprehensive Registered Nurse and beginning to make a contribution to the care and wellbeing of people and communities across Aotearoa New Zealand. 


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