Don’t let age stop you – Nursing grad leaves sage advice for future nurses

14 November 2023

At 55 Glen Gardner is one of the newest graduates of the Lawrence Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, where on November 8, he crossed the stage at U of T’s Convocation Hall to receive his Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Diploma.

His decision to pursue another career as a licensed nurse practitioner was a big one to make, but Gardner has been in search of a new challenge and opportunity, after having spent the last 34 years working in health care.

“I really wanted to challenge myself, and try something new,” says Gardner. “There is a real need for nurse practitioners in primary care. With a focus on a holistic approach, autonomy, and an ability to provide direct care to patients, I feel like it is where I want to head next.”

The first seven years of Gardner’s career in health care were spent with Oshawa’s ambulance services, a job he enjoyed, but was sadly cut short due to a back injury. Faced with a decision about where to turn next in his career, he recalled the admiration he felt for the ER nurses he encountered on his emergency runs.

“Watching the ER nurses work was inspiring; they were decisive and imbued such leadership in the care they provided. Nursing really appealed to me at that point, because it meant I would still be able to continue helping people,” says Gardner.

Having spent the last 28 years as a nurse, and with financial obligations and a family, Gardner acknowledges it was a big decision to return to school.

“Many people I went to school with are now retiring, and without a doubt they think I’m crazy for pursuing a new career, but I say don’t let age stop what you are going to do, just go out and do it,” says Gardner. “Of course, I’ve been lucky to have the support of my family and the faculty here at Bloomberg Nursing.”

This motivational mentality has shaped Gardner’s nursing career. He has never shied away from a challenge. When he first graduated as a nurse in 1995, it was a time where many Canadian nurses were heading south of the border to look for work. Gardner landed a job in pediatric nursing in Nevada where he worked in the newborn nursery before moving to the ICU where his emergency service background made him a good fit.

When he returned to Ontario, Gardner had a variety of roles that demonstrated for him the depth of the nursing profession. In addition to emergency nursing, he worked in occupational health and safety, before heading back into the ICU, and has most recently been working in cardiology with arrythmia patients.

Finding the flexible post-master’s nurse practitioner diploma offered at U of T Nursing, helped Gardner make the decision to return to school. The asynchronous and flexible learning options allowed him to maintain his work and family life balance, though there were still challenges along the way.

“The program does get very intensive and I had to drop down to casual part-time, I had to dip into savings,” says Gardner. “During the program, family health emergencies also came up that needed to be dealt with but the support of my family, my wife and children who were very understanding of my limited availability, helped make it easier to keep my goal in mind.”

At the end of the program, Bloomberg Nursing provides a wrap-up residency week inviting key nursing leaders to speak with students. For Gardner, this was a defining moment in the program, where he says he saw the incredible evolution of the nurse practitioner role, from where it began to where it is undoubtedly headed.

“A speaker who recounted her early days as a nurse practitioner working remotely and having to chip ice off the door of the trailer she worked out of so she could get in and provide care to the community where she worked, got me thinking about where the root of the NP role was, and where it is now,” says Gardner.

As he looks forward to this new career journey, Gardner is also keen to keep the momentum behind the role of the nurse practitioner going, pushing it forward, watching as the role expands, and advocating for improvements, including more funding for nurse-led clinics, roles in family health teams, and an increase in compensation for nurses in these areas.

“The future of the nurse practitioner is basically in our hands and in this last stage of my career, I’m ready for all the new challenges and opportunities it brings,” says Gardner.