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SMU Graduate Finds Passion for Nursing and New Career Path

Robert Owens gave up the security of a 27-year career in sales to pursue a profession he would find more personally rewarding. He decided to become a nurse.

At the age of 48, Owens enrolled in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program at Samuel Merritt University (SMU).  He recently won his cohort’s “Most Promising Student” award and glowing praise from his teachers.

“He’s going to be a great nurse,” said SMU Professor Pamela Minarik. “If I ever had a chance to be taken care of by Robert, I would be thrilled.”

Minarik says Owens brought “broad life experience” to his studies, was a good team player, and jumped at taking opportunities to try something new.

“He is a really centered man,” says Minarik. “He knows who he is and is confident in his own skin.”

Students in Owens’ age group comprise a very small percentage of those enrolled at SMU, with the vast majority of students ranging from 18 to 35 years old.

Owens could not afford to attend college after graduating from high school so he went right to work. He spent 27 years in chemical industry sales, managing along the way to attend classes at night and earn a bachelor’s degree — the only one in his family to do so.

“I worked out of necessity,” he says. “I never did anything I truly wanted to do.”

The right moment for a mid-career change came last year when Owens moved from Boston to San Francisco so his partner, also a nurse, could take a position at California Pacific Medical Center.

Owens’ decision to become a nurse is part of a growing national trend of more men entering the field. The number of men enrolling in undergraduate nursing programs at SMU has been slowly climbing in recent years, helping to achieve the goal of educating a more diverse nursing workforce.

As it turns out, a pioneer in nursing education who is working to achieve more gender diversity in the field spoke at Owens’ SMU graduation ceremony on May 24. David Vlahov, the first male dean of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Nursing, delivered the commencement address.

Looking back at the past year, Owens said he enjoyed the fast pace of the ABSN program. “I couldn’t have asked for more. I loved my clinical instructors,” he says.

Owens now hopes to work in a neonatal intensive care unit, caring for the youngest and most helpless of all hospital patients.

“I have always wanted to work with children because it’s rewarding and challenging,” says Owens. “The parents are extremely vulnerable and stressed, and it helps them if you can offer comfort and reassurance. And, it’s really rewarding when you can see a baby go home.”

Bottom right photo, pictured from left to right:
Students Helen Nguyen, Alvin Vallejo, Robert Owens, Instructor Maria Ronquillo, student Gabriel Loya