At 61, he’s the new nurse on the block

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06/17/2021

Bick web 1

Jeff Bick retired from a career as a package engineer to embrace a new role – operating room nurse in the state’s largest children’s hospital.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

After 31 years at Eli Lilly and Co., Jeff Bick could have settled comfortably into retirement. The company had offered a generous early retirement package four years ago, but Bick was conflicted.

“It kind of caught me off guard,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to retire. I liked what I was doing, but they were making an offer that doesn’t come around every day.”

So the question was, what to do next?

For Bick, it was an opportunity to reinvent himself. That meant going back to school in his late 50s to follow a path into medicine, something he briefly considered as a young man.

“This is an opportunity to do something different,” he said while on a break from orientation as a new nurse at Riley Hospital for Children. “And it’s been radically different for me. I spent a lifetime in manufacturing.”

He points out, however, that because Lilly is a pharmaceutical company, he considered his job as a package engineer a form of patient care in an abstract way.

“You’re not making widgets, you’re making medicines.”

Nursing, though, is all about patient care.

In January 2018, he began taking prerequisites for an accelerated nursing degree program at Marian University. He graduated in August 2020, smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID increased the burden of care for nurses and also complicated the teaching environment, he said, robbing many nurses-in-training of some hands-on clinical experience. But Bick was determined to make the most of his second career.

“This gives me an opportunity to get up close and personal and give back to people, to be able to take care of folks,” he said. “And to continue to grow and develop as a person.”

That’s something he and his wife, Jennie, have in common. An executive secretary for years, she went back to school two decades ago to get her teaching license. She recently retired after a 20-year teaching career in IPS and now tutors in the Avon area.

“I guess we’re kind of late bloomers,” he said, “but we consider ourselves lifelong learners.”

Now 61, Bick is about four months into his training as an operating room nurse at Riley.

“I really love it,” he said. “I love the organization and the folks I’m working with. I just really couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.”

While he acknowledges that many of his nursing colleagues are younger than his adult son (a member of the U.S. Army), it’s no different than when he was in school.

“Some of the students were launching a second career like I was, but a lot of them were in their late 20s and 30s. Not too many were in my demographic.”

Regardless, he said, he found it invigorating.

“I’d go in and say to myself, I’m not going to be the old fart in the class today. I’m going to go in and listen and learn and relate to folks and be myself. Nursing involves a lot of teamwork and collaboration, so I think you need a basis in relationships. School gave me my first good practice at what my work environment was going to be.”

Bick said he’s been very well accepted by his colleagues in the operating room, who include nurses of varying years of experience.

“I’m working to find my groove and my niche, and I feel like there’s something to learn from everyone – the newer ones and the older ones. And if I have something to pass along, that’s fine.”

While most of his family has been supportive of his career change, Bick says some of his friends scratch their heads at his pivot later in life.

“I have a couple good buddies who are eligible to retire in a couple years, and they have no intention of continuing to work.”

But he can’t imagine a life without work and all of its challenges.

“I just don’t feel like retirement in the traditional sense is in the cards for me. It doesn’t really interest me. I prefer to be able to work and contribute hopefully at a high level in this career for as long as I can,” he said, “as long as my legs hold out.”

He always planned to work into his 70s; he just didn’t know that doing so would involve going back to school and changing careers.

“I always thought something like this was in the rearview mirror for me.”

Turns out, that early retirement offer from his previous job was a blessing because it led to new opportunities that he has embraced.

“It’s been hard, but sometimes you have to embrace hard. Why else are we here?”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org