‘Never too late’: UAB student earns nursing degree at 77

Over 55 years after earning his first degree, Donald Diltz will graduate from the UAB School of Nursing and begin an internship at UAB Medicine at the age of 77.
Written by: Pareasa Rahimi
Media contact: Hannah Echols

Stream SON 77Diltz will graduate on Dec. 8 from UAB's Accelerated Master's in Nursing Pathway.
Photography: Frank Couch
Donald Diltz was in Colombia on the Venezuelan border volunteering in the Peace Corps in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. When he was evacuated and returned home, he had some time to think about what he wanted to do next and how he could continue to serve others.

The then 75-year-old former educator, volunteer and business executive decided it was not too late to start a new journey. He decided he wanted to become a nurse and set his sights on the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing

Three years later, the now 77-year-old will graduate from UAB on Dec. 8, over 55 years after receiving his first degree.

“I decided I didn’t want to stay home and watch television — I knew that for sure,” Diltz said. “I feel that I’m a blessed person and have had a wonderful life with so many opportunities. Teachings in spirituality are quite clear that you can only expect to continue with that if you help other people.” 

Diltz had always been interested in human and health services; but his previous degrees were a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in economics and a master’s in business administration. He was thrilled when he discovered UAB’s Accelerated Master’s in Nursing Pathway — a pathway that allows those with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields to become nurses.

1206113434224438.hcxaFqRDER00cLBdEgGl height640After graduation, Diltz will begin an internship with UAB Medicine that will allow him to work in and learn about different units.
Photography: Frank Couch
“This pathway was made for me,” Diltz said. “It’s the best educational program I’ve been in, and I’ve been in some great ones. It has been even more than I dreamed of.”

While initially uncertain of what to expect as the oldest student in his cohort, Diltz has formed tight-knit friendships with other students as they have spent the past three semesters learning and growing together.

“As a senior, I wasn’t entirely sure how I would be accepted with so many younger people; but we’ve all supported each other throughout the year, working together in labs, clinicals, through tests and studying. Beyond that, we’re friends,” Diltz said.  

Diltz wants those thinking about pursuing a different path or making a career change to know that it is never too late to try something new.

“When I thought about trying to become a nurse, I was overwhelmed because I knew there would be a big hurdle and I just wasn’t sure I was up for it,” Diltz said. “Here we are, one year later, undergoing an intense education, and I’ll be sitting for the NCLEX in a month. I would encourage anybody to just give it a try.”

Learn more about the UAB School of Nursing’s Accelerated Master’s in Nursing Pathway.

After graduation, Diltz will begin an internship with UAB Medicine that will allow him to work in and learn about different units. He plans to get at least two years of experience as a bedside nurse before exploring leadership opportunities.

“This pathway is just the beginning of becoming a great nurse,” Diltz said. “There are things I haven’t done, and this internship will allow me to test the waters to decide what direction I want to go.”