Student earns nursing degree at 77

By Pareasa Rahimi

At 77 years old, Donald Diltz has been an educator, a Peace Corps volunteer and a business executive. But even after earning multiple degrees and certifications in other fields, Diltz decided that it wasn’t too late to start a new journey—to become a nurse.

“It’s very important to keep finding new ways to keep the edge sharp,” Diltz said. “I’ve really focused on always learning. It’s something that keeps me motivated and excited.”

Diltz was in Colombia 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.

“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.”

Having always been interested in human and health services, Diltz set his sights on the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing’s Accelerated Masters in Nursing Pathway—a pathway that allows those with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields to become nurses.

“This pathway was just 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’ve 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’s 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.”

Diltz graduates this fall and has accepted an internship with UAB Medicine which 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.”

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