Career Relaunch®
Career Relaunch®
Jul 28, 2021
Finding What Fulfills You with Pam Katz- CR74
Play • 38 min

Do you ever wonder if it’s too late for you to start your second career? You should never say never. But only you can create the change you seek. No one will do it for you or hand it to you on a silver platter.

Having spent 20 fruitful and fulfilling years in the business world, including operating her own successful digital marketing company, Pam Katz is now happily immersed in her second career, nursing. I decided to have Pam on the show because, first of all, given the current pandemic, we’re long overdue for having a nurse on the show. And also, because she’s going to share some useful insights on what it takes to completely shift directions in your career, even if that journey’s a little more challenging than you expected.

During the Mental Fuel® segment, I’ll address a listener question about what to do next after you’ve been let go of a job you didn’t like very much in the first place.

Key Career Insights and Tips

  1. You’re not necessarily going to reach your moment of happiness overnight or your first foray into something new.
  2. Putting in some extra exploration and legwork upfront will increase the chances of you finding your way toward a more fulfilling job.
  3. When you are starting a new job, you have to lean heavily on the skills and talents that have gotten you to where you are in your life. Those skills aren’t completely irrelevant, even if you feel a bit like a fish out of water.
  4. Just because you have a bumpy start to a new role doesn’t mean it’s been the wrong move. Every new job has a steep learning curve, which is par for the course.

Listener Challenge

During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I addressed a listener question about how to figure out what to do with your life. My challenge to you if you’re unsure of what to do as you look ahead in your career is to step away from trying to figure it all out on your own and proactively reach out to someone in your network to talk things through. The skies may not part immediately, and you may not have any sort of epiphany after the first few conversations, but there is a real power in live discussions that may help you uncover a few helpful themes that help you narrow down the overwhelming number of options out there. You never know what ideas may come up that you never considered before.

About Pam Katz, Oncology Nurse

Pam Katz spent 20 years in the business world, including operating her own digital marketing company. Around the age of 40, she went through a mid-life “re-evaluation”. Even though she had a successful business and was good at what she did, she didn’t feel fulfilled by what she did each day. She decided something had to change, and eventually went back to school to get her master’s in nursing.

She’s now happily immersed in her second career at the Rush University Medical Center as a hematology/oncology Registered Nurse. She also volunteers her time to help vaccinate people against COVID-19 in the more vulnerable areas of her city. Taking care of others is in her blood and she’s now in a role that helps others, gives back and serves the greater good.

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Thanks to Harmoni for Supporting Career Relaunch

Thanks to Harmoni Design for supporting this episode of Career Relaunch. The Harmoni Standing Desk offers a smarter, healthier way to work with its simple design that fits into any workspace. It’s the standing desk I’ve used myself since 2020, and Career Relaunch listeners can get 15% off any Harmoni order by visiting and using discount code RELAUNCH when you check out.

Music featured in show

  • Isobel O’Connor / King of Forest Green, My Favorite Tree, Our Waters / courtesy of
  • Rippled Stone / Descend, Tales of a Town, Before it Ends, My Moment, Read Me / courtesy of

Episode Interview Transcript

Teaser (first ~15s): I myself was the only one who was going to be able to make that change for myself. I think everybody has to take that step back and evaluate who they are, what they are destined to be, what calls them, what fulfils them, and it’s going to be different for everybody.

Joseph: Hello, Pam. Welcome to Career Relaunch! It is great to have you on the show.

Pam: Why thank you so much! It’s good to talk to you again.

Joseph: I know you’re quite busy right now, so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. I just want to dive right in. First of all, I want to get a sense of what you have been focused on in your career and your life before we dive into your career history and some of the transitions you’ve been through.

Pam: I’ve been at Rush University Medical Center for three and a half years now. I work in the Haematology Oncology unit. We handle all the blood cancer patients and all the stem cell transplant patients. Right now, I’m very focused on getting my oncology certified nursing certification which is a higher-level certification within the oncology area. I’m looking to see what might be next in the nursing area for me whether it’s taking up a notch of what I’m doing or going to outpatient. The great thing I’ve found about nursing is that there are so many opportunities and so many different things you can do with that education and background. The opportunities are endless.

Joseph: I know you’ve spent a few years and it hasn’t been a tremendous amount of time—coming up on 4 years working in nursing. I’ve got to ask you, what impact, if any, has COVID had on your day-to-day work as a nurse in a haematology and oncology unit?

Pam: Believe it or not, it’s had an impact in many ways for us. The number of patients we’ve had on the unit somewhat dipped during the height of COVID because I think many people were putting off care. The nurses in our unit often end up floating to those units that were accepting COVID patients. You also feel like you’re a part of a bigger mission to attack this pandemic, to help the people, and try to figure out what therapies would work the best. In the course of last year, as the pandemic ebbed and flowed, people can only stall their care for so long. Our census came back up and pretty much stayed up since. But education and communication with our patient population is specifically impacted because most of them have very compromised immune systems and are far more susceptible to catching things like COVID. The impact on them, if they were to get it, would be far more devastating. We had to learn an awful lot in terms of medication strategies above and beyond what we would normally counsel our patients on.

Joseph: It probably goes without saying, on behalf of everybody out there listening including me, we definitely appreciate what you and all the other nurses and doctors and healthcare staff are doing out there during these really challenging times. I know you haven’t really been a haematology nurse, Pam. I do want to come back and talk about your day-to-day life as a nurse, but I was wondering if we could go back in time. This is a show about career change. I was wondering if we could go way back in history, and we could talk about what you were doing before nursing. Tell me about your time working in marketing and then we could move forward from there.

Pam: When I got out of college—truthfully even going into college—I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do. You’ve got your Venn diagram of what you’re good at and what you like to do, and you have these intersections that can encompass many things. I think I initially went into marketing and advertising because my eldest sister did, and it seemed like an interesting thing to do. I got into marketing. I was working at ad agencies early on, for a good chunk of my career. Then I moved into digital marketing in the late 90’s when things were just starting out. I proceeded to specialize in that field for the rest of my career. I worked at United Airlines. Then, I worked at FTD. I had a number of different agencies and client-side marketing roles. But in the end, I ended up starting my own digital marketing company. It was called Charlotte’s Web Marketing. I did that for about 8 years. It was great. It was very fulfilling at the time. I ran a successful company. I had employees. Marketing’s an interesting beast. I would never want to disparage that occupation overall but for me, it felt like I was trying to sell people things that they didn’t necessarily need.

Joseph: You mentioned United Airlines. What were some of the other things you were selling that you kind of felt like, “I’m not really finding this super fulfilling or gratifying.

Pam: One of my major clients when I was working at the ad agency was a major movie studio. There’s nothing wrong with marketing movie studios to people and marketing the pictures that are coming out. A lot of them are packaged-goods companies, financial services, and credit cards. There’s a means to an end for all of it. I mean that’s how people find out about products, but it didn’t do anything for me. It just felt like I was pushing annoying advertising at people. Even as a consumer today, if I have videos or things that I’m looking at online and I get interrupted by advertising, I’m like, “Cut it out!” It felt very intrusive. Unfortunately, in the marketing arena, it’s all very subjective. You’re at the whims of your clients. A lot of them would just not take your counsel on what is the best way to integrate into a consumer’s media consumption versus just blasting them as hard and fast as you can.

Joseph: It sounds like you had a bit of disenchantment about the work itself because you’re marketing products that you aren’t super excited to market to people. You’re feeling like, should I even be trying—to use your words—to push these products on to people. It also sounds like there is an element of you not completely having control over the output of that marketing in which like it seems you were bit at the mercy of your clients. At what point did you go from maybe being frustrated with these things to realizing that, “Hey, I’m not fulfilled.” How did you know that?

Pam: It was a couple of things. One of which was the uncertainty that it all brought. One of my biggest clients was going through bankruptcy. I didn’t know the longevity of what that client relationship was going to look like. Were they even going to be in business? How is that going to impact my bottom line? I think the lack of control and the lack of certainty over my destiny is scary. It’s scary when you’re running your own business and finding out that you may not have perpetual income for the next year. It wouldn’t go unnoticed by most people who know me. I have a decently high-risk tolerance, but I also have to have a certain amount of control and certain gain. It was that combined with not feeling fulfilled by this. So, I sold off the remaining business I had after that big client was having its challenges and I “went to work for them.” But they were based in San Diego and remote working was just not ideal. I would travel a lot there regularly and meet these clients. I’d run up again this same damn thing. It was almost like Groundhog Day because you had little control over what they were doing, and how they were doing it. They would make just what seemed to be very subjective, not logical decision about how to manage their business, let alone the marketing. I think my head was ready to explode at that point.

Joseph: Was that the tipping point? When you realized that something had to change? Can you take me back to that moment when you said, “Okay, I’m doing something else?”

Pam: I was coming back from a business trip. I was on a plane, and I was messaging with my husband. I was kind of expressing my frustration because of how…you know, how things simmer from a long time and then you slowly turn up the heat and it starts to boil over on you. Then I said, “I don’t know if I can do this any longer. This is not me.” As we kind of talked it out and tried to work through if it was marketing, if it was this particular agency? What is this? At the end of the day what it said for me was I need to be doing something that’s important to me—that I’m feeling like I’m giving back. I’m contributing to society. My motto today is definitely: “Never say never. You can always make a change.” It’s so true. I started doing a lot of information gathering. At the end of the day, it entails more schooling, and leaving making a pay check. I always thought, maybe people thought I was a bit partially insane for doing that but not truly. It was just definitely scary.

Joseph: How did you come up with the idea of getting into nursing?

Pam: I’ve done a lot of volunteer work over the years. One is I volunteered with a home hospice. It was just the most awesome thing on the planet. What I discovered through all this is connecting with people and listening to people—not hearing them—and really caring for them at this crucial moment in their life was something that kind of drew me in. It was really an enlightening moment for me. When the hospice program got sold, I ended up going to the Lurie Children’s Hospital. I would visit quite a few of these paediatric ICU patients. I’d play games with them, distract them—just kind of help them through their stay from a non-medical standpoint. Volunteering obviously will not make you money and it felt like I wasn’t doing as much as I was capable of. I really wanted to challenge myself. With all of these volunteer roles that I was doing, it really started pointing me into that direction based on those experiences. Sometimes the universe talks to you in direct and indirect ways. It felt like it was pushing me along like a wave pushes to the ocean. I ended up talking to a lot of people in the medical field. I just started really digging into with this and thought, “Would this be something I would like to do?” I ended up taking a medical terminology class at the community college here just to see if I was in the right track. I really liked it. I proceeded to continue to take more of the pre-requisites that one would need. I opted for a master’s program in nursing because I already had a bachelor’s degree. I felt like that was a more calculated good move on my part.

Joseph: And are you just doing this in the evenings and weekends or is this a full-time program?

Pam: That was a full-time program which obviously made it more challenging because we had one source of income and two small children. They were four at the time when I started this process. They’re going to be twelve next month. Time flies. But you know what, they were going to be 12 years old and I was going to be 48 years old regardless of what I chose to do, so why not take that chance to be happier?

Joseph: What was running through your head as you progressed through that program, which I’m assuming involved you being one of the older students in the program? What was the experience of going back to school like for you?

Pam: You start to question yourself. Am I capable of this? Can I still learn? Because there’s that old adage that goes, “You can teach an old dog new tricks.” I don’t think that’s actually true. I just think that you learn in a different way. I would say a majority of women—there were a half a dozen men in the program in their 20s but there were actually a couple of women that were older than me. So many of them and I don’t know if this was an age thing or not, were very competitive. It somewhat felt like this cut-throat environment but that wasn’t me. The real nut of it that was just super fascinating for me was that when I was in college the first time around, it was so different. This time around, I was very focused. I knew what I wanted, and the learning was not something I had to do. It was something I wanted to do. It was going to be super important as I moved on and actually took on a job being a nurse. It’s almost like you’re sucking it in like a sponge versus feeling like you had to do things because you know that those are going to be important things that you are going to need and keep in your head when you start working in that occupation. This is a little more fluff, I’ll call it. In terms of marketing, it’s very subjective. There’s not as much concrete like it “should be done this way” or “this is best practice.” I think that’s the way my brain works. It’s a little more…not with all these gray areas everywhere but more evidence-based versus more fluid.

Joseph: I would like to shift gears a little bit, Pam, and just talk about your time as a nurse. You graduate from your program. You enter your first nursing role. What was that like for you to go from marketing products to now being in a clinical setting, and taking care of patients. Can you put into words what that contrast was like for you?

Pam: Oh my god, it was so different. I was used to being the boss. I was used to knowing my craft inside and out. People would look to me as the expert after 20+ years. It was a little scary. It was a little daunting. I didn’t know everything. I think part of why they wanted me is because of the life experience, the stability, or I don’t know. I discovered that I could lean on the things that I knew in terms of collaboration and relationships, but I really had to focus in on learning the tests, the skills, and not feeling overwhelmed. For the first 6 months to a year, it was like, “oh my God, can I do this?” I would look at these other nurses in the unit—some were older, some were younger than me—they were able to easily do the things that needed to get done but also do the education, the emotional support, and all these other things. I was like, “oh my god, am I ever going to get to that point?” And I did. But at the beginning, it felt like I was drowning a little because I didn’t have the same handle on work than I did before I left my old world.

Joseph: At the same time, did you feel like this was the right choice for you? If so, how did you know that?

Pam: I couldn’t say for 6 months, and I knew that it was the case. It was not that I didn’t feel right but it was more of if I could actually do it. It’s such a steep learning curve for anyone. Let alone, for someone who had been doing something else for so long but you start to find your hands. You start to be able to build that agility and depth from a task perspective. You start to speed up how you’re able to do things. Things don’t take nearly long as they used to. You learn more about the diseases that these patients have on your unit. You spend enough time with the other nurses and the doctors, and you listen, pay attention and observe. All of a sudden, you feel like the stone that gathers moss. You almost feel like it’s starting to build up and build up and you hit a point where you feel comfortable. More of that sort of snowballed for me. That really cuts it in. Not only do I enjoy doing what I’m doing but I can do it and I’m good at it. I think this is one of my strengths. I know how to communicate with people. I know how to build rapport and trust. Add that and the medical knowledge and the skills, it kind of makes for a good package if you will.

Joseph: I think we’ve all crossed paths with nurses at some point in our lives. I certainly have. Do you feel like there are misconceptions that either patients have consistently about nurses or even misconception you held about being a nurse that have been dispelled for you?

Pam: I think a lot of people think of nurses as people who are taking your vital signs and cleaning up after you—for instance, if someone was incontinent—the very basic things. They don’t realize the extent to which we go to school and have to know so much about what’s going on. The focus is so much on the providers, and the doctors but at the end of the day, they don’t know it all. We’re the ones advocating for them and eventually they’d recognize that. They’ll be like, “Now I know who I need to get to where I need to be.” Don’t get me wrong, the doctors are very valuable. They know their stuff. They’ve gone to school far longer. I get that—especially when they’re not an internist and they’re within the doctor’s ideal in particular. They’re very specialized. They really know their stuff. I absolutely respect and value everything they bring to the table. But I think the patients expect that, but they don’t necessarily expect that the person who’s really going to be holding their hand through the process is their nurse.

Joseph: Before we talk about some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. I do have to ask you about your experience as a nurse, especially at this particular moment in time. We touched on this earlier but we’re recording this in spring of 2021, and I was reading a study by Incredible Health, which is a hiring platform for nurses. In one of their recent surveys, they conducted on the impact of COVID on over 60,000 nurses. They found that 80% of chief nursing officers reported an increase in permanent nurse turnover during the pandemic. One-third of nurses have experienced financial hardship in the past year. How was your experience as a nurse during the pandemic and how are you coping with that?

Pam: I’ve actually read similar stories. The thing that is not surprising is the mass exodus out of the healthcare field and out of nursing. People felt so burned out and overwhelmed by it. I could appreciate that because you have enough people dying on you. You have people you can’t tell because you didn’t know enough or you didn’t have the capacity. We are very fortunate at my hospital. We never turned people away. Our facility was built for a pandemic. It was really built to handle something like that. We were able to turn over so many different units. This facility was really turned into—I’ll say—a war zone facility. Not only were we getting our normal patient population but smaller hospitals or hospitals that weren’t capable of handling these patients were transferring them to us. It wasn’t overwhelming because we were staffed for that. But I’m sure I could see why they would’ve been burned out. They were like, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Joseph: Did you feel like, “Gosh, this was my idea of what nursing is going to be for me and now, this is what it is.” Did you ever have any similar sort of feelings like “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this.”

Pam: I didn’t, and I’ll tell you why. I felt like: “No, I didn’t sign on to be in a pandemic but nobody in this world did.” I feel like it was our job as healthcare providers to help people, regardless of the situation. It was almost empowering in a weird way, for me. I could see how people felt overwhelmed and burned out, but I was also new to this. When the pandemic really hit, I was two and a half years in. I was still kind of feeling that adrenaline of newness and really loving what I was doing. I wanted to know how I can help and how I can be part of this. My perspective was probably a lot different. I guess some people come to nursing as a job, some people come to it as a calling. Based on the timing and the revelation of what I should be doing in my life, I’m sure there are other places where I could be working for more money right now, but I really love what I do. I love my facility because they’re very focused on health equity—not equality but equity. They’re focused on really raising up populations and helping populations that needed them the most. We’re on the west side of Chicago which is a less advantaged area, and we do so much as an institution to help people over there. There’s a lot of things related to gratitude and really wanting to do for others that drives me. At so many levels, I walk out of work most days saying: “That was really cool. I was able to make a difference in that person’s life.”

Joseph: The last thing I want to talk about before we wrap up here is just the lessons you’ve learned along your career change journey. One of the things you mentioned to me when we first connected is that you and only you can make the change that you seek. No one else if going to do that for you or hand it to you on a silver platter. What did you mean by that?

Pam: It would’ve been super easy for me to keep doing marketing. It was profitable. I could do it. I knew it well. From my perspective, the gutsiest move was to pick up and totally change because it was completely jarring to my confidence, and resiliency. But at the end of the day nobody was going to say, “Pam, you shouldn’t do this. Here’s what you should do. Here’s the plan. Here’s the blueprint.” I, myself, was the only one who is going to be able to make that change for myself. I think everybody has to take that step back and evaluate who they are, what they are destined to be, what calls them, and what fulfills them. And for everybody, that’s going to be different. I know quite a few career changers in my life and most of them would probably tell you that was best move they could’ve ever made, and they thank God they took the risk and persevered through the uncertainty to get to that place. I have definitely discovered that having more experience does not necessarily make you a better person or make you a better whatever—in my case, a nurse. Even the new guy can have the better idea in anything you’re doing in life. Specifically in the medical setting, it’s how you carry yourself. It’s how you communicate with people. It’s how you build those relationships. Should I have made the change sooner? I don’t know. But I am super glad I did. The other thing that’s interesting is that from an outsider’s point of view or even for me at the outset of this, you always think that the doctors are the experts at everything, but the reality is, that’s not necessarily the case. A different set of eyes and a different set of perspective on anything is a good thing. Just because you’re not the doctor doesn’t mean you can’t have the greatest impact.

Joseph: For those people out there who are thinking about switching careers into nursing or making any change in their career, what’s something you wish you had known about career change that you now know having been through this transition?

Pam: Do your leg work. When you start to figure out the different areas that you’re interested in, talk to people, and shadow people. You may not know what the next best thing is for you. So, you take that journey. Just because that first step you take doesn’t work out or doesn’t end up being the thing that you really want to do, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get there. It is a journey, and it is not a sprint. It’s definitely a marathon in so many ways. You’re not necessarily get to be happy overnight. You won’t get there on your first foray into something new. A lot of leg work upfront will get you to where you want to be faster and in the best place versus rushing into things. If I had rushed into non-profit marketing, I would never be where I am today. I went in thinking, I’m this older student like you were asking me about earlier. I was asking myself, “Can I really do this?” You know, these other girls are going to run circles around me. No, that was not the case. You feel like you’re good at what you do. You feel like you’re smart but sometimes you can even surprise yourself. Remembering that you’re not always the underdog and you may just be the next best thing to what you’re going to be doing next. Take the time to evaluate and know who you are—to know what you want to do next. You’ve got to be true to yourself.

Joseph: Thank you so much for sharing that advice and for also telling us more about your transition into nursing, your experience as a nurse especially during this pandemic, and also some of the lessons you learned along the way. I also just want to thank you again for all the important work you’re doing as a nurse—to take care of others during these really challenging times. Best of luck with those certifications and please stay safe.

Pam: I will. Thank you so much. It’s been a real pleasure.

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