Phyllis Searcy, 71, has just completed her first year of nursing school at Ivy Tech Community College in Madison. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Phyllis Searcy, 71, has just completed her first year of nursing school at Ivy Tech Community College in Madison. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Phyllis Searcy has always loved to learn and go to school ... so much so that her mother calls her a professional student.

In fact, her love of learning led the Madison native to a career as a teacher for nearly 33 years.

But now, at 71, Searcy is working toward yet another degree and career - this time in the nursing field.

"I love learning," Searcy said. "I just have always loved school."

Searcy remembers as a child wishing she could go to school with her older brother. Even though her brother was just a year older, she didn't want to wait an extra year to be in classes and learn new information.

After earning an undergraduate degree from Indiana University, Searcy continued her own education while teaching others. She completed her master's degree, several certifications and endorsements during her career, and she also attended a semester of law school before getting married.

Yet, there was more than just her love of learning that guided her to become a nurse at this stage of her life.

"When you get to be my age, you see threads that lead you (in life)," she said.

During her retirement, Searcy began taking classes at Ivy Tech in Madison just to keep herself busy.

"I had been taking one class at a time," she said.

She heard classmates talking about the TEAS test during a class. The test serves as an entrance exam into the nursing program at Ivy Tech.

Although she just took the test to see how well she could do, Searcy passed the exam with one of the highest scores in her testing group.

Searcy thought she could continue taking classes one at a time until she told her daughter - a 2008 graduate of the Ivy Tech nursing program - the plan.

Her daughter informed her that the nursing program was an accelerated program and needed to be completed within two years.

So, Searcy loaded up on the course work. She just completed her first year of the program after taking finals this week, which coincided with National Nurses Week.

She said her mother was one of the main reasons she decided to go back to school to get a degree in her 70s.

Her mother is in good health and lives independently at age 92, and Searcy decided that she would make the most of her next retirement by helping others.

Plus, she was concerned that her retirement benefits might run out because of inflation. She thought another career might be a good idea for extra income while she's still able to work.

Searcy also had worked as an emergency medical technician for four years while her children were growing up.

Then, her husband became ill and spent time in a few hospitals - including the University of Louisville, a teaching hospital - in 2008.

While at the hospital, doctors and nurses taught Searcy what she needed to know to help provide care.

"I had a crash course in nursing," she said.

The Ivy Tech nursing program has provided a lot of insights into the medical world about healthcare ailments family and friends deal with, Searcy said, while also expanding on her knowledge of care plans.

"I can relate to (the classroom material)," she said.

Yet the program also challenges her to put aside some of the practices she knew and used as a special-needs teacher when learning about the theories of mental health issues and development.

After completing the nursing program next year, Searcy hopes to use her skills in home health nursing and hospice care.

Searcy began serving as a hospice volunteer at King's Daughters' Hospital about three years ago, so she knows first-hand how important it can be for that type of specialized care.

"You get a lot of satisfaction out of that," she said. "That is so important for people to stay at home."