After a quarter-century of helping some of the largest companies in the United States avert crippling computer meltdowns, Robert Olsen saw the writing on the wall. As the high technology landscape shifted overseas and vintage programming language became more and more obsolete, many of the companies he had worked for reacted by replacing employees ages 40 and above with younger, less-experienced and lower-paid workers.

South Florida and Broward College provide a second chance

At 53-years-old, Olsen was not about ready to ride off into early retirement. He and his wife were willing to pack up the car and drive from their home in Connecticut to Davie, where he had learned of an opportunity in the health sciences that could breathe new life into his career.

Robert OlsenOnce Olsen decided to pick up roots, he knew the trail he would follow led to Florida. He just wasn’t quite sure where. His online research had revealed that respiratory therapists were in high demand, especially in Southeast Florida where there is a high concentration of seniors. When he learned that Broward College not only offered a variety health sciences program including respiratory care but was also ranked among the nation’s top community colleges, Olsen was sold. He soon moved from passing his prerequisite courses to enrolling in the respiratory care program.

“It was time to make a big decision,” said Olsen, who declared to his family and former coworkers that he was enrolling in a health sciences program at Broward College. “I didn’t want to fight for crumbs any longer in the shrinking mainframe software development industry with other displaced people.”

Up until now, as a mainframe programmer analyst, he knew plenty about platforms, software, hardware and the implantation of complex computer applications. Outside of some medical terminology he gained in the military, science was an entirely different field, one that he struggled with until he wound up dropping out after the second semester.


Not ready to throw in the towel on his new career, Olsen waited a year before he applied to the program again. Since then, he has passed all courses in his path and is scheduled to graduate with an Associate of Science degree in May. In the meantime, he serves as a volunteer mentor to first-year classmates in the respiratory care program and tutors some nursing students on respiratory topics.

“Typically, I’ve been the oldest student in each of my classes,” said Olsen. “Graduating from Broward College will be bittersweet. I will miss being around the bright, young students who are extremely focused.”

“I find it tremendously rewarding to be in a hospital helping people who are running out of choices in life. To me, helping them is extremely satisfying,” said Olsen.

Olsen plans to continue his education toward a bachelor’s degree in health services administration. Once completed, he then hopes to return as a clinical intern instructor to Broward College, where he can give back to a program he said has given him so much.

“I never thought I would take this path or that I would enjoy healthcare this much. I feel this is because I’m helping people who really need help to stay alive. That’s more exciting than writing computer programs. And I have Broward College to thank for this new chapter in my life.”

Respiratory therapists work with advanced medical equipment to help patients who cannot breathe on their own. Learn how to earn an associate degree in this rewarding field.