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Freshen Up with a Nurse Refresher Course

Thursday April 1, 2004
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Are you tired of saying you "used to be a nurse?" If so, your first step may be to take a nurse refresher course. It can be just what you need to put your nursing career back on track.
Whether your current nursing license is inactive or lapsed, your state board of nursing requires you to take a nurse refresher course to return to active status, and any nurse can take a refresher course. "The backgrounds and situations represented by RNs who've taken our course are incredibly varied," says Virginia Moore, RNC, MSN, WHNP, office of lifelong learning coordinator for the Back to the Future: Renewing RNs course at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, TN. "The youngest person to take our course was 30 years old [and] the most mature was 75. Some have active licenses but have not been involved in bedside care in the hospital setting for several years. Others have inactive or lapsed licenses due to involvement in other careers, home-making responsibilities, or retirement."
The first step to regain active status is to contact the board of nursing in the state in which you want to practice. As a state governmental agency, the board of nursing regulates the Nurse Practice Act in that state, determines which requirements are necessary to maintain active status, and approves nurse refresher courses. Therefore, you should contact the state board and talk with a nurse consultant to learn what are the board-approved nurse refresher courses in your state and to begin the reactivation process.
The Nurse Practice Act varies from state to state in the number of hours a refresher course is required to include. For example, according to the North Carolina Nurse Practice Act, an RN refresher course must include at least 240 hours of instruction, of which at least 120 hours of the total should consist of clinical experiences. South Carolina's Nurse Practice Act requires 160 hours to include both didactic and clinical or an equivalent approved program, whereas Georgia's Nurse Practice Act mandates 40 hours of study before 160 hours of clinical practice.
Consider Your Options
When choosing a refresher course, consider the cost, course schedule, teaching methods, and availability of courses. Like most things, courses can vary in cost. With the current nursing shortage, refresher courses are often used as recruitment tools. Emory Health System in Atlanta provides an eight-week refresher course at no cost to prescreened nurses who give a verbal commitment of employment for one year. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill offers nursing updates twice a year for $1,500, and scholarships are available based on financial need.
Course fees may include CPR certification and HIPAA and OSHA training, but unless an institution is covering the cost, you will have the additional expense of immunizations, tuberculosis testing, hepatitis B vaccine, and some facilities require malpractice insurance. And, don't forget you have to buy a new nurse's uniform or scrubs.
Research a course before you register. Check the website or contact the program coordinator for information about the course curriculum and assess if the class schedule fits your current lifestyle. Next, determine your professional needs and what you need to learn to feel comfortable in returning to the workforce. Do you want a refresher course to have a clinical rotation in a specific specialty, such as pediatrics, or a review of adult med/surg nursing? Do you prefer a group setting on campus or would online lectures and self-directed written modules you take at your own pace be better for you?
Greenville Technical College has South Carolina's only in-state nurse refresher course, and it includes 120 hours of didactic lecture on the Internet, 43 hours of laboratory time on campus, and 80 hours of clinical review in an acute care setting with a preceptor. "The nurse returning to the profession is looking for a lot of things in a refresher, but the hands-on skills component is the drawing force for our program," says program coordinator and instructor Jennifer Walker, RN, MSN, CNS.
Returning to a patient's bedside for the clinical rotation may be rather frightening if you haven't practiced for a while, even under the supervision of a nurse preceptor. You may have to overcome fears related to new medications, the equipment, and using computers during a clinical rotation.
"The nurses have a lot of anxiety, they worry about what people will think of them, and if they will be successful," says Marti Wilson, RN, MSN, RN residency and reentry coordinator of Emory Health System. Let your preceptor and other staff nurses know you would like to observe and perform as many procedures as possible during your rotation. If you are not sure that you are clinically ready to return to the workforce, remember that your new employer will likely have a comprehensive orientation with a preceptor, as well.
Also, ask your clinical preceptor to be a professional reference for you as you begin your job search. Remember, where there are nurses with active licenses, there are recruiters. You may be made an offer that you can't refuse.