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How can I find a nontraditional nursing job after recovering from injury?

Monday January 10, 2011
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Dear Donna,

I feel very lost, and I need guidance on how I can go back to work in the nursing profession. I am 37 and was on disability for two years after suffering a spinal cord injury. I have fully recovered and now am physically fit.

I was told even though the injury has healed, it is best for me to find an alternative field in nursing to prevent future straining of my spinal cord. I really do not know where to begin and how to start again, especially with the recession and nursing becoming highly competitive. I am wondering if employers could check my health history and consider my injury a liability. I tried to come back to work in the hospital, but I received a reply that there were more qualified applicants. I was advised to take a refresher course, but others told me I don't need it. I also tried to apply at the nursing home facility, but could not get a job.

I decided to get involved in volunteer activities to build up my self-esteem. Do I need a mentor, and how can I find one? Do you think I should pursue an MSN to get a job?


Dear Donna replies:

Dear Anna,

The hospital/in-patient direct care job market for nurses is very tight right now in most parts of the country. Because there is an abundance of nurses with recent experience, most hospitals and healthcare facilities aren’t hiring anyone who has been away from the bedside for 2-3 years or more unless they take a refresher course. And even then, it can be challenging to get in so don’t take the recent rejections personally. Because you have the spinal cord injury history and have been advised to seek nontraditional work, I don’t know why you would pursue this unless you can’t think of anything else.

The truth is there are virtually endless opportunities to work in nontraditional settings. But reentering the workforce and “reinventing” yourself in nursing is a transition that takes a little time and patience. You also have to start looking in new directions for employment and using new skills to find and get those jobs. Read "Reentering the Workforce" (www.Nurse.com/Cardillo/Reentering), "Working With a Disability" (www.Nurse.com/Cardillo/Disability), and "Picking up the Pieces of Your Career" (www.Nurse.com/Cardillo/Pieces).

As all of the above articles suggest, volunteering is the perfect way for you to ease back into the workforce. Not only will it help to build your confidence, but you will also build emotional and physical stamina to prepare for a regular paying job. You can hone old skills, learn new ones and make valuable personal contacts. You’ll accumulate recent relevant experience to put on your resume. And volunteering often leads to paid employment. Look for a medical setting that interests you. Suggestions would be the American Red Cross, an inner city or “free” clinic, your local public health department, a school for children with developmental disabilities, etc.

You asked about mentoring – a good place to find mentors is through nursing professional associations. I suggest you attend local chapter meetings of your state chapter of the American Nurses Association (even as a guest if not a member). Read "In Search of the Right Mentor" (www.dcardillo.com/articles/findmentor.html).

You also might consider working with a nursing career coach to help you get reestablished in a new way in nursing. Find a nursing career coach by getting a referral from your state chapter of the ANA (www.ana.org) (even if you’re not a member), from a local community college, or by doing an Internet search for "RN career coach." It is important to find a nursing career coach because he or she will have a unique understanding of the diverse skill set nurses possess and an understanding of the diverse job market for nurses; most nonnurse career coaches do not. By all means seek out the help you need.

Consider attending one of my upcoming Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminars to fully explore your options, identify transferable skills, and develop top-notch self-marketing skills. Find out more at (www.nurse.com/ceseminars/). To find career fairs in your area go to www.nurse.com/careerfairs/. Also, check out my book "The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses" – your mentor in paperback.

Start moving in a positive direction, one step at a time, and the right opportunity will come along.

Best wishes,

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/asktheexperts/deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.