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Re-entering the workforce


Can this career be saved? This is an ongoing series about real nurses, real challenges and real solutions.

Jane* has been in nursing for 26 years. She’s worked in med/surg, telemetry, intensive care and home care. She’s been out of the workforce for eight years looking after her sick parents and taking care of her children.

She wanted to get back into the hospital setting, so she telephoned nurse recruiters and applied for jobs. But they told her, “No recent experience, no job.”

Needless to say, Jane was frustrated, angry and disillusioned. “I thought there was a nursing shortage!” she said. “Why won’t anyone hire me? Recruiters won’t even return my phone calls. They’re taking new graduates over an experienced nurse like me.”

Jane didn’t realize that while she was indeed experienced, a lot had changed in the hospital setting in the eight years she’d been away. She needed to update her knowledge and skills before she could return to an acute care unit. The job market also had shifted, and even new nurses were facing challenges finding hospital work.

When Jane asked for my advice, I explained that because she’d been away from the bedside for more than four years, she had two choices: either take a refresher course on her own or find a hospital that offered a reentry program for RNs who had been away from patient care.

I suggested she start by doing an online search for healthcare facilities in her geographic area and calling local nurse recruiters and human resources departments to see whether their facilities offer reentry programs. If not, and if they wouldn’t hire her, I advised her to ask what it would take for them to offer her a job. None of the local hospitals offered a reentry program, and no one was willing to hire her without more recent experience. Several recruiters told her she should take a refresher course, but they couldn’t tell her where to find one. They also told her taking such a course was no guarantee of employment.

Jane’s next step was to peruse the websites of her state chapter of the American Nurses Association (she was not a member) and her state board of nursing to locate local refresher courses. If she couldn’t find the information online, she called or emailed them. Once Jane had the list, I advised her to look for a program offering a good balance of classroom and clinical time (complete with preceptor). She found two programs within a reasonable driving distance. She was surprised to discover that refresher courses took two or three months to complete and cost more than $1,000. She was unhappy about having to wait three months to get back into her career.

I suggested Jane volunteer in a healthcare setting while she completed her refresher course. This would help her ease her way back into nursing, sharpen old skills and learn new ones. It also would give her some recent, relevant experience to put on her résumé and discuss during an interview and mention in a cover letter. Once she thought about it, Jane said she felt a little more secure getting up to speed through volunteering rather than plunging right back into paid hospital work. She’d been nervous about going straight back to work, but she didn’t want to admit it for fear of appearing weak. I suggested Jane get nursing liability insurance even to do nursing volunteer work.

I urged Jane, who had belonged to some specialty associations years before, to participate in her state chapter of ANA or an association for a specialty that interests her. Attending local meetings would help her reconnect to her profession, get current on issues and information, make valuable contacts and build a support system. I reminded her that networking also was a great way to find and get a job.

Within a month’s time, Jane had started a refresher course, joined her state chapter of ANA and volunteered at the local branch of the American Diabetes Association. She was answering phone calls from people newly diagnosed with diabetes and explaining where they could find information, providers, supplies and support groups. In fact, Jane became so interested in the work she started thinking about pursuing diabetes education as a specialty. By the time she had finished the refresher course, Jane had been offered a part-time job in a hospital-based diabetic treatment center through a contact she had made during her volunteer work. She also was offered a hospital staff nurse position through a connection she had made at a nurses association dinner meeting she had attended.

Jane accepted both positions.

“I love bedside nursing,” she said, “but I’m also interested in diabetes teaching. I have the best of both worlds.”

Welcome back, Jane!

*Name has been changed.


About Author

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 and, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit

1 Comment

  1. I left the workforce for an extended period of time, keeping an active license with regular CE classes. After many years of paying renewal fees and paying for CE classes I have found I’m unemployable as a nurse. I took a refresher course, and the instructor said, “This will all come back to you when you start working again.” I had no doubt, but got two interviews at one facility, only to be told, “You’ve been out of nursing too long.” The refresher course made no difference at all, and was $500+ I could have used on paying some bills. Nurses like myself could easily be trained in quality assurance, but hospitals are unwilling to do that. There is all of this stagnant human capital (don’t believe the unemployment numbers) and yet we’re being told there is a nursing shortage. Perhaps nursing programs should tell students to NEVER leave the workforce for more than one year. I’ve even tried to get research assistant positions, after getting specialized education (thousands of dollars) with not even an interview. I suspect it is my age. Isn’t this against the law? This is a very poor economy with low quality jobs. YES, I’ve applied for jobs far below my education attainment; no calls.

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