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How can I re-enter the workforce as an RN after I’ve been away from nursing for more than 20 years to raise my family?



Dear Donna,

After being away from nursing for more than 20 years to raise a family is it even possible to get back in at any level? I have a current New Jersey license, CPR certification and volunteer experience.

Feeling Hopeless

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Feeling Hopeless,

It absolutely is possible for you to get back to nursing in some way, so don’t despair.

Know upfront that the job market for nurses, as well as the delivery of healthcare, has changed quite dramatically in the last 20 years. Care is shifting out of the hospital and into alternate inpatient settings: the home, the community and other ambulatory settings.

How we find and get jobs today has changed too. Networking has become the standard whether in-person, online (social media such as LinkedIn) or telephone. Even though you’re not a new nurse, read this article for more tips on how to conduct your job search: “New Nurse New Job Strategies” (

If you wanted to pursue anything related to direct patient care — home care, hospice, hospital, in-patient rehab, etc. — you would need to take an RN refresher course with clinical preceptor experience. That being said, you may be able to find non-traditional RN work without taking a refresher course. Read on.

You say you have volunteer experience but don’t mention what type. While looking for paid employment as a nurse, look for volunteer work as a nurse in a setting such as your local public health department, American Red Cross, local blood bank, free clinic etc. Volunteering is a great way to gain recent relevant experience, build confidence and work stamina, and expand your professional network. Plus, volunteering often turns into paid employment.

You might even be able to get a paid part-time job now at some of the above places. Flu season is coming up so giving flu shots though your local public health department is a good way to get started. And since the American Heart Association and American Red Cross have education and training programs that they pay some nurses to teach, you might be able to do that for now. These are just a few possible options.

There are also some nursing agencies that do non-traditional placement and they may have something for you to help you ease your way back into the nursing workforce. You’ll find many of them exhibiting at career fairs. See what’s coming up:

I also recommend that you get out to local chapter meetings of the American Nurses Association or other nursing associations as a guest for now. This is a great way to get reconnected to your profession. Get up to date on trends and issues and further expand your network. You also would benefit from attending a Career Alternatives for Nurses seminar. See what’s coming up:

Transitioning is a process so be patient with yourself and the process. You can do this.

Best wishes,


About Author

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is’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 http://www.

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