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How to Get Back Into Nursing if You’ve Dropped Out

How to Get Back Into Nursing if You’ve Dropped Out

Angie Strawn, MSN, RN, Associate Dean, University of Phoenix College of Nursing

As an RN with several years’ experience in acute care nursing and supervision, along with more than two decades of experience in community health and education, my best advice to current nurses considering a leave from the field—for whatever reason— is to stay current with their license and skills. Even if that simply means working per diem one weekend per month, it is much easier to keep your skills and experience current than to attempt to re-enter the workforce.

If you are a nurse who still has an active license, but has been out of patient care for less than five years (in most states, five is the maximum number of years a nurse can be out of the field without consequence), a nursing refresher course may be mandated by the perspective employer. If you are a nurse who has been out of the patient care field and allowed your nursing license to become inactive, a nursing refresher course is often mandated by the individual state boards of nursing licensure. These refresher courses can be costly from a time and monetary standpoint. A quick review of available courses ranged from 46 hours (28 theory and 18 clinical) to 240 hours (80 theory and 160 clinical) and from $500 to $940. Be sure to check with your state board for specific requirements. And to perform the clinical component of the refresher courses, a nurse will have to acquire professional liability insurance and find a preceptor, both of which may be difficult from a “risk” perspective due to the gap in experience.

Despite the reportedly significant shortage of nurses in most states, simply taking the refresher course may not make a nurse who has been absent from the discipline an attractive hire for many hospitals or health care systems. An inactive nurse may find it difficult to adapt to the significant changes in the delivery of health care. For instance, technological innovation has increased the use of electronic patient records, patient monitoring and the like. And nursing today is a much more evidence- or research-based practice. For example, a more mature nurse might say, “We do it that way because we’ve always done it that way;” whereas the new thinking is “We do it this way because research indicates this will bring the best result.” There is also a much greater need to understand diversity—whether ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation or geographic—in terms of both the people needing service and the providers with whom nurses work.

However, for an inactive nurse who is ready and willing to do the work required to update his or her knowledge and skills, there are opportunities both in and outside of the hospital setting.

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