Reentering the Workforce

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By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN

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 kids.

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.

When Jane asked for my advice, I explained that since 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 that she start by calling local nurse recruiters and human resource departments to see whether their facilities offered 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 that she should take a refresher course, but they couldn’t tell her where to find one.

Jane’s next step was to peruse the websites of her state chapter of the American Nurses Association (ANA) and her state board of nursing to locate local refresher courses. If she couldn’t find the information online, I urged her to call or e-mail them. Once Jane had the list, I advised her to look for a program that offered a good balance of classroom and clinical time (complete with preceptor). She located 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 started back in her career.

I advised Jane to seek volunteer opportunities 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 would also give her some recent, relevant experience to put on her résumé and something current to discuss on 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 encouraged Jane, who had belonged to some specialty associations years before, to get active in her state chapter of the ANA. Attending local meetings, I said, would help her reconnect to her profession, get current on issues and information, make valuable contacts, and build a support system. I also reminded her that networking was a very effective way to find and get a job.

Within a month’s time, Jane had started a refresher course, joined 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 that 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 as a result of a contact she had made through her volunteer work. She also was offered a hospital staff nurse position through a connection she had made at an 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!

Copyright All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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