Thinking of reentering the nursing profession after a hiatus? You're not alone. Many nurses take time off to raise kids, care for parents or try a different line of work.
Getting your foot back in the door after an extended absence requires determination and dedication, but the current nursing shortage could make you a hot commodity. Experts offer these tips on returning to nursing after a break:
Explore Your Options
You don't have to return to the same type of nursing job you left. Attend career fairs and talk to nurses in settings besides acute care to get a feel for the range of jobs available, says Donna Cardillo, RN, a Sea Girt, New Jersey-based career coach, speaker and author.
Susan Kohl-Malone, MS, RN, left nursing for almost eight years to raise her four kids. After a period of soul-searching, Kohl-Malone, who had previously been a certified diabetes educator, concluded that she had a strong desire to teach and work with women and children. On a former professor's recommendation, Kohl-Malone took a job as a school nurse at a K-12 private school. "I knew in my heart this was the job for me," Kohl-Malone says. Now she is getting the additional certification she needs to work in New Jersey public schools.
Research Reentry Requirements
Check with the state nursing association or board of nursing for your state's requirements for reentering the profession. At a minimum, you'll need to renew your license if it expires. You may also need to meet a continuing-education or hours-practiced requirement. Some employers offer refresher courses or orientation programs to help experienced nurses prepare to reenter the field.
Embark on an independent-study program. For example, you can read the latest version of your state's nursing practice act and ethical code on your own. Buy an NCLEX-RN prep book and study the sections related to your desired practice area, says Patricia S. Yoder-Wise, EdD, RN, a professor in the School of Nursing at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Such independent study "helps nurses regain confidence about their decision-making and fact-recalling abilities," she says.
Update Your Skills
If you aren't proficient with basic word processing, data entry or Internet searches, take a computer course, Yoder-Wise suggests. And don't forget to update your nurse resume.
When Kohl-Malone decided to pursue school nursing, she joined her local school nurses' association and attended educational sessions on topics ranging from asthma and ADHD to helping kids through divorce. Joining a specialty nursing organization or your local chapter of Sigma Theta Tau, the nursing honor society, will help you reconnect to the profession and provide you with great networking opportunities, Cardillo notes.
Recognize Your Value
With nurses in short supply in many specialties and many parts of the country, the time is right for you to return to the field. Negotiate fair compensation and retirement benefits, says Cheryl Peterson, RN, a senior policy fellow at the American Nurses Association. "Recognize the expertise and maturity you're bringing back into the profession, and use that as leverage for negotiating," she explains.
Yoder-Wise reminds nurses not to sell themselves short. "Unless you have simply been sitting at home and literally doing nothing, you have gained some life experiences that can only contribute to returning to nursing," she says. For example, you may have honed your communication skills, learned to work more effectively with a team or gained an appreciation for the intensity of nursing because your other work was boring. "Whatever it was, use it to your advantage," Yoder-Wise says.
Don't Give Up
Some doors may slam in your face on your way to finding the right nursing position, but be persistent. Before deciding to focus on school nursing, Kohl-Malone interviewed for other nursing jobs, but not getting the other positions may have been for the best. "The closed doors helped me to continue to look deeper to find what I really wanted to do," she says.
The reentry process may seem daunting, but don't be intimidated. "Most nurses have a sound basis of knowledge on which to build," Peterson says.
Once you've scored your target job, remember that it could take up to a year to fully adjust and get acclimated to your working environment. Be patient and set small, realistic goals, Cardillo advises. "Reentering the nursing profession takes a lot of courage, but you'll definitely be able to get back to where you want to be," she says.
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