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What Are the Steps to Become a Nurse?
If you’re interested in pursuing a trusted, compassionate career in health care, you might be wondering “what do I need to become a nurse?” Though not necessarily as time consuming as becoming a doctor, becoming a nurse does require specific education and careful planning.
Step 1: Get a Reality Check
Nursing is a highly respected profession, but it isn’t an easy path to take. If you’re looking for a quick way to get into a job, nursing probably isn’t right for you. Most nurses need at least two years of formal education before they’re qualified, and that education usually involves a lot of highly technical scientific topics. You also should consider whether the job is right for your personality. Nurses typically need to be patient with difficult people, calm in a crisis and willing to work long hours.
Step 2: Decide What Kind of Nurse You Want to Be
There are several different nursing profession roles, ranging from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) (who require the least education) to highly specialized nurse practitioners or registered nurses (RNs) (who often have formal degrees and may even obtain graduate-level educations in their fields). Beyond simply choosing what level of nursing education is right for you, it might also be a good idea to consider what area of nursing is most appealing (whether it’s assisting in surgery or working in a pediatrician’s office) before you pursue education.
Step 3: Get Educated
Each level of nursing has its own educational requirements. You may be able to work as a CNA with just a certificate, while RNs and nurse practitioners may need bachelor’s degrees or higher. Some nurses who are on track to obtain high-level credentials may work as certified nursing assistants while they’re in school to gain practical experience and learn more about the field.
Step 4: Get Licensed
Nurses typically need an official license to get a job and practice nursing. Licensure requirements usually vary by state. The Ohio Board of Nursing, for example, may not have the same education requirements or licensure exam process as the California Board of Nursing.
Step 5: Apply for Jobs
As with any other career, nurses typically need to go through a job application process to actually practice their profession. Unless you get very lucky with a referral or a connection through networking, you’ll probably need to look at job postings, send in applications and go through an interview process. You may need to apply for more than one job before you find your place in nursing, and it may be necessary for you to emphasize important skills or experiences in addition to your education in order to succeed.
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Top Online Nursing Programs
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic certainly reminded the world of the importance of quality nursing. If you’re interested in training to become a nurse but don’t have the schedule flexibility you need to attend classes in person, an online nursing program could offer an ideal alternative. Fortunately, prospective students can choose from a wide variety of online nursing programs at many universities across the country.
However, because nursing involves hands-on clinical care, those programs often require students to attend certain sessions in person. It’s important to consider the details for this special requirement (if applicable) when choosing a school to ensure you could feasibly travel to your preferred institution if it’s necessary to occasionally attend in person. If not, a 100% online college may offer a better solution. Start your review process with a look at some of the top online nursing programs offered by various accredited U.S. institutions.
Online Associate Degree in Nursing
An associate degree in nursing prepares students for entry-level job positions in the healthcare sector and is the lowest degree level required to become a registered nurse (RN). The average salary of registered nurses in the U.S. in 2018 was more than $71,000, but an RN with this entry-level degree should expect to make closer to the lower end of the salary range at around $58,000 a year. Typically, this course of study takes two years to complete and requires some courses to be completed onsite at the medical school. Upon completing the degree plan, the student must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to receive the necessary credentials to practice as a registered nurse. Top ranked online associate degree nursing programs, according to Accredited Schools Online — an organization dedicated to helping students find the best fully accredited online schools to meet their needs — include Barton County Community College (Kansas), Sinclair College (Ohio), St. Philips College (Texas), Tulsa Community College and Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
Online Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Besides expanding expertise and training, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) can boost anticipated salaries as much as 15% beyond average RN salaries with associate degrees . Most online BSN programs are designed for students who are already working as registered nurses but want to expand their career opportunities by earning a bachelor’s degree. The required number of credits is similar to other bachelor degrees and typically takes RNs (who already have associate degrees) about 15 months to two years to complete.
Because these programs are specifically designed for working nurses, it’s possible to find some schools that allow students to complete all their coursework 100% online. According to Affordable Colleges Online, registered nurses with BSN degrees can expect to earn an average of $83,000 per year . Top contenders in the online RN-to-BSN arena include Oklahoma State University, Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences (Tennessee), Rutgers University (New Jersey), Indiana University and Goshen College (Indiana).
Online Master of Science in Nursing
As with BSN degrees, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can be earned 100% online at some schools without attending a single class in person. These programs are popular with RNs who already have bachelor’s degrees (required) and want to expand their careers into administrative fields or teaching. Salaries at this level increase to the higher end of the scale, usually near the upper $80,000 range. U.S. News & World Report ranks Rush University (Illinois), University of South Carolina, Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University and St. Xavier University (Illinois) at the top of its list of online graduate nursing programs.
Earning an MSN was once the only option for nurses who wanted to eventually become any type of advanced practice RN, which includes nurse practitioner, clinical nursing specialist, certified nurse midwife, nursing educator, clinical nursing leader and anesthetist, but that changed in 2015 when the American Association of Colleges of Nursing changed the recommendation for advanced practice nursing to a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. State regulations currently determine which degree is required for advanced practice nursing.
Online Doctor of Nursing Practice
The relatively new Doctor of Nursing Practice is the highest attainable clinical nursing degree, but students can still earn this degree through various online programs. The degree program’s sub-specialties include Doctor of Nursing, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Nursing Science and Doctor of Nursing Philosophy. All the programs emphasize research, expanding scholarly knowledge and preparing nurses for leadership roles in clinical practice. Nurses with this degree typically earn significantly more than the average RN, depending on their exact position. Nurse practitioners often make more than 100,000 annually, for example.
The increasing number of elderly Americans and the increasing healthcare focus on preventative care led the Bureau of Labor Statistics to predict an increase of 36% in nurse practitioner jobs from 2016 to 2026, and many institutions and states now require a nursing doctoral degree instead of the former MSN to obtain that job. According to NurseJournal.org, some of the best online programs for earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice include Azusa Pacific University (California), Bradley University (Illinois), Catholic University of America (Washington D.C.), Clemson University (South Carolina) and DeSales University (Pennsylvania).
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AHN RetuRN To Practice™ Program
Have you been away from nursing practice but are longing to return.
Do the current schedules offered in nursing jobs prevent you from practicing?
Do you need a refresher course to update your skills before practicing again
If you answered YES to any of these questions, we invite you to join us!
Allegheny Health Network is offering a unique return to work program for nurses: AHN RetuRN to Practice
This new program is for nurses seeking to return to the bedside or other practice sites, with terms that fit your lifestyle. Focused on successfully re-integrating nurses into the workplace, this program provides flexible scheduling, a paid refresher course, and a network of support.
The AHN RetuRN to Practice Program offers a 12 week refresher course in collaboration with the University of Delaware. The didactic portion is completely online with an 80 hour clinical portion provided in AHN facilities.
Click here for information on the University of Delaware refresher course .
For more information, contact Ashley Roberts at [email protected] .
To apply, click here
Refresher programs help nurses return to work
Are you looking to return to nursing after taking time off, but want to brush up on your skills before you start looking for nursing jobs and caring for patients again? You may want to enroll in nursing refresher courses.
“When nurses have been out of the workforce for a while and wish to re-enter, it’s a great idea to find a refresher course that reviews current practice information, provides a pharmacology update and skills lab, and ideally is connected to a hospital that will provide a hospital-based clinical immersion experience,” says Deborah Dunn, EdD, MSN, GNP-BC, ACNS-BC, GS-C, President of the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association.
How to find nursing refresher courses
Offered through colleges and health care facilities, nurse refresher courses are designed for registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who have been out of the field for three years or more. If your nursing license is no longer active, your state board of nursing will require you to take a nurse refresher course in order to return to active status. (You can check out Monster's nursing site for more valuable information.)
In fact, one of the first calls you should make when you’re researching refresher courses should be to your state board of nursing. As a state government agency, the board of nursing regulates the state’s Nurse Practice Act, determines the requirements necessary to maintain active status, and approves nursing refresher courses. Many state board of nursing websites also provide a list of nursing refresher courses in their state.
Michele George, MBA, BSN, RN, National Director of the Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses, recommends also calling hospitals in your area. “You can call the human resources department and ask to speak to the nurse recruiter,” says George. “Even if they don’t have a refresher course, they may be able to customize their new graduate training program to meet your needs.”
However, these days, you may not even have to leave your house to take a refresher course. More and more schools, such as the University of Delaware , are offering online refresher courses for nurses who have been out of the workforce. State board of nursing websites often list both online and in-person refresher courses.
In addition to schools and health care facilities, some professional nursing associations also offer courses for nurses with various levels of experience.
For example, for nurses who want to work in nephrology, “a course specifically related to dialysis or chronic kidney disease would be beneficial,” says Lillian Pryor, MSN, RN, CNN, President of the American Nephrology Nurses Association.
Support in the workplace
Dunn says even after completing a refresher course, one of the biggest worries that re-entering nurses express is that there will be new equipment they won’t know how to operate or that the computer charting will be too daunting to learn quickly.
“When you're working with a great organization, you will receive a lot of support when re-entering practice,” says Dunn. “The hospital will provide a structured orientation and precepted clinical practice orientation over several weeks to make sure you have the knowledge and tools needed to practice competently in the particular hospital environment.”
Find your next nursing job
When you're ready to get back into the field, embarking on a job search can feel like a monumental task—especially if you've been out of the workforce for a while. But don't let it make you sweat. Could you use some help taking the first steps? Join Monster for free today . As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of nursing jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. You've shown your commitment to nursing, and Monster is here to help you reinvigorate your career.
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10 Steps for Nurses Wanting to Return to Practice
All nurses have heard the phrase, “once a nurse, always a nurse.” But for various reasons, many nurses step away from practicing at some point during their careers. So how can nurses prepare themselves to return to the workforce? Nurses ready to begin the next chapter of their nursing careers can follow these steps to make a confident return to the most ethical profession ( 18 years running ).
Back to the Nursing Basics
1. activate your nursing license.
A priority for nurses wishing to return to practice is to ensure their nursing license is active and in good standing. If their nursing license is inactive, nurses should consult their state Board of Nursing’s website to determine what is needed to become active again.
Some states require additional continuing education . If so, be sure to find an accredited provider of continuing education for quality activities. Nurses should consider their area of expertise and current knowledge gaps when searching for continuing education and find courses relevant to the area in which the nurse hopes to practice.
2. Take a Registered Nurse (RN) Refresher Course
RN refresher courses are excellent resources that assist nurses wanting to brush up on their knowledge and skills. Whether nurses have been away from the bedside for one year or ten, an RN refresher course will provide helpful updates for nurses looking to return. Many of these courses are available online with flexible formats, a key benefit for nurses wishing to return to practice.
3. Make a List
Before searching for job postings and updating your nursing resume , start by making a list.
Nurses have many options, especially with the growth of telehealth and other remote positions recently. Nurses should identify what elements they seek in a position and consider potential deal-breakers to make the job-search process smoother.
Here are some things to consider:
- Do I want a bedside or clinical nursing position?
- Am I willing to work weekends or night shifts?
- What excites me about nursing the most?
- What do I anticipate will be my biggest challenge, and what steps will I take to overcome it?
- Do I want to work for a large organization, or would I prefer a smaller setting, such as a doctor’s office or clinic?
- Do I have the skills and certifications for the specialty I am interested in?
Organize and Prepare
4. give your resume a makeover.
Refreshing resumes and CVs should be a first step in seeking a new position. Nurses should be sure to highlight essential experiences, pertinent accolades, and education. Experts suggest keeping resumes clear and succinct while providing an overall summary of your strengths and accomplishments.
5. Update (or Create) a LinkedIn Profile
Social media networking sites such as LinkedIn are excellent resources for professionals wishing to re-enter the workforce. Nurses can connect with former colleagues, upload a resume or CV, browse job listings, and apply for jobs all in one place.
6. Review Common Interview Questions and Perfect an “Elevator Speech”
Nurses who take a long break from practicing can expect interviewers to question the gap. Being prepared to adequately answer the question and address the employment gap(s) will demonstrate professionalism during an interview. For nurses applying at an organization they used to work at, experts say to be prepared to “re-introduce yourself.”
Those seeking re-employment should never assume what the organization already knows about them and should use interviews as an opportunity to highlight their growth during the unemployment period.
Nurses preparing to re-enter the workforce should have a concise “elevator speech,” highlighting what they bring to the table. This will allow nurses to display confidence when making a first impression on potential job leads and hiring managers.
Networking with former colleagues and trusted mentors can assist nurses in discovering opportunities to return to nursing. While every connection may not lead to a job opportunity, connecting with colleagues currently working in the field can be a valuable experience.
Nurses can consider these conversations as an opportunity to learn about current issues and trends in nursing to help prepare themselves for interviews and help hone in on what area of practice is the best fit.
8. Consult Professional Organizations
Professional nursing associations exist to serve all nurses, whether they are currently practicing or not. Many have job postings on their websites or in publications. These professional associations are great resources for nurses to connect with others in their desired specialty, find a mentor, or gain additional knowledge with professional development opportunities.
Some professional nursing associations also offer free or discounted continuing education for their members.
Don’t Forget to Relax
9. be patient.
Know that nurses who wish to return to practice after a long hiatus may not land their dream job on the first try. Like being a brand-new nurse out of school, returning nurses will benefit from gaining experience in the new setting before advancing their careers.
Returning to nursing may feel overwhelming. It is a big decision to return to the workforce, especially in a field like nursing. By being prepared, doing their research, and being well-informed, nurses wishing to return to work can feel confident, and that confidence will shine through in interviews and meetings.
Big Decision, Big Reward
Deciding to become a practicing nurse after stepping away is a big decision. With thoughtful consideration and preparation, it can become an advantageous and beneficial life change. By being prepared, patient, and confident in their abilities, nurses of all experience levels can find a place in this rewarding profession .
Ready to Get Back Into Nursing?
If you’re an experienced nurse and haven’t been away from the bedside for long, you might want to consider travel nursing! Create a free Trusted profile to see some nursing jobs that match your interests!
Jessica Dzubak, MSN, RN, is the Director of Nursing Practice for the Ohio Nurses Association. She is also a freelance writer specializing in the healthcare industry. She enjoys her two dogs, which add commentary to her articles by laying their heads across the keyboard while she’s writing. Visit her website at www.nursejessicawrites.com.
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Home / Nursing Articles / How to Return to a Nursing Career After a Hiatus
How to Return to a Nursing Career After a Hiatus
While Nursing is an excellent career , some nurses choose to take extended breaks from nursing for a variety of reasons. Some chose to have families, others pursue different career paths or interests but may decide to return to nursing after a period of six months or more off.
Provided is a step by step guide of what a nurse will need to do to re-enter nursing practice:
- It is very important for a nurse to maintain his or her credentials. This allows an individual to maintain their license and remain eligible for employment as a nurse, and includes completing continuing education credits. If a nurse fails to complete continuing education, they will fall into "inactive" license status. To change this, submission of continuing education requirements completed within the past two years is required. It is essential that the nurse check the regulations pertaining to his or her state. For example, in the state of California, a nurse that has had a CA RN license expire for eight years or longer without an active RN license in another state will have to retake the NCLEX exam .
- Once this is done, a nurse must ensure their Basic Life Support (BLS) is active. If it has lapsed, a quick search on the internet can help locate a local BLS renewal class. Most nursing jobs require a current BLS to ensure eligibility for employment.
- After updated credentialing is complete, some nurses chose to take a Nurse Refresher Course. Many of these courses are not endorsed by the Board of Nursing. However, they provide an extensive program with clinical hours to help reintroduce a nurse to the workforce. Nurses can search online to find courses offered in their area.
- The final step is to start applying! Some nurses chose to work in home care or at a long-term care facility to gain back experience and rebuild their resume so they can re-enter an acute care setting.
The most difficult obstacle nurses may face when re-entering the workforce is that healthcare practices change frequently, and they may be left with a knowledge gap. An employer typically recognizes that if a nurse has been out of practice for a long period, they may not be up-to-date on current evidence-based practice and will require additional training. However, if a nurse is persistent or takes a job that can open up opportunities, they can be fully capable of re-entering the workplace, even after a hiatus.
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Returning to nursing
Ready to reignite a fulfilling career in nursing? Your experience and skills are invaluable to us, and we’re here to help you return to nursing with confidence.
Benefits of returning
Few other roles will give you the same kind of fulfilment as nursing – think how many lives you’ve already changed? But it’s not just emotionally rewarding, there are plenty of practical benefits too, including some you may not have experienced before:
- One of the most generous pension schemes in the UK.
- Flexible working and opportunities to work part-time, helping to create a balance that suits you. Childcare support may also be available but it varies between NHS trusts.
- At least 27 days holiday a year plus public holidays, and a standard working week of 37.5 hours.
- Additional support for professional development, helping you to feel confidence in your skills and achieve your career goals.
- A greater emphasis on working in multidisciplinary teams, allowing you to work with experts from many different departments.
Return to practice nurse.
Getting back to nursing is the thing that I am most proud of. I did it for me and it’s reminded me that this is the best job in the world!
How to get started
Our team of over 330,000 registered nurses make an incredible difference, every single day, and we can’t wait for you to re-join them.
It’s not a problem if you’re no longer a registered nurse – returning to practice is really straightforward, and here’s how you can do it:
- If you’ve got recent experience > Readmission
- If you’ve been away for a while > Updating your skills through a Test of Competence or a return to practice course .
You might be able to re-register with the NMC without doing a course or a test. You'll need:
- 450 registered practice hours over the last three years or 750 hours over the last five, including any practice hours gained on the COVID-19 temporary register
- 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) in the last three years
- to provide three character references
You can apply directly through the NMC website or if you want to use hours worked through the COVID-19 temporary register, you'll need to email the NMC to request a paper copy of the readmission pack.
You can find lots more information on requirements and the process on the NMC website .
Test of competence
If you’ve been out of nursing for a while, the Test of Competence is a great way to update your knowledge.
The test is made up of two parts:
- A multiple-choice computer based test (CBT).
- A practical test known as the Objective structured clinical examination (OSCE)
How to apply for the test
You can apply through the NMC website , where you’ll also find lots of preparation materials and essential reading to help you revise for the test.
Financial support for the test
We’ll cover the cost of you taking a Test of Competence, but you may have to pay upfront and claim it back once you’re registered and working with us.
If you’d like to know more, you can drop us an email and we’ll put you in touch with a member of our team who can answer any questions you may have.
Return to practice course
A return to practice course will refresh your skills, leaving you ready to return to nursing with confidence. It involves a combination of classroom and placement-based learning, so you can get stuck in right from the start. You’ll also be assigned a personal mentor to support you through your studies.
The course takes between 3 and 12 months to complete, depending on how long you’ve been out of practice.
- Find out more about return to practice courses
- Find out more about the return to practice courses for general practice nursing
Financial support for your studies
You won’t just be emotionally supported by our team, you’ll be financially supported too. If you apply directly to a university, NHS Health Education England (HEE) will pay for your course and placement fees. You’ll also be given £1,000 to help cover any childcare, travel and book costs.
If you apply through an NHS organisation, your course and placement fees will be covered and you’ll either receive a salary or £1,000 to help cover your costs.
Finding a course
Our course finder is an easy way to look for return to nursing programmes. You can also use it to search for return to practice courses in general practice nursing.
There are also opportunities for you to earn while you study. To search for a salaried return to practice course, visit NHS Jobs and search ‘return to practice’.
Universities in Wales also run return to practice nursing programmes. You can find more information on the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership website .
We’re here to help
Returning to nursing won’t just make a difference to other people’s lives, it’ll make a big difference to yours too – and we’re here to make it as easy as possible. No matter which route you choose, we can guide you through the process. If you’d like to discuss your options, simply request a call-back and a member of our team will give you a call.
Find your return to practice course
Nursing (return to practice).
University of South Wales
- Study mode Part-time Duration of the course 1 year Leading to a career in Nursing (return to practice)
- Contact details [email protected] 03455 76 77 78
- Region Wales Admissions address Cemetery Road Glyntaff Pontypridd CF37 4BD
If you have not been able to complete your NMC PREP requirements and have therefore lapsed registration, this Return to Practice Programme will enable you to develop the knowledge, skills and competence required to re-enter the NMC Professional Register. You can choose pathways from Nursing, Midwifery or Specialist Public Health Nursing. There are start dates in February and September.
Return to practice (RTP) nursing
Anglia Ruskin University
- Study mode Part-time Duration of the course 3-12 months depending on individual returner's needs and circumstances Leading to a career in Nursing (return to practice)
- Contact details [email protected]
- Region East of England Admissions address Bishop Hall Lane Chelmsford CM1 1SQ
If you have previously been a registered nurse and wish to return to the profession then you may need to undertake a Return to Practice programme. The programme allows you to update your skills and knowledge so that you can become re-registered and return to work in nursing. The course will take approximately three to six months to complete, although some people may take longer (up to 12 months) depending on clinical placement hours required, the length of time out of practice and length of time previously in practice. Courses are flexible to fit around existing commitments, such as childcare.
Health Education England (HEE) will provide a one off contribution to nurses Returning to Practice to assist with costs and expenses such as purchasing books, car parking, child care etc. HEE will also pay for the course for returnees as well as contribute to placement costs.
Applications for Return to Practice programmes should be made directly to the named person at this university (above). They can tell you more about their course and which local trusts provide the clinical placements. Alternatively, you can contact NHS Health Education England in the East of England on [email protected]
University of Bradford
- Contact details [email protected] 0191 275 4796
- Region Yorkshire and The Humber Admissions address 25 Trinity Road Bradford West Yorkshire BD5 0BB
Health Education England (HEE) will provide a one off contribution to nurses Returning to Practice to assist with costs and expenses such as purchasing books, car parking, child care etc. HEE will also pay for the course for returnees as well as contribute to placement costs.
Applications for Return to Practice programmes should be made directly to the named person at this university (above). They can tell you more about their course and which local trusts provide the clinical placements. Alternatively, you can contact NHS Health Education England in the North East and Yorkshire on [email protected]
University of Chester
- Region North West Admissions address Parkgate Road Chester Cheshire CH1 4BJ
Applications for Return to Practice programmes should be made directly to the named person at this university (above). They can tell you more about their course and which local trusts provide the clinical placements. Alternatively, you can contact NHS Health Education England in the North West on [email protected]
University of Cumbria
- Study mode Part-time Duration of the course 6 months Leading to a career in Nursing (return to practice)
- Region North West Admissions address Fusehill Street Carlisle Cumbria CA1 2HH
If you have previously been a registered nurse and wish to return to the profession then you may need to undertake a Return to Practice programme. The programme allows you to update your skills and knowledge so that you can become re-registered and return to work in nursing. The course takes six months to complete. Courses are flexible to fit around existing commitments, such as childcare.
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Refresher Programs Help Nurses Return to Work
Are you ready to return to nursing after some time away, but feel you need to brush up on your skills before treating patients again? Many registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are finding the education and support they need to reenter nursing by enrolling in a refresher program.
Offered through colleges and hospitals, nurse refresher programs are designed for RNs and LPNs who have been out of the field for at least three years. Whether your current nursing license is inactive or lapsed, your state board of nursing requires you to take a nurse refresher course to return to active status.
Related: Search for Healthcare & Nursing jobs .
"There tends to be a lot of anxiety among nurses reentering the field," says Scott Gross, director of Science Technology and Professional Programs at Cal State San Marcos Extended Studies, which offers a 10-week RN refresher program. "They are returning to a different world where many of their duties, such as dispensing medications and charting, are now computerized."
For Sue Kuhns, who had been out of nursing for 14 years, the San Marcos refresher program, which combines classroom instruction with a clinical practicum, was a chance to renew her skills and reconnect with other nurses.
"We went through the program in a cohort group and supported each other every step of the way," says Kuhns, who worked as a nurse for 11 years before taking time off to raise her children.
The San Marcos program costs $2,399. Gross says the college and a local hospital are working out an agreement whereby the hospital will cover half the program expenses of students who accept jobs at the hospital. Students now meet tuition costs by taking out student loans or by using tuition reimbursement offered by their current employers. Other students use signing bonuses to recoup tuition costs .
Michigan State University (MSU) is one college that allows students to take RN refresher courses from home, as does the University of Delaware and South Carolina's Beaufort Memorial Hospital, which offers a four-month online refresher course for both RNs and LPNs.
"Our online program attracts nurses from all across the world," says Katie Kessler, RN, MSN, APRN, BC, who until recently coordinated the MSU program. "Since our program is ongoing, students can enroll at any time and complete the program at their own pace."
Kessler says that while some students have completed the program in five to six weeks, most take three to six months to finish since they often juggle coursework with work and family responsibilities.
MSU's program features 15 online course modules that help prepare students to identify the professional roles, responsibilities and assessment skills needed to return to nursing. The entire program is $2,000 plus the cost of textbooks.
The university offers a 24-hour support line for students with technical or academic questions, and an administrator helps students secure a clinical assignment in their hometowns where they work with a nurse preceptor.
"Many of our nurses begin working in the hospitals where they have done their clinical assignment," Kessler says. "It's a win-win situation for both the nurses and the hospitals."
See their site for current staff and program requirements .
Related: Does your resume pass the 6-second test? Get a FREE assessment .
Refreshers as Recruitment Tools
Like other medical centers across the country, Maui Memorial Medical Center uses a refresher program to help recruit and retain RNs and LPNs. The weeklong program, which was open to any nurse in the area, included training in wound care, respiratory and vascular therapies, infection control, pain management, dialysis patient care and documentation.
"The medical part of nursing stays the same but the equipment, medications and therapies change every couple of years," says Marianne Vasquez, RN, BSN, MEd, CDE, the facility's clinical education coordinator.
As part of the program, the hospital set up various skill stations where nurses learned how to use new equipment. Vasquez says nurses gave the program, which cost $300 to attend, such high marks that the hospital is planning to offer the training again next year.
Ready for a Refresh?
Here are some tips for finding a nurse refresher program:
- Check with local nursing association chapters and your state board of nursing. As a state government agency, the board of nursing regulates the state's Nurse Practice Act, determines the requirements necessary to maintain active status and approves nurse refresher courses.
- Contact state and community colleges.
- Call area hospitals to see if they offer or can recommend a refresher program.
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How to Get Back to a Nursing Career After a Break
If you’ve taken a few years off from your nursing career—to take care of young children, for example—you might be looking at returning with a mix of trepidation and excitement.
Trepidation, because things change so quickly in nursing. Excitement, because the majority of nurses report high career satisfaction (though not always high job satisfaction , but that’s a story for a different article).
To make the transition back to work easier and less stressful, it pays to prepare for the challenges that returning nurses face.
Tips for Getting Back to a Nursing Career After a Break
Returning to your nursing career will be easier if you take a few steps while you’re away from work. It’s not impossible to find a new nursing job if you let some of these things slide, but it’ll take longer and be more stressful than if you kept current on aspects of nursing like your certifications while you were out.
While You’re Away From Work
Keep up your license: Possibly the most important thing you can do to facilitate an easy transition is to keep your license current. Depending on your state’s requirements, reinstating a lapsed license may involve paying extra fees, catching up on continuing education units (CEUs), or even taking the NCLEX-RN exam all over again (and who wants to go through that?).
Maintain your certifications: Most nurses are required to have their Basic Life Support (BLS) certification before they begin working as a nurse. It’s a good idea to keep up your BLS certification while you’re not working so that you don’t have to renew it in a hurry before you return to work. The same goes for any other certifications you might have obtained that would make you a more valuable candidate for an employer, including Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS).
Take a refresher course: If you let your license lapse or become inactive for several years, your state board of nursing may require you to take a refresher course before reinstating your license. These programs typically cost between $1,500 and $3,000, and they take a few weeks or months to complete. To avoid wasting your money on fraudulent or irrelevant courses, contact your state board of nursing for approved programs.
Stay current with continuing education requirements: Again, state requirements vary when it comes to continuing education requirements. In Texas, for example, registered nurses must complete 20 contact hours (in many cases, that means hours of instruction) every two years, while Washington state requires RNs to complete 45 contact hours every three years. Some states—including Arizona, Connecticut, and Missouri—have no continuing education requirement at all.
To find out the requirements in your state, see your state board of nursing’s website.
When You’re Ready to Return
Once you’re ready to return to work, there are a few things you might want to do to maximize your chances of getting hired.
Update your resume: The bad news is that returning to nursing after a break almost certainly means investing some time and money updating your skills . The good news is that now that you’ve updated those skills, you’ve got plenty to put on your resume .
Just like any job seeker returning to work after a break in employment, you might choose a different resume type than the standard, chronological resume. For example, a functional resume highlights your skills and certifications, not your work history, which may help hiring managers see past the gap. A resume profile can also call out your recent work brushing up your skills.
Know what kind of benefits and hours you’re looking for: When you’re looking for a new nursing job, it’s important to know what you need in terms of benefits, scheduling, etc., before you interview.
If you’re returning to work after taking time off to care for a child or a sick family member, you may still need some flexibility. In nursing, as you know, this tends to mean shift preferences or part-time status instead of full-time. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a clinical nursing job that will let you leave early to pick up a child from daycare, for example, or one that commits to never scheduling you on the holidays.
Knowing your requirements will help you determine whether a job is a good fit for you. For instance, if you want hours, but not benefits, going per diem might work for you. Or, if you’re one of those rare and lucky souls who don’t need much sleep, working nights could be a good fit.
Network, network, network: If you left on good terms with your old employer, a good way to break back into the nursing profession is to call up your old manager to see if they’re hiring. You can also look for job listings on the corporate site and inquire about specific opportunities.
You don't have to go straight to asking for a job—you can simply ask your old coworkers, bosses, and friends in the nursing profession for coffee dates to catch up. Then, if an opportunity comes up organically, you can express your interest. Referrals are a solid way to get hired in any industry, and your contacts may know of opportunities before they become public.
Remember Your Value
A nursing program graduate once said, “There may be a nursing shortage. But there’s not a new nurse shortage.” If you think back to your first days as a nurse, you probably know what they were talking about.
Experience is worth a lot in the nursing field because you learn the real business of being a nurse while you’re at work, not while you’re at school. You have the experience, which makes you a valuable commodity for a nurse manager who’s looking to hire staff. Don’t let your time away from work make you undervalue yourself.
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How to Get Back into Nursing After Time Off
May 17 2022
There’s a common saying in nursing circles: “Once a nurse, always a nurse.”
If you’ve taken time away from nursing work, you probably still use your nursing skills in everyday life, whether you’re putting band-aids on your kids’ boo-boos or managing doctor’s appointments for an aging parent.
You might be worried about returning to the bedside after a long gap in employment. The good news is that many nurses have successfully returned to work after time off. With a little preparation, you’ll be ready to resume work as a nurse, even if you’ve been away for years.
Here’s what you need to consider as you prepare to return to nursing:
Maintain your credentials
Refresh your nursing knowledge, refresh your professional identity, interview tips.
When possible, it’s important to maintain your credentials even if you’re not currently working as a nurse. Active credentials allow you to return to work more quickly and easily. They also show potential employers you maintained an interest in nursing, even while away from the profession.
The requirements to renew and maintain your license vary by state. Most license renewals can be completed online and require a small fee.
It might feel like a hassle to complete the renewal requirements when you’re not actively practicing as a nurse, but maintaining an active license is often much easier than reactivating a lapsed license.
Action: Research the requirements to maintain a license in your state.
Continuing education units
Most states require nurses to take continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain their license. These classes help you stay abreast of changes in the field and keep your nursing mind active.
You can complete CEUs for free through Incredible Health . It can also be helpful to maintain membership in the American Nurses Association or other nursing organization that is specific to your specialty. Some offer fee-based programs that allow you to complete units in your specialty and attend nursing conferences.
Remember, it’s your responsibility to keep a record of your CEUs so that you can provide proof of completion to the state board of nursing during license renewal.
Action: Make a goal to complete a certain number of CEUs every month. Start a spreadsheet to keep track of your completed continuing education units.
Earn your CEUs free
Our easy online CE courses are ANCC-accredited and 100% free for nurses.
It can be challenging to maintain certifications if you’re not currently practicing at the bedside.
Some certifications require a certain number of hours of active practice to maintain the credential. For example, Critical Care Registered Nurse certifications (both pediatric and NICU) require 432 direct care hours during the three-year certification renewal period, with 144 hours in the 12 months prior to renewal.
Others require a large number of CEUs in a specific content area in order to recertify. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing requires 100 hours of relevant units every four years.
Other certifications are easier to maintain, like Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS).
Action: Research the recertification requirements for any credentials you previously held. Create an action plan to obtain the necessary CEUs or pass relevant exams to regain your credential.
Renew license or certifications
If your license or certification is up for renewal, it is a fairly straightforward process to complete the required steps necessary.
However, if your license or certification has lapsed, you may have more work ahead of you. It’s best to research the specific requirements for your license or certification and make a plan from there.
You may need to retake an exam, undergo supervised clinical hours, or complete certain educational requirements to regain your license or certification. There may also be fees involved, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead.
Action: Research the requirements to renew a lapsed license or certification through your state board of nursing or the relevant certifying body.
Many nurses express concern about gaps in knowledge after a long period away from practical work.
You can minimize this by staying current on nursing topics by joining professional organizations, reading professional magazines, attending nursing conferences, and completing CEUs regularly.
Others find it helpful to take a “nurse refresher course.” These courses usually include a review of assessment skills, disease processes, and pharmacology.
Many of these refresher courses also include a clinical component, which can be a useful way to rebuild a professional network and open doors to potential employers. These courses can often be used to renew a lapsed nursing license as well.
You can find these courses through your state board of nursing, your local community college, or as part of continuing education programs at local universities. Some examples include Rutgers and The University of Delaware .
Action: Join a professional organization and read their publications regularly. Attend a professional conference. Look into refresher courses near you (or online).
Expert advice from nurses like you
Join the free Incredible Health Nurse Community to get career advice , support , and tips from experienced fellow nurses.
Volunteer work looks great on a resume. It can also help you stay fresh on nursing topics and allow you to explore new career possibilities.
Consider volunteering at organizations in your community that might benefit from a skilled nurse. Your child’s school, your faith organization, or your local community center may need help during blood drives, vaccination campaigns, or emergency preparedness efforts.
There are many other opportunities for healthcare workers to stay active in a volunteer role, such as:
- Volunteer emergency medical services (EMS)
- Nursing home volunteer
- Red Cross blood drive volunteer
- Be the Match stem cell drive volunteer
- Local medical reserve corp
- Project Sunshine volunteer
- Ronald McDonald House volunteer
Action: Choose a cause that’s important to you and reach out to the organization to start regular volunteer work.
Once you have an active nursing license and a clear idea of where you want to work, it’s time to get ready for the job hunt.
A strong nursing resume is the best way to get noticed by potential employers. It’s important to include any previous work experiences and prior nursing certifications, even if they were from many years ago.
If there is a substantial gap in employment, be prepared to discuss this briefly in your cover letter before focusing on the work you’ve done away from the bedside, including volunteer work. This is also a good place to discuss how you’ve maintained your nursing knowledge and skills, as well as any active licenses or certifications.
Action: At a minimum, you will need to revise your resume, draft several cover letters, and practice for interviews. Spend a weekend revamping your resume and cover letter materials. Be sure to have someone help you proofread!
Networking is one of the best ways to connect to job opportunities. Consider the following resources:
- Alumni groups from your school of nursing
- Former classmates and work colleagues
- Nursing association conferences
- Continuing education classes
Successful networking doesn’t have to feel awkward. You can start by simply posting on nursing association forums or reaching out to career services at your former school.
The best networking comes naturally from established relationships. Keep in touch with nursing colleagues and classmates that you respect and enjoy spending time with, even if you don’t have an immediate question or need for help. These established relationships can more easily morph into a networking conversation without feeling like you’re taking advantage of someone you haven’t spoken to in years.
Action: Post on the forums for nursing associations or invite an old colleague or nursing school classmate out for coffee. Join the Incredible Nurse forum to connect with nurses just like you.
Recruiters look for nurses online. Many recruiters turn to LinkedIn to find and vet potential hires.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile picture is professional. Update your headline so it’s clear that you’re open to work. Make sure that your profile is up to date.
After you have updated your profile, consider joining a few nurse groups on LinkedIn. This can be a useful way to network and connect with potential recruiters.
Action: Update your LinkedIn profile picture, headline, and work experience. Join and participate in nurse-related groups on the LinkedIn forums.
Nursing interviews don’t have to be scary. With a little preparation, you can ace your first nursing interview.
Review the most common interview questions and prepare your responses. Practice your answers until they feel natural. Be sure to anticipate questions about why you took time off and use this as an opportunity to explain how you maintained your nursing knowledge or developed other relevant skills during your time away.
Action: Research common interview questions and prepare your answers. Craft a 30-second elevator pitch to explain why you took time off from nursing and what you learned during this time away.
Many nurses take time off from nursing to care for family, take care of their health, or explore other career options.
The good news is that nursing is an incredibly flexible career with many opportunities for re-entry.
If you have more questions about returning to nursing after an extended time away, check out our job resources that can help you prepare for your job search.
You could spend hours on job boards, searching for the perfect nursing opportunity. Or you can make a profile on Incredible Health and let the employers come to you!
After you sign up for a free account, our team of experts will contact you to find out more about your goals and professional experience. Our nurses typically receive multiple job offers from top hospitals in less than 20 days.
We can help you find your dream job quickly and easily. Ready to get started? Incredible Health is here for you!
Tired of applying for nursing jobs?
With Incredible Health, hospitals apply to YOU.
- American Association of Critical Care Nurses. “ Board Certification .” aacn.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- American Nurses Association. “ Join ANA. ” nursingworld.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- American Red Cross. “ Become a Blood Service Volunteer .” redcross.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Be the Match. “ Volunteer Opportunities .” bethematch.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. “ How to Renew Your CEN .” bcen.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. “ The Medical Reserve Corps .” aspr.hhs.gov. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Project Sunshine. “ Volunteers .” projectsunshine.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Ronald McDonald House. “ How to help .” rmhc.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Rutgers School of Nursing. “ RN Skills Refresher Course .” nursing.rutgers.edu. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- University of Delaware. “ RN Refresher Online Program .” pcs.udel.edu. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Volunteer Match. “ Find Opportunities .” volunteermatch.org. Accessed May 16, 2022.
- Photo by monkeybusinessimages on iStock.
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Take a return to practice course
You can take a return to practice course if you cannot meet our readmission or revalidation practice hours requirements
The length of course and the amount of practice learning you'll do will depend on your individual needs.
Your approved education institution (AEI), together with their practice learning partners, will design their programme to include practice learning, so that you’re able to gain appropriate skills and confidence to deliver safe and effective care in your intended area of practice to a diverse range of people.
Find an approved course
We approve programmes in the UK that meet our return to practice programme standards .
Check that your course is on our list of approved programmes .
If you’ve previously been registered with us as a SCPHN, make sure your university knows to include the education and training you need in your return to practice course.
Find a course
After you complete your course
Returning to practice as a nurse, midwife or nursing associate.
Your university will send us your details at the end of your course. We’ll then write to you to tell you to sign up to NMC Online to apply for readmission .
If you already have an NMC Online account, we'll send an email to your registered email address.
You’ll then need to show how you meet all of our other readmission requirements .
Returning to practice as a SCPHN
To register as a SCPHN, you first need to register as a nurse or midwife. Your university will send us your details at the end of your course. We’ll then write to you and ask you to go online to finish your readmission application. This will put you back on the register as a nurse or a midwife.
When you’re back on the register, please ask your university to email us to confirm that your return to practice course also covered your SCPHN qualification.
Things to consider
If you want to rejoin the SCPHN part of the register you must first make sure your nursing or midwifery registration is active.
Approved education institutions (AEIs) may have RTP programmes approved that enable you to return to nursing and SCPHN, midwifery and SCPHN or if your nursing or midwifery registration is still active can tailor the programme for updating only SCPHN knowledge and skills.
Contact your AEI to discuss what RtP programmes are available.
Speak to the approved education institution (AEI) running the return to practice programme as they’ll have more information about any available funding.
Some approved education Institutions (AEIs) may have a programme that includes distance learning and will also support you with practice learning near to home.
If you make enquiries with a range of AEIs you should be able to find out how they can support you. You can use our approved programme search tool to find a programme at an AEI
Alternatively, from January 2020, you can complete a test of competence for return to practice .
The length of a course and the amount of practice learning depends on the needs of the individual.
Your approved education institution (AEI) together with their practice learning partners will design their programme to include practice learning, so that you’re able to gain appropriate skills and confidence to deliver safe and effective care in your intended area of practice to a diverse range of people.
- Check the readmission requirements
- Apply for readmission
- Last updated: 28/06/2022
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