Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Can You Return to Nursing After a Hiatus?

Many nurses come to me for advice and career coaching when they're ready to return to the nursing workforce after a hiatus. For some, it's just been a year or two, and for others, it might have been 15 years of staying home to do the noble work of raising children. The question is, how do you break back in to nursing after being gone so long? It's possible, and there's a lot to do to get there.

back to work

Acknowledge the Liability

The first thing you need to do when returning to the workforce after a hiatus is to acknowledge to yourself that your absence is a liability. A nurse who hasn't worked in two, four, ten, or fourteen years certainly has a lot to catch up on, and I won't sugarcoat that it takes effort to get a foot in the door.

If you can come to terms with the fact that it will take a lot of due diligence, sweat equity, and skin in the game to get back on your nursing feet, then you're on your way. If you fool yourself that it's going to be easy, then you may have another thing coming.

This is definitely tough love, but it's tough love with a purpose: to steel you for the challenging road ahead in pursuit of your (wholly attainable) goal of working as a nurse once again.

Make a Plan

Trying to reenter the nursing workforce without a plan is like trying to get to a distant destination without a map or GPS. If your plan involves nothing more than searching Monster and Indeed for jobs and blindly applying to anything that catches your eye, that's really not a plan.

Your reentry plan must include:
  • A professional overhaul of your resume
  • Establishment of an online brand (LinkedIn at the very least)
  • Cover letters that tell a convincing story
  • Enrollment in a nurse refresher course if it's been more than a year or two
  • A business card for face-to-face networking
  • Concerted research about favorable employers, jobs, and the overall market
  • A commitment to assiduous and consistent networking
  • Requesting informational interviews with key individuals
  • Identifying your allies
  • Outreach about your job search to everyone you know
  • And a whole lot more
Your reentry plan to get back into the nursing marketplace has to be strategic, targeted, and focused. It also needs to be multifaceted. Responding to job postings is fine, but you also need to network, reach out to former colleagues, talk to family and friends, pound the pavement (literally and figuratively), and make a concerted effort to get in front of as many people as possible.

Check your Expectations

Before you begin this process, it's very important that you check your expectations at the door. You probably won't be able to hop right back into the ICU or PICU after eight years on the sidelines. You may need to embrace a different area of nursing where someone without recent experience may be welcome. Remember, this first job is just a stepping stone, a place to begin. You're not signing away your life and career -- you're just taking a position in order to reestablish your "street cred" as a nurse.

You may be very lucky and find a new nursing job fairly quickly -- this does happen. However, most nurses in this type of situation will need to be patient with the process. The nursing profession has both a forgiving side and an unforgiving side -- you'll need to look both sides squarely in the face.

Do the Work

As stated above, you need a plan in order to tackle this very challenging task, and then you need to follow through with that plan. If you're a spreadsheet kind of person, create a contact list on a spreadsheet, and use it to record the vital data on every person with whom you interact or network (eg: name, address, employer, position, phone number, email, LinkedIn URL, other social media platforms, date you met, target dates for follow up, etc). If you can't or won't use a spreadsheet, a dedicated notebook or index cards will do. You can become a guerilla networker, and you can work that network like nobody's business.

As far as your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile, business card, and other essential tools in your nursing career toolbox, you can handle these on your own, seek the help of a savvy friend, colleague, or family member, or you can hire a career coach like myself to help get things on the right track. Whatever you do, don't shortchange your search by not working prodigiously on these aspects of your nursing career reinvigoration.

It Can Be Done

A number of my clients have indeed landed very satisfying jobs after being away from the nursing workforce for a while, and make no mistake that they worked hard to secure those positions. Most of them worked LinkedIn like pros, updated their resumes until they shined, practiced their responses to difficult interview questions, networked like crazy, and used their wit, charm, intelligence, and savvy to convince a potential employer that they were worth "taking a chance on".

Many jobs are found through a "side door" or "back door", and this is where networking, personal connections, and warm introductions come into play. That nice man you always talk to who owns the stationary store? His cousin is a DON at a local home health agency. Your former colleague who you keep in touch with on Facebook? Her dialysis center is hiring and she can introduce you to the hiring manager. You never know where an introduction or lead may come from -- don't discount anything or anyone. After all, so many people know people who work in healthcare.

In this process, you need to take off your blinders in terms of what kind of job you may need to land at first. Like I mentioned above, this position is just a stepping stone, and a very important one at that. You're actively rebuilding your resume and your confidence, and you can view this process as the planting of seeds in the interest of the near and distant future.

I know from experience that you can get this done. I also know that you need to be willing to really dig deep to make it happen. Rejection can be a debilitating experience, but you need to be ready to accept rejection, learn from it, and then take inspired action once again.

Returning to the nursing workforce is worth it. We need you, and you need us. Whether you were temporarily disabled, caring for an aging parent or spouse, raising children, or traveling around the world, you deserve to continue to be a nurse if that's what you truly want.

There is no shortage of opportunities for nurses, and if you're willing to think outside the box, you'll be more likely to land a fresh start and a new lease on your career.

If you need help, ask for it. This can be a lonely business, and having allies in your corner is paramount. Come back to nursing and rejoin the profession you love.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of "Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century," and has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiViews News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, the ANA blog, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives.

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