1. Letvak, Susan RN, PhD


Thinking of coming back to nursing? Your timing is great.


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IF YOU'RE CONSIDERING returning to nursing after an absence, you may be worried because you haven't kept up with changes in practice. Cast those worries aside. The acute nursing shortage we're facing means that your skills are needed now more than ever. And you have many options for bringing them up-to-date so you can provide safe, confident patient care.

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Rapid advances in technology have significantly changed the landscape of nursing, particularly for hospital nurses. But two of the bedrocks of nursing-comfort and compassion for patients and families-remain the same. All your nursing experience and education will serve you well as you update your skills.


Taking the plunge

So, where to begin? First, some reassurances. You probably won't be the "older" nurse among new, young staff. The average age of staff nurses is 44.5 years (and projected to be 50 by 2010), so you'll find more contemporaries at work than you expected. Lifting heavy patients is a thing of the past in some hospitals too; no-lift policies and special devices or teams to lift patients help prevent back injuries among nurses. Finally-believe it or not-older RNs are less likely to suffer job-related injuries, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data. With this in mind, you can take these steps.


1. Verify the status of your nursing license. If your license isn't still active, call the board of nursing in the state where you were last licensed and ask how to reactivate it. You can find out how to contact any state board through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Web site at


2. Take nurse refresher courses. You're responsible for making sure that your skills are up-to-date and that you're clinically competent. You also need to learn about new technologies, which can vary from hospital to hospital. Your state board of nursing is a good source for finding refresher courses, but also check out the area health education center or a community college, university, or hospital. Contact local facilities where you want to work; many provide free refresher courses in return for a commitment to work there. If they offer courses on new equipment, you can learn the new technology you'll be using.


3. Update your resume. Be honest about dates and skills. If you've been raising a family for the past few years, write that down. People are more aware of the managerial and organizational skills that role requires these days!! For help in creating a professional resume, you have your pick of books and Web sites. Some examples are Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark's books, Expert Resumes for Health Care Careers and Expert Resumes for People Returning to Work; for online help, visit or



Finally, when you're offered a position, advocate for yourself-and take advantage of any opportunities to learn. Request the same level of orientation that new graduates get. Ask for a mentor to assist you in those first few months. If you're concerned about working long shifts, discuss flexible scheduling options, which many facilities offer. Sign up for computer classes and staff-development courses that will enhance your skills.


Keep in mind how others will view you; if you're older, other staff and patients may assume you're more experienced than you are. Never overstate your abilities or take on assignments that make you uncomfortable. Remember that patient safety always comes before pride. With a proper orientation and mentoring, you'll be back in the saddle in no time.




Reentering the workforce confidently, Nursing2005, S Letvak, May 2005.