Being out of the nursing workforce for a significant length of time happens to many nursing professionals at every level. Whether the gap in your nursing employment was by choice or out of necessity, planning your return to nursing may feel like a daunting task.
However, creating outstanding application materials may not be the only task you need to accomplish as you come back to nursing. You may also need to re-familiarize yourself with the job market and hiring process, build a fresh nursing network, or take a nursing refresher course to get back on track.
Here are five tips for returning to nursing jobs and prepare for a successful re-entry into the nursing workforce.
1. Assess the nursing job market
If you've been around the nursing profession for any length of time, you've probably heard about the current nursing shortage. However, this doesn't mean planning a comeback to the nursing practice will necessarily be quick. Shortages of nurses do not exist equally across the nation, so opportunities in your area may be scarce or plentiful.
For example, states like Georgia, Florida, and California are projected to be heavily impacted by the nursing shortage. Other states, such as Ohio, New York, and Utah, have a surplus of nursing staff. Rural areas are likely to experience a significant number of open nursing jobs compared to urban hospitals and other facilities in metro areas.
To get a clear picture of nursing job opportunities near your home before you return to nursing practice, consider one or two of these strategies:
- Hire a career coach
Nursing career coaches possess a thorough understanding of job opportunities across the country. They provide invaluable information on how to prepare for your return. Some coaches offer services such as resume review or assistance in preparing for a nursing interview. You can find a nursing career coach through a simple online search.
- Tap into former coworkers and mentors
Speak with people working in hospitals or other facilities you're interested in about your desire to re-enter nursing. Ask these nursing professionals about what it's like to work in their facility, whether opportunities are available, and how the general hiring and referral process works. If you've been away from nursing for many years, it's critical to know that hiring practices have changed. Most job postings are now online; popular spots include NursingJobs.com and NurseRecruiter.com, but there are lots of options. You'll also need to complete the application on the nursing employer's website. You might need a crash course in these new practices to bring you up to speed before your return to nursing practice.
- Use a national resource
The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook is an excellent nursing job resource. You can search by nursing profession and add in details such as your state, city, and educational level to get a clear picture of how to plan for your return to nursing practice. This website offers guidance on nursing salaries and the expected entry-level education you may need to get yourself back into nursing roles.
2. Consider a "return to nursing" course
The good news is you're not the only nurse who has ever had to take a break from the profession. Check with your state's board of nursing to find out if you are required to take a course before resuming your work as a nurse. You can find programs and classes near you or online that can help prepare you for getting back to work. You can also ask the board of nursing for a list of approved nursing refresher courses so you can choose the one that is best for you.
A few things to consider when selecting a nursing refresher course:
- Nursing practice: Some programs are designed to help you return to nursing specialties, while others are a general return to the profession.
- Prerequisites: You may need to have a minimum number of years of nursing practice to qualify for a refresher course. Other requirements of nursing refresher courses include completing a background check, drug screening and CPR certification.
- Format: Some return to nursing courses are offered online, while others will require that you attend a traditional college setting. You'll even find a few that provide both online and in-person nursing instruction.
3. Spend time on your nursing resume and cover letter
Writing a thorough nursing resume and cover letter is imperative as you transition back into nursing. Review your resume and consider what needs updating (you can update it quite easily using a resume template). When writing or revising your resume, aim to minimize your time away from your career, and highlight other aspects of your journey. Be sure to mention volunteer work, nurse continuing education courses and nursing refresher programs you've completed.
Address your time away from nursing in your customized cover letter (which you can create using a cover letter template). Write a brief explanation that tells the nursing recruiter or manager why you have a gap in your nursing experience. A few reasons that may fit your situation include:
- Caring for children or family
- Termination or layoff from a nursing job
- Pursuing work outside the nursing profession
Resumes are often scanned by Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), which sort applicants and look for specific keywords. When crafting your resume and cover letter, include relevant keywords from the job listing to ensure your resume gets into the hands of a hiring manager. For a deeper dive on this topic, you can check out our other tips for updating your nursing resume after a gap in employment.
4. Be creative
If your return to nursing doesn't happen as quickly as you'd like, you may need to think outside the box. Many nurse managers may choose candidates with recent nursing experience, even if you complete a nursing refresher program. Get creative when looking for a new nursing job by using one of these tactics:
- Consider part-time or PRN opportunities
Transitioning from not working in a nursing job to being employed full-time is a significant change. Apply for part-time healthcare roles or PRN positions to gain some current nursing experience. Excellent nursing opportunities in these areas include roles in flu shot clinics or contract work as a consultant.
Paid nursing work is excellent. However, if you're having trouble moving back into nursing because you lack current experience, consider nursing volunteer opportunities. Organizations like the American Red Cross need nurses to help organize blood drives or first-aid stations during local emergencies. Contact nursing homes and hospitals in your area to see if they have any volunteer roles. Volunteering as a nurse helps build your experience, gives you quality material for your resume, and allows you to network with nurses and administrators seeking nursing candidates.
5. Build up your nursing network
Developing a strong nursing network is critical to your success, particularly if you've been out of the nursing workforce for any length of time. Scope out your local chapter of the American Nurses Association or a nursing organization in your specialty. Find out if you can attend as a guest or if you need to join the organization to receive notifications about jobs and educational opportunities.
Create a LinkedIn profile and send invites to former colleagues and local nursing professionals to build a network as you return to nursing. Search for nurse managers who work at facilities near you and send them a personal message along with an invitation to connect. Explain that you're looking for a nursing opportunity and building your network. Using this social platform can connect you with nursing leaders looking for new team members or professionals who can provide tips as you start your nursing career back up.
Deciding to return to the nursing practice can be nerve-racking. You may worry that nursing employers will take a pass on you, or that it will be a difficult road. Using these five tips to return to the nursing workforce can ease your transition and have you feeling confident about your abilities in no time.
Need help creating a solid resume? Check out our Resume Builder, and find winning templates and step-by-step writing guidance that will help ensure your return to nursing is a smooth one. Our Cover Letter Builder can help you craft a compelling narrative that explains why you're interested in getting back into the profession. Consider all of the suggestions laid out in this article, and hopefully you'll be back to doing what you love before you know it!