How can I re-enter the workforce as an RN after I’ve been away from nursing for more than 20 years to raise my family?

By | 2022-02-23T17:29:54-05:00 September 4th, 2013|15 Comments


Dear Donna,

After being away from nursing for more than 20 years to raise a family is it even possible to get back in at any level? I have a current New Jersey license, CPR certification and volunteer experience.

Feeling Hopeless

Dear Donna replies:

Dear Feeling Hopeless,

It absolutely is possible for you to get back to nursing in some way, so don’t despair.

Know upfront that the job market for nurses, as well as the delivery of healthcare, has changed quite dramatically in the last 20 years. Care is shifting out of the hospital and into alternate inpatient settings: the home, the community and other ambulatory settings.

How we find and get jobs today has changed too. Networking has become the standard whether in-person, online (social media such as LinkedIn) or telephone. Even though you’re not a new nurse, read this article for more tips on how to conduct your job search: “New Nurse New Job Strategies” (

If you wanted to pursue anything related to direct patient care — home care, hospice, hospital, in-patient rehab, etc. — you would need to take an RN refresher course with clinical preceptor experience. That being said, you may be able to find non-traditional RN work without taking a refresher course. Read on.

You say you have volunteer experience but don’t mention what type. While looking for paid employment as a nurse, look for volunteer work as a nurse in a setting such as your local public health department, American Red Cross, local blood bank, free clinic etc. Volunteering is a great way to gain recent relevant experience, build confidence and work stamina, and expand your professional network. Plus, volunteering often turns into paid employment.

You might even be able to get a paid part-time job now at some of the above places. Flu season is coming up so giving flu shots though your local public health department is a good way to get started. And since the American Heart Association and American Red Cross have education and training programs that they pay some nurses to teach, you might be able to do that for now. These are just a few possible options.

There are also some nursing agencies that do non-traditional placement and they may have something for you to help you ease your way back into the nursing workforce. You’ll find many of them exhibiting at career fairs. See what’s coming up:

I also recommend that you get out to local chapter meetings of the American Nurses Association or other nursing associations as a guest for now. This is a great way to get reconnected to your profession. Get up to date on trends and issues and further expand your network. You also would benefit from attending a Career Alternatives for Nurses seminar. See what’s coming up:

Transitioning is a process so be patient with yourself and the process. You can do this.

Best wishes,

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  1. Avatar
    KERRY January 26, 2017 at 9:03 pm - Reply






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      Rica May 29, 2020 at 7:17 pm - Reply

      You are not alone. 🙂 I haven’t practiced nursing after taking the board exam and worked as a cabin crew. Then moved to Italy and had children. Now they are 5 and 3, I started reading nursing text books in Italian. I know it will be hard, but I am surprised that I am enjoying re-learning on a second foreign language. It may take some time, given that I have to work and take good care of my family. But in a few years I’m hoping to take no more d-tours.

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    Jennifer Nienhouse September 28, 2018 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    Yes, thank you! I have also been out of the field for 16 years to homeschool my kids. Your vote of confidence is helpful and will use your advice. I also am 53 so I have two hurdles to jump over getting back into the field. Hoping to find a job that suits my abilities and my needs. I am not up for 12 hours shifts any more but more part time work in the community. What are your thoughts on getting into Lactation consulting? Is that a strong field fot specialize in? I have been interested in that for years and have been thwarted every time I want to take the training classes. But looking to try again soon. I would love to just be a Lactation Consultant and travel to my clients houses for work. Any thoughts?


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    Carol October 1, 2018 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Depending on the area there may be a refresher course available. I can tell you it is not easy going back. I was in an office job for quite a few years and went back to doing IVs and things in long term care and hospice. The equipment had changed quite a bit. I felt awkward. But doing assessments was not difficult. The problem is that most places are too busy to let you learn. They want you to hit the ground running. Even private duty agencies sometimes want you to do a skills demonstration and test as part of the hiring process though they do offer training. Home health agencies often require competencies so they may have practice manikins and things to help you with skills.

    I always tried to work at least part-time to keep my skills up until I got into management and I never thought I would go back. But never say never! If there is an area that you are interested in you can always apply and talk to them about the situation. They may work with you if they need nurses bad enough. Right now I have been out of clinical nursing since June and I am feeling like I had better get back in soon.

    Another thing I did was buy a venipuncture training kit. I practiced before I had to start an IV on a real patient. It helped a little. And I reviewed nursing skills- there is a lot of information and videos available online.

    Do not give up. But realize it will feel awkward. Like being a student nurse again in some ways.

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    Stacy October 13, 2018 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Thank you for this informative article! I, too, am wanting to return to nursing after twenty years of homeschooling our four children. One daughter just graduated from nursing school, and another is about to begin. After so many years away, it is quite intimidating to think of returning, but I know it’s possible. I am still licensed and have been taking courses to prepare myself. Thank you for your words of encouragement!

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    Carmen August 3, 2019 at 10:39 pm - Reply

    Thank you so very much for this information! It is very intimidating getting back into the nursing arena after so long. I took time off as well to care for family and now it seems that even my working RN friend who offered me a job months ago put in in a terrible position acting like i better take what was offered or I would never have any luck! I was so sad after that! It was an impossible 2 hour a day trip and I have an unsafe car. Then another “friend’ told me last fall “You will never work again if you don’t take that job”! This article has given me new hope! I had been seriously depressed until I read this because I love nursing and worked very hard to become a RN 22 years ago as a single Mom of 3 little ones. I honestly was feeling lately that I would never be able to practice my profession again. So THANK YOU very much for giving us this information and giving all of us hope!

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    Naomi Thomas RN-BSN August 20, 2019 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    I have been out of the Critical Care nursing workforce for 8 years. I was savagely assaulted and raped. I lost so much. However, God allowed me to have my mind and body made whole again. I’m eager to get back to my first love, Nursing. I have kept my BLS, ACLS, RN licensure current. I took the RN Refresher Course and have my TCRN course and more. No matter how much effort I’ve taken to ensure successful reentry, there seems to be no love for returning nurses. I have been extremely surprised by the lack of care, concern and general lack of support. I have made cover letters to changes in my resume and am unable to properly relocate to gain employment with ascertaining my RN endorsement licensure for the same rationale. The lack of recent experience. Either I have too much prior experience to get into a fellowship(new nurse) or not enough recent experience. It’s daunting and leaves me with the one option; to go back to school for another more inviting career. I live and love being a nurse. I love the evidenced base practice, the fast pace hands on care, holistic care and having the ability to change many lives in a positive way. We not only care for the patient but the family, friends, neighbors, fellow co workers and all persons we encounter. It’s sad that as a nurse, if something terrible in life happens to you that there’s no one there in our very own field, that care to welcome you back. I fought to overcome and there’s nothing to come back to. What’s left to do now? Who do I go to?
    Loving Nurse For Life

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      Barbi November 23, 2019 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      This is upsetting to hear. I graduated in 2016 and have maintained my BLS and RN license. I have never worked in the field because I found out I was pregnant right before I graduated. my husband and I decided it wouldn’t be a good time to enter into a new career so I remained with my current career as as emergency communications officer. I have also switched to part time so that I could be a stay at home mom. My husband is close to retiring and will become the at home parent within a year.
      I want to get back into nursing and take a refresher course and get into a hospital and hopefully a trauma unit. But it all seems so hopeless. And with no real experience under my belt? I don’t know what to do…

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    SCinNJ April 14, 2020 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    Wow! So I am NOT alone, which in a sad sort of way is heartening, but I regret that anyone should go through this situation. I have been a nurse for 30 years (never stopped, just evolved into different areas of nursing) and hit the ground running as a Telemetry/Med-Surg nurse in 1990, and transitioned into Cardiothoracic ICU for several years before switching gears completely and going into home health care. I worked full-time for 6 years in home care, until my husband and I had our first child, and then I switched to perdiem status – it was difficult to make it work because I was breastfeeding at the time, and to try to find time to pump in the middle of 6 or 7 home care visits in another county, was tedious, as was finding quality child care. At that point, I decided to try going back to bedside nursing. I barely got re-acclimated, before I was expecting again, and had such a lousy experience trying to get re-acclimated, that my re-entry into bedside nursing was short-lived. I decided to go back into home care on a per-diem basis, and worked in that capacity for several years. During that time, I was asked by my nurse manager to cross-train to work as a managed care nurse in the office, submitting pre-authorization requests to private insurers. I really loved that position, and it was much more manageable and predictable than home care visits while raising a young family. I was quite effective in the role of managed care nurse, and made a measurable difference in the reimbursement potential of the agency; unfortunately, it came at a price because I made fewer and fewer home care visits, and got out of the routine. During my time away from home visits, things changed alot, with the addition of wound vac devices among other technological advances, as well as higher-acuity cases in the home setting. Due to budgetary cuts in the managed care department, my position was cut, but I didn’t feel quite ready to go back to home visits – if I knew then what I know NOW, I would have implored that employer to re-orient me to home care visits and all of those new technologies then and there. Instead, I was offered a position as a telephonic care management nurse with a private company located within my community, close to my children’s school. The job offered flexible hours, and worked well with family life, so I worked in that capacity for several years. Unfortunately, the care management division of the company was shut down so the owner could expand the ‘mobile crisis unit division’, and I ended up unemployed for the first time since I was 16 years old. Because I had been away from direct patient care for three years, and because I don’t have a BSN, nobody would hire me – every potential employer expected me to be able to hit the ground running; nobody wanted to re-train me. While unemployed, I paid almost $2000 for an RN Refresher course, which was very difficult to find, and in the long run, it didn’t help me in terms of finding employment as a nurse. In full disclosure, the nurse refresher course I was able to find, didn’t have a clinical component, so I’m sure that was a factor. After 16 MONTHS being unemployed, I was finally able to secure an office job as a hospice referral intake nurse, but the only position available was per-diem, and there were not enough hours available to sustain me, so that only lasted for a year and a half. I managed to find a part-time managed care position, similar to the position I had worked years before, with a home care agency and worked there until the company down-sized three months ago and my position was cut in a sweep of lay-offs. I am on unemployment again and I scour the employment websites, but I only see the same positions listed day after day. Most positions require recent patient care experience and a BSN, which I am not in a position to pay for at this time, or I am unqualified for various other reasons. Even if I could find a way to pay for it, I don’t know if a BSN would benefit me at this point, since it has now been 8 years since I worked directly with patients. I have this fear that I could invest alot of money in the cost of a BSN for nothing, only to be told that I am still not hire-able since it has been 8+ years since I last worked with patients. It is very discouraging and depressing to consider that my nursing career may end this way. I don’t know what else to do at this point. The search for non-clinical RN jobs keeps coming up empty as well; Even non-clinical nursing positions (MDS Coordinator, Utilization Review nurse, Clinical Documentation Specialist, etc.) all require several years of experience. Apparently, none of these employers are willing to invest in nurses who could be an asset to their organization with some re-training. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to be re-trained into a new specialty, but it doesn’t seem like those opportunities exist. It’s almost as though nurses in situations similar to mine are being punished for having other priorities at certain points in our lives that have pulled us in other directions. Best of luck to others in the same boat!

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      Nicole May 9, 2020 at 9:08 am - Reply

      I found your comments interesting and helpful! Thank you for posting. I too am looking at re-entering the workforce after a very long absence and only an RN – no BSN.

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    Lisa Benge May 9, 2020 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    I too have been out of nursing for 23 years. I worked as a pediatric oncology nurse for 1 year after graduation and I only have an Associates. I have been wanting to get back into what I feel is my second calling (after raising my kids – my first calling) but I am having a terrible time even being considered for the most basic of nursing. I have always kept up my Continuing Education but no one wants to look at an older, less educated (no bachelors), low experience nurse. There are some refresher courses but I don’t have to $700-$1200 dollars during a pandemic to take them and then I was told by one of the owners of a private Refresher Course that me being over 50 greatly reduced my chance at getting a job even if I completed the course. I am so frustrated because no one want to give me a chance. I feel that the “system” disregards women who chose children over career and it’s like we are being punished for that. Sorry for the rant, but y’all I can relate to your frustrations. I will not give up and will continue to seek a job, keep learning, and keep applying until someone decides to bet on me. I still have a lot of good years in me and I just want to get back to what I loved doing. Good luck everyone!

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      Sandie Knox June 2, 2020 at 7:24 am - Reply

      I’m sad to read your comment. I’m over 50 and want to become an RN. I have a degree in finance ‘91 and a MBA ‘93 and I can’t decide if I should get a ADN or BSN… but after your comment I guess at my age and 0 experience I should opt for BSN. I was hoping to get started quicker though. I’m just starting to apply so any information or suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated😊

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    Kim D July 11, 2020 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    I am facing the same hurtles. I have been away for almost 8 years to take care of my family and have been trying to re-enter the workforce. ICU, oncology and case management experience. I received awards for exceptional care and my applications are being met with silence. One employer called me with a language barrier and didn’t realize I’d been away for a few years and once she did said that’s way too long and hung up on me. It’s been humbling to say the least. It’s not like we forget how to be a nurse with decades of experience. May have to consider other fields. 🙁

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    john seay November 10, 2020 at 6:34 pm - Reply

    I am a RN have been out of clinical settings for quite a while. Served as a athletic trainer for a elite high school and performed mostly field triage, concussion evaluations, orthopedic injuries and fractures. I own a martial arts school and am a personal trainer also. All that said, I’m 64 and due to Covid, my businesses are tanking after 25 years. I may have to go the unemployment route for a while until things turn around. I had over 200 students and a large after school program. We are currently facing bankruptcy as no kids are going to school right now and haven’t
    for 7 months.
    I was a department head, pediatric and newborn nurse and worked for a surgeon before embarking on this adventure.
    Any suggestions or hope to return to nursing in some way? I need the money and am good at it!!

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    Deena Taylor April 17, 2021 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I went back to work in 2018, not having worked full time since 1997, when my son was born. At that time I had worked almost 10 years. I did prn home health for 2 years until my second son was born, then quit altogether. From 2005 to 2009, I worked prn in the holding and recovery area of the endoscopy unit where I had previously worked. I tried doing prn home health in 2012, but it didn’t work with my family obligations at the time. In 2018, I went back to work part time doing private duty for a quadriplegic on a ventilator in his home, and loved it, but I felt like I was capable of more of a challenge (and more pay). I went back to home health full time, but I brought home work every night, sometimes finishing at 11pm or midnight, which is not unusual in home health. The company I was with was bought out, and the cost of insurance was going to increase so much I went to work in a hospital. The computer charting is killing me. Everything is so much harder and more complicated than it ever was when I worked in the hospital in the eighties and nineties. My husband is disabled, and I need a good salary and insurance, not to mention saving for retirement. I am very concerned for our future. I regret not trying to work more when my kids were growing up. I don’t know how to do anything but nursing, but I’m not doing that very well either, right now.

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