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Re-Entry Programs Help Nurses Return to the Profession


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By Kristin Rothwell, associate editor

As word gets out that a major national nursing shortage in the United States is expected to grow worse by 2010, many nurses who left the profession are returning to their ‘calling’ with the help of newly developed nurse re-entry programs.

While patient care likely hasn’t changed since many of the nurses left the health care field, the technology, pace, medications and number of high-acuity patients requiring special attention has.

“Once some of these people are out for 10 years or so it can be a scary process to come back into nursing,” said Debbie Bennett, RN, MN, director of nursing continuing education at California State University, San Marcos in San Diego, California.

With the help of refresher programs (created for nurses who kept their licenses current) and re-entry programs (created for nurses who let their licenses lapse), nurses can brush up on their skills and be ready to acclimate back into the acute clinical setting within a matter of months.

In 2003, the university’s Extended Studies partnered with Tri-City Medical Center and Palomar Pomerado Health Care—both located in San Diego, California—to offer local nurses the opportunity to review and update their skills in a supervised environment. This year, San Diego’s Scripps Memorial Hospital, Encinitas also partnered with the university.

The cost of the nurse refresher program is $2,399 or free to those nurses who receive full scholarships from one of the partner hospitals in exchange to work in a guaranteed position at the facility once they’ve completed the program.

During the 10-week refresher program, the nurses attend didactic classes that provide an overview of new techniques, equipment and procedures. On the weekends, they complete 8- to 12-hour clinicals at a partner hospital where they gain hands-on experience with the guidance of a nurse preceptor.

After completing the program, Serina Taub, RN, BSN, Ph.D., said the comprehensive program helped update her knowledge.

“The program is excellent,” said Taub, who is using her updated skills as a Reiki instructor. “There was tremendous support. Working with a preceptor nurse and really doing the hands-on nursing in a controlled environment was critical.”

Once the nurses are hired, they receive an extensive orientation and are partnered with a preceptor until they’re ready to work independently.

“We know we could lose these nurses so easily because they could get discouraged,” said Nicolett Fitzgerald, RN, MSN, Ph.D., manager of staff development at Scripps Memorial Hospital, Encinitas. “We certainly make them know that it can be a rough time [returning to nursing], but that we support them.”

Most of the nurses who successfully complete the program take positions in the medical-surgical unit even if they worked in a different specialty prior to leaving nursing, according to Bennett.

Fitzgerald said that starting the nurses out in medical-surgical provides them the basic practicum they need before returning to their specialty area, but was quick to add, “If they have a passion for their specialty, the ultimate goal is to help them get back to their specialty.”

Taub considered her experience to be one of the best things she’d ever done.

For more information

CSU, San Marcos refresher program

To learn how to participate in the refresher program through Scripps Memorial Hospital, Encinitas, contact Nicolett Fitzgerald, RN, MSN, Ph.D., at (760) 633-7606

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