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How to… return to nursing following a career break

Returning to work after a break can look a bit daunting, but Susan Hughes, from the Health, Learning and Skills Advice line explains how to access Return to Practice courses, and make a success of rejoining the nursing profession.

Get with the programme

Return to Practice (RtP) programmes are usually jointly run by NHS Trusts and university schools of nursing. The programme prepares you for re-entry onto the professional register and is an absolute requirement for returning to practice. Whilst there may not be a guarantee of a job at the end, it will provide you with the knowledge and skills to look for posts in a variety of clinical settings.

Your suitability would typically be assessed through an application process which includes an interview, a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check, an occupational health check and NMC verification (performed by the School of Nursing). Two references are often required, one of which should be from your current, or last, employer. If you have been out of nursing practice for many years, or have not been in employment or education, a reference from a professional person is usually acceptable.

Completing an RtP course for part 1 of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register also allows nurses to update part 3. An RtP course is generally tailored to help update practitioners on an individual basis, so universities should be able to help design your course towards elements appropriate to your part(s) of the register. The NMC have produced an advice sheet for those considering a return to practice.

Contact both NHS trusts and university schools of nursing direct to enquire whether RtP courses are running in your area, or see if you can register an interest in future programmes. Occasionally, details of programmes become available on the NHS Jobs website (use “Return to Practice” as keywords). Healthcare providers from the independent sector may also offer RtP courses, so contact providers direct.

After re registration

Once you have re-registered, if you are having difficulty finding permanent work, either temporary, part-time or shift work could be your next option. Contact your nursing bank coordinators, NHS Professionals, nursing homes, and nursing recruitment agencies (check first, as some agencies will require recent work experience). Your university school of nursing may be able to offer you useful advice.

Re-establish contact with former staff, including managers, and let people know you’re making your return to nursing. You may not be able to take up a position with your preferred employer, so be flexible in where you will consider travelling to, especially if it’s going be a short-term solution.

Keeping up to date

If you have had a break from nursing but have retained your NMC pin number, you could contact schools of nursing to enquire whether you can take part in some, or all, of their Return to Practice programme as a means of updating your theory and skills.

If you’re worried that you haven’t been keeping up with developments in nursing, don’t worry. The Nursing Times and other nursing magazines and websites have all the latest news and research for you to reacclimatise. And if you have any concerns or questions about returning to nursing, you could always submit queries to online nursing forums.

Don’t forget, many nurses make a successful return to nursing. Consider it an opportunity to rejoin your profession feeling refreshed and ready to take up a new challenge!

Run by the Careers Advice Service and sponsored by NHS Careers and Skills for Health, the Health Learning and Skills Advice Line provides careers information to support people working in healthcare. The friendly, trained career coaches can also give you constructive feedback on your CV and help assess your skills.

For a free, confidential discussion about your career, call freephone 0800 150 850 from 8am to 10pm, seven days a week.

Readers' comments (36)

  • I did a Rtp course 7 years ago aged 40, I had not nursed for 12 years. It was daunting especially the first ward shift, but trust me although many things have changed the basic care of a patient has not. Once faced with a patient needing care all your skills come flooding back. The new protocols, paperwork, how to use pieces of equipment can be learnt. My experience has been that ward staff are glad to have you and your good basic skills back and students also seem to appreciate working with a colleague with good nursing skills and they can teach you in return especially if you embark on the various courses that require research essays. I have never been without empolyment and as the article says be prepared to maybe take a job which is not your first choice while waiting for the one you really want. No experience is ever wasted and might just be the thing that means you get the next job .Suffice to say I have never regretted my return to nursing, with all it's hassles and unsocial hours it is the best job in the world and you work with the best colleagues you could hope to find in the work place. My advice - give it a try otherwise yo will always be wondering " what if"

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  • I did a return to practice course following a 15 year gap in service. Initially I took the first job available and was surprised at how much I enjoyed being back. Within 12 months I had secured a new post in a service I had wanted to work within for a long time and now work as a clinical nurse specialist, am an independent nurse prescriber and am happier at work than when I first started my nursing career. The break in service gave me the chance to try other opportunities and equip me for handling stress, learning other skills and appreciating a full time well salaried job with all the benefits of paid annual and sickness leave (I was self employed and believe me these are things to be cherished). I have no regrets at returning to nursing and would encourage anyone feeling in a rut to take the plunge.

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  • returning to work whatever the reason is daunting - has any one been dismissed and been successful at re employment??? it is ironic but a fact that a mistake in ones career can stick for years - any comments

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  • I returned to nursing after 28 years, it was very very hard and i felt like a first year student.Doing the back to nursing course was great in the classroom but out on the wards was a different matter. While the students were brilliant the staff nurses didn't make an effort to update you. Once I started work in a hospital for the elderly and a rehab ward the staff were happy to have me on board.I have learned so much in the 4 years and I got all my confidence back and feel so good when i go home at night. I have cut my hours down to 13 or 20 hours a week depending on what relief staff they need.I was so nervous at first having to give a report to the incoming staff but now i take it in my stride I would advise everybody to go for it It is so rewarding now that all my children are reared and married.

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  • My registration expired in 2008 and having just returned to the UK from abroad, am finding it difficult to find 'Return to practice' courses. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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  • I have been out of nursing since 1998, I have since August 2009 been trying to secure a place on a return to practice course, but am finding this very difficult. Has anyone suffered the same situation. Just getting info has been hard and knowing who to approach is not made easy. Funding is non existant and the uni's that run the courses are useless at communicating. All in all it has been a very bad experience, returning is so daunting why can there not be better info as to how to go about it.

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  • After recieving a plea from the NMC asking if I would consider renewing my PIN
    I have been looking to return to nursing after a 5 year break from practice.
    My pin expired in 2008.
    My god what a nightmare to even get information from hospitals and universities.
    I contacted one hospital 14 times before I even had the phone answered I did apply for thier rtp course but did not even get an interview as I was out of area!!

    I feel very frustrated that I am not able to return as I had hoped I actually gave up my job working with a child with special needs to persue my nursing career.

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  • For info on rtp courses contact human resources of your local hospital trust they should be able to advice you of rtp courses otherwise look at local university web sites and access nursing departments from there go to learning beyond registration and if they run rtp courses the info will be on there. I have at last managed to get on a course this year at nottingham university, but be prepared to pay. Good Luck.

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  • Where can I go and finish my studies, as I have done my first year and one of my Tutor made me to leave the university, at the same time I passed my exam. I just want to finish my training so that I can get on to my work. Please if you can advice me I am all ear to do it.

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  • I am looking to do the return to practice course, however as I was pensioned out of the health service in 1992 I am concerned I may lose my pension by re-entering the nhs. I would be gratefull if anyone has any information on this to post it on this web site

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  • RTP must be one of the most difficult courses to apply for.Here in Australia, I have been discriminated against on age, number of years away from nursing, inspite of being called for interviews,and being tested on the practical treatment of a patient in different scenarios, etc. Applications for this course in the U.K. was met in some cases ,with no response as to the outcome of an application inspite of me offering to be self-funded. I also happen to be a British national with many years nursing experience at senior level . What is the next best thing to do?? I find all of this quite frustrating when one reads that many countries have shortages of nurses.

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  • I would like to do RTP but I don't know were to go and what to do. I have decision letter from NMC for no less than six month training including RTP.
    I am an european nurse with 12 years experience and 8 years gap.
    I really want to be a nurse again.

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  • The comments about communication, information and availability I wholeheartedly agree with, I completed a RTP course in Dec 08 after 20 years of not working at all let alone in Nursing. From the experience of my cohorts, those who found the transition easier had worked as a HCA's for several months, which I would strongly advise to anyone thinking about returning, 1, to rebuild your confidence about your own abilities (you CAN do it, people are still people and GOOD nursing care is what matters, not gadgets and paperwork) and 2, perhaps most importantly, most trusts actively encourage staff development and welcome "old" nurses as we have life experiences and skills often missing in new graduates, (no offense intended) I know among my cohort three out of four who had worked as HCA's had been seconded by their Trust, fast tracked as they were within the system!
    I havn't found it easy myself, but all the way through there has been support, on the course everyone rallied around when we all had bad days, seek support from the University tutor early, and mentors within the workplace.
    Don't be put off keep plugging away and do it!
    For courses try contacting the NMC for a list of Universities currently providing courses and GOOD LUCK!!

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  • I am a Paediatric nurse who, after a 4 year break, is looking to return to practice. Like the advice above I went to the NMC website and found local universities where the return course ran and contacted them directly. I found all three uni's very helpful, received all the application packs quickly and then contacted the course leaders for more info if I needed it. I am due to start the course in September and wish others luck in their desire to return.

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  • HI Lisa could you say which UNI's you applied to locally, some of the links don't work one Uni I tried only take people from within the catchment area I would be interested to know which you approached and are you local.

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  • hello, I am just wondering how much does the rtp course cost? much appreciated

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  • Hello! I am due to start my RtP at the end of September, and I agree, getting through to the right people can take some time.

    You can get sponsorship, but if not a ballpark figure would be about £1,000.

    Firstly, I suggest you decide whether you want to work in the community (Contact your local PCT), or a hospital trust. Then contact the HR department there, and ask for the person responsible for the return to practice training. There may be sponsorship available.

    Alternatively, have a look locally at the universities, and speak to someone in the Health and Social Sciences department.

    Once I was in touch with the right people, it all flowed really well. Just put an afternoon aside, and make a coffee and start making some calls. You will get there, and can I just suggest you keep a note of everyone you speak to and what they advise. That will make things easier too.

    Good luck!

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  • Before reading these notices, I thought it was to late for me to go back, even though I tried a few years ago, and gave up because all the avenues I tried seemed to close in front of me. But having read this today I am going to try again, with much more determination, I loved my job, and want to go back. Thank you every one for renewing my hope.

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  • I would like to return to Adult Nursing. Am currently practising on another part of the register but would like to get back to adult nursing - any advice

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  • I tried to return to the midwifery register last year after 14 years out. I echo the comments made above about how difficult it was to find out about RTP opportunities -despite all of the rhetoric from the Dept of Health about how they were doing everything to encourage nurses and midwives to return, it took me over two years to finally secure a place on a course - others on my course had had the same experience (lack of centralised information, courses not running because hospitals would not take RTP people for clinical placements etc).

    The university course was very poor e.g. the standard of teaching was very variable and not always up to date, the academic assignments were bizarre such that one person on our course who had a Masters degree barely scraped through, there was no link between theory and our clinical practice etc. The greatest benefit of the study days was that the group of us got together and could share experiences, support each other etc.

    The maternity unit in which I did my clinical placements should never have agreed to have an RTP midwife as they did not have the desire or capacity to provide the necessary support. Some individual midwives were kind and helpful to me but the overall organisation was shambolic. Much of the time I was left to sink or swim unsupervised, despite the fact that I had deliberately chosen to wear a student midwife uniform.

    I was appalled at how much had deteriorated in the 14 years I had been away from midwifery and about how little regard there was (in the way the unit was set up and run) for the safety and well-being of women and babies and for the welfare of staff - and all this in a unit that boasted of its top rating on external assessments.

    Eventually, after much reflection and with much sadness, I came to the conclusion that the return to practice programme and the 450 hours of (largely un-) supervised clinical practice in this unit would not fit me to practise confidently and competently with due regard to the safety and well-being of the women and babies for whom I was caring and to my own psychological and physical well-being, and I resigned.

    It came as no surprise in the context of what I had observed and experienced that my manager (who was also the supervisor of midwives to whom I had been allocated) showed no interest in finding out why I had resigned and thus the opportunity for the organisation to learn from this episode was lost.

    I hope that other RTP midwives and nurses have a better experience than I did - we have much to contribute.

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