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'It seemed our skills and experience were not valued'


Despite struggling against the “corporate machine”, Deborah never looked back after deciding to return to practice

It was one of those sudden flashes of inspiration that come when you’re in the shower – I would retrain, be a nurse again, go back into uniform.

The decision, however, was the easy part!

I had worked for over 20 years in the same London teaching hospital, many of those years in various non-clinical management jobs, but I cheerfully assumed that the hospital would be happy to support, or at least accommodate, a new career direction for a loyal servant.

I found that this was not the case.

“The corporate machine was not able to help, or even to give clear reasons why”

Finding a university course was not difficult - I was lucky to be in a position to self-fund - but they couldn’t help with the required clinical placement.

Although individual colleagues were encouraging about my prospects for a placement in their clinical area, the corporate machine was not able to help, or even to give clear reasons why.

Friends tried other places but the answers came back the same.

At one point I started to consider a temporary move out of London in order to retrain – the course-leader in Brighton sounded lovely and promised a linked placement in palliative care as part of the course.

What was worse – and better – was that I wasn’t alone in this; better because knowing that other nurses were going through the same difficulties was encouraging. We were able to given one another support by email and I made contact with over a dozen other would-be returners via the Nursing Times website. Worse because it seemed that our skills, experience and motivation to rejoin the workforce were not valued, and this at a time when the news media was full of nurse-bashing stories and attrition rates in undergraduate courses were reportedly over 25% in some places.

Finally, persistence, luck and a good angel mentor found me a clinical placement in neurosurgery in a highly regarded unit.

I had last worked in neurosurgery in my late 20s, and at 50, I had an inclination to try for a different kind of nursing so was secretly hoping to have my second career in the community. But when I was actually doing the job though, I never doubted that I’d made the right choice.

“But when I was actually doing the job though, I never doubted that I’d made the right choice”

My father’s last illness and death spanned the period of the course and changes on the wards such as much reduced length of stay, 12 hour shifts and other, what can only be politely called “challenges”, made it hard going at times.

But when I was actually doing the job though, I never doubted that I’d made the right choice.

A happy seven month stint as an adult community nurse, learning and doing alongside a great team at Gospel Oak and my current job, as a general practice nurse, has made it all worthwhile.

So I was pleased to hear that Health Education England has launched a programme to make it much easier to return, providing funding, help with placements and a commitment to place returners where their future interests lie, rather than tying people in to the specialities where they worked before; though of course some may want to work in their previous clinical area.

See for details.

Alongside my day job, I have just recently joined the Board as nurse representative for the new GP Confederation in City and Hackney.

One of the things we will be trying to do is increase the capacity to support undergraduate and returning nurses who would like to work in general practice. This is not only an area of expanding career opportunities for nurses as care moves from hospitals to primary care but also a great job. If you’d like to find out more, please contact the project lead, Mary:


Deborah James is now working as a practice nurse


Readers' comments (2)

  • I wondered if anyone knows if once you complete the return to practice course you should be able to return to a higher increment for pay. I ask this as I previously worked for the Nhs for 20years and having completed a RTP course 12 months ago, and working as a band 5, I am on the starting increment.

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  • I returned to practice this year and my employer defaulted to the starting salary. But as I had achieved band 6 wage prior to leaving my employer has started me on the next to last increment of band 5. Had they not considered my application I would not have been able to take the job, I would have had to apply elsewhere for a higher salary. For someone with so much Nursing and life experience of your 20 years and probably with a mortgage and possibly children, to not put you on a higher wage band is disgusting. Fortunately ( and rarely) I have an excellent manager. Good luck in your quest.

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