Construction and auto workers would have a hard time pulling this off. So would many people who worked in finance or real estate. • They couldn't leave their profession, and then years later return to work at the same level. Not in today's economy. • But nurses can go home again. And they're heading back to the floor in growing numbers. Sometimes more than a decade after they left.
Even if they haven't been in a hospital in years, registered nurses in Florida who don't let their licenses expire can take a refresher course that is offered online and lasts as little as six weeks. The cost is $795, not including textbooks.
And if they qualify, some can get the course paid for and have a job waiting for them in return for a year's service at an area hospital.
For nurses who let their license lapse, the process can be more complicated. But either way, hospital staffing officials say nurses are returning to work, and for many of the same reasons they did in the past. For many, they finished raising their family, got bored with retirement, or missed the challenge of nursing.
But there are two new factors to add to the mix — the downturn in the economy coupled with an ongoing shortage of nurses. The economy may soon right itself, but the shortage of nurses may be around for years. According to the federal government's Health Resources and Service Administration, the average age of registered nurses will reach 44.5 in 2012. And the Florida Center for Nursing projects a statewide shortage of more than 52,000 nurses by 2020.
Going back isn't always easy. The nursing profession has made some drastic changes in the past decade; procedures and equipment are more complex, and medications are different.
For decades, St. Petersburg College has been offering a refresher course — RN Return to Work — as part of its continuing education program. Enrollment in the course varies from year to year, said Denise Kerwin, a program director at the school. "But there are more people coming back now for economic reasons,'' she said. "For most nurses, it's a lifelong passion. And there are so many opportunities now.''
To help lure nurses back to work, HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain, which operates 16 hospitals in its West Florida division, is offering selected nurses $2,000 to take the SPC refresher course. The nurse must then commit to a year at an HCA hospital. The incentive is already in place at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton, with plans to offer it soon in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
"The college supplies the education and we supply the job,'' said HCA recruiter Patty Ehrenfeld. "But it's very selective.''
Ehrenfeld said she has hired six RN's who had returned to nursing after being away anywhere from four to 18 years.
"The change in technology is usually the biggest hurdle,'' she said. "But the nurses are usually extremely motivated and want to return.
"These nurses,'' she added, "have always been out there.''