Nursing Refresher Program or Not?

By: Nan Callender-Price, RN, MA, Executive Director, Continuing Nursing Education at Nurse.com
Nan Calendar-Price, RN

Nan Callender-Price, RN

Nurses who have left nursing for one or more years may be faced with the decision to complete a refresher program. Refresher programs are time consuming and can be costly, so thoughtful consideration is appropriate. I know of two nurses who attended programs recently, and they each have a different story.

Sandra, a lifelong friend nearing 60, had been a nurse for 35-plus years, working part time in psych, home healthcare and hospice while raising her three children. As an empty nester, she worked per diem in homecare and the wellness and insurance industry. Mix in a couple of moves and an economy that headed south, and her sweet situation slowly dried up and left her waiting for infrequent calls from the agencies. Not ready to retire, she explored other nursing career opportunities more clinically oriented. Big surprise — No one was hiring a candidate with outdated experience.

Technology seemed to be a significant roadblock for re-entering the acute-care arena. And older boomers are not natives to technology. She researched refresher programs and discovered a wide range of options — from online to live, both including an on-site clinical component. She opted to attend a program out of state because it provided classroom attendance and arranged the clinical rotations while the program near her residence did not. The program was more expensive and required relocation.

Take Meg — 48, with more than 25 years of experience, 20 of which were in nursing administration. Laid off because of downsizing, Meg attended a live refresher program after a year away from the job to enhance her clinical skills and for opportunities for networking and employment. Her experience in the program reinforced that she was technology savvy and her clinical skills were up to date.

Where are Sandra and Meg almost one year later? Sandra returned home to find that more per-diem opportunities were available to her. However, she attributes this more to timing than attending the program. Even though Sandra learned that she didn’t want to work in an acute-care setting, she acknowledged that the refresher program increased her confidence in technology and clinical skills. Meg, who has an impressive resume, is interested in moving from management to a “hands-on” position and continues to look for a job. It’s a tough market.

What advice do Sandra and Meg offer colleagues when considering a refresher program option?

  1. Be clear about what your expectations are: Are you looking to update your clinical skills, acquaint yourself with the latest technology? For people who have been away from nursing for awhile, significant changes have taken place in the acute care setting and a refresher program can get you started and increase your confidence. If you’re attending solely to enhance your employment opportunities, the outcome is not assured. It may help to make you more marketable, but the job market is very tight right now.
  2. Also, consider which venue you may be best suited for—online or live. They are very different learning experiences. Online offers convenience of studying from home, but less guidance and direct interaction with instructors and classmates. Choose the option that you feel the most comfortable with.
  3. Do your research when considering refresher programs. Do a search online. Compare the curriculums, clinical rotations, and, importantly, the cost!

I would also recommend to check out Nurse.com’s “Dear Donna,” written by Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, a well-known career guru. Good luck to you!

Here are my suggestions of courses that may be able to help you on your way:

Earning Degrees by Distance Learning
A great course that provides nurses with information about obtaining academic credentials through distance learning.

Changing Specialties in Three Easy Steps
A well-written, succinct course on making a transition from one specialty to another in nursing, including the steps to manage a specialty change, how to research the new potential specialty and how to prepare to make the career change.

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