It's Complicated- Help!

Nurses Nurse Beth


Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Dear Nurse Beth,

I'm returning to practice after a 10 year absence due to medical disability. This is raising all sorts of issues when it comes to filling out applications, submitting resumes, and writing cover letters. I really hope you can give me some solid advice.

I recently took a RN Refresher course and I don't know where to include this on my resume. I've seen it listed on some resumes under Professional experience and on others under Education or even Licenses & Certifications. My gut says listing it under Professional Experience gets rid of that initial impact of seeing my last nursing job was 10 years ago. Thoughts???

Is it appropriate to address my ten year absence from nursing in my cover letter? And if so, how do I best do this? I'm thinking in very general terms explain what happened, state I'm now in excellent health and able to return to nursing, this is what I learned from the experience and these are the qualities I can bring to your organization because of my experience.

One last question, when filling out job applications it asks reasons for leaving positions and/or gives options. I worked for one organization my entire career but was on FMLA/STD for longer than anticipated and when I was unable to return due to my doctor not releasing me medically I was "let go". How do I address that? I was rehired by the same organization a few months later when I was medically cleared. And then eventually had to leave again when I became permanently disabled. How do I address that?

I'm sorry I know it's all complicated but I don't want someone to take a look at my application/resume/cover letter and immediately trash it. (Although I realize the chances of that are pretty high.)

Thank you for your help!

Dear Complicated,

Congrats on your return to health.

It is important how you frame your 10 yr absence from the workforce, but you cannot control how employers receive it. Under exactly which heading you choose to include your RN Refresher Course is not going to change the fact that your last nursing job was over 10 years ago. You are over thinking this a bit, although the most appropriate section is under Education.

As far as your work history, list the dates of employment from hire date to termination date (not date of medical leave). Do the same with your second round of employment with the same employer. It speaks to your performance that the organization re-hired you.

Your cover letter should briefly include that you are returning to the workforce after an extended health-related absence that is now entirely resolved. The reason for including it is that leaving it out only for the employer to discover later will not benefit you. The key is to be brief and immediately segue to the positive, focusing on the skills you bring to the table.

You have a unique challenge in that many employers will not be willing to train a nurse with a lengthy absence. Here is where sheer determination comes in. That means you have to persevere, apply to multiple organizations and keep your eye on the goal- to land that first job back into the workforce. Not your ideal job- your first job ?

Activate your network and ask for letters of recommendation from your Refresher Course instructors. Have you asked if they help with placement? Some of them should have ties to hiring facilities.

Finally, desperate times call for desperate measures and bold moves. Read about these strategies in my book below, for example, How to Successfully Conduct a Cold Call.

Good luck, and keep us posted.

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

Author, "Your Last Nursing Class: How to Land Your First Nursing Job"...and your next!

Ugh---I feel for you, I really do. I have a friend that left nursing when she gave to birth to her 2nd child (she has 4 children total) and now that they are in college, she wants to get back into nursing. She was an ICU nurse when she left, she is a hard worker, extremely reliable & an excellent nurse. She took a review course, renewed BCS, ACLS. But she doesn't have a BSN, which is a major hurdle for her. When she worked as a nurse 20 years ago, it didn't matter. Now, it does. She doesn't want to enroll to get a BSN if she won't be able to get a job anyway. She sent tons of applications & didn't even get one call.

I feel that hospitals are making bad business decisions when it comes to not hiring experienced nurses that took a leave of absence for whatever reason. The human body hasn't changed for quite some time, some medications have changed (which is no big deal) and treatment of some diseases have changed. That stuff is not difficult to adapt to. Everybody has cell phones & computers these days, so learning EMR's is no big deal either.

I actually feel that this could be considered a form of discrimination. I know several physician's that took time off to stay at home with their kids & had no problem returning to practice. Why is nursing different? Not hiring an experienced nurse just because they took a leave of absence--no matter what the reason is--is discriminatory practice.

As far as your resume---I would put an separate additional area for "Continuing Education" to show that you did take a refresher course. I am on the fence about explaining the 10 year leave in a cover letter. If anything, I would probably put something on the resume that explains the 10 year absence in semi-specifics. You don't say what your disability was, but if it was anything mental health related, explain it in a vague, non-specific manner. You can elaborate in a face-to-face interview. I'm not sure that I would put anything specific about any disability in writing--you don't know where those documents go. The truth is, life happens. People leave their jobs for all kinds of reasons & should not be discriminated against when trying to get back into their careers.

I personally think cover letters are the equivalent of toilet paper---I don't even know if anybody reads them, because it's all just "I want a job. I'm so get at what I do. I'll be an asset to your company. Blah blah blah". They go right to the resume. On your resume, I would include something about the 10 year absence, whether you say you took an LOA for family reasons (which many nurses do). I would somehow focus on the fact that you worked for the same place your entire career, (maybe mention this in your cover letter, because it will speak for itself on your resume) you were let go because your initial leave lasted longer than you thought it would but the same organization hired you back----that says a lot. The bottom line is that you had a 10 year absence---it doesn't really matter what for. To expect women to continue working a full time nursing job with young children without taking any time off is not reasonable, nor is it reality. You could put something in the cover letter like "After a 10 year leave of absence from nursing for family and personal reasons, I am eager to return into the nursing field to utilize & build upon the experience & skills I attained during the X number of years I worked at XYZ Medical Center. Although it has been 10 years since I worked as an RN, I have not forgotten the important skills of prioritizing, being organized, patient safety and providing quality patient care. Blah blah blah." Deflect from the 10 year absence & make yourself attractive to an employer. I think it is absurd that hospitals think nurses who have taken time off cannot return because they're like new grads, which they're not. The problem is that in today's healthcare environment, places want nurses that can hit the ground running because they don't want to spend the money to train them.

Actually, I DO read cover letters! That's the first opportunity you get to highlight your experience and sell yourself. It's not rehashing what is on your resume. And it should be institution specific not a generic one you use for every job you apply to.

I don't like receiving just a resume. The cover letter speaks about you and what you can bring to this job. The resume speak about your education and work experience.

Good luck!

Actually, I DO read cover letters! That's the first opportunity you get to highlight your experience and sell yourself. It's not rehashing what is on your resume. And it should be institution specific not a generic one you use for every job you apply to.

I don't like receiving just a resume. The cover letter speaks about you and what you can bring to this job. The resume speak about your education and work experience.

Good luck!

You do? Really? I feel that a cover letter is a waste of time, paper & ink because no matter what is in the letter, it is the application & resume that really makes the decision. Plus, HR Googles every nurse before inviting them for an interview. So, you can write a fabulous cover letter, have a resume that would knock socks off, but if you post anything that is not politically correct on social media, you go in the garbage can. I actually think that there should be a law preventing employers from looking potential employees up on the internet. In some states, employers cannot ask questions about criminal convictions. But in the states that allow it, even though employers are theoretically not supposed to discriminate against those with a criminal history unless it is a direct conflict of the job, they still do. I also don't think nurses with actions against their licenses should have to answer that question on an application, especially if it is more than 10 years old. That question, without a doubt, is discriminatory right out of the gate. A job application should be a basic document where a potential hire writes down demographic info---education, experience, licensing, certifications. It should not be a place where a nurse has to tell a potential employer about being in a 5 year monitoring program for a DWI that occurred 16 years ago. A 16 year old DWI wouldn't even appear on a criminal background check---why should it be relevant just because the board of nursing decided to punish a nurse for something that occurred 16 years ago to justify their paychecks? Why should a history of petit larceny that occurred 15 years ago, when the nurse was 18 years old, long before they were even licensed, be relevant just because the BON decided to slap that nurse with a disciplinary action against their license just because they wanted to flex their power?

This is why I think a cover letter is a waste. Decisions are never made because of a cover letter. A nurse applying for a job needs a job. Maybe they have experience, maybe they don't. The way nurses are being hired these days is ridiculous. I was hired for my first job out of college, at a major NYC tertiary/teaching hospital, over the phone right after I was interviewed on the phone as a senior in the month of March. I was told what date I would start, when I had to go to health services for my physical & what documents I had to send them. Staff nurses are not C-level positions at Fortune 500 companies--interviewing them like they are is ridiculous. I have actually been asked questions at interviews that are illegal to ask--about my "family" (disguised to find out if I had kids), my husband, questions relating to financial status (to see if I planned to retire out of the place), if I exercised or went to a gym (trying to see if I had any physical disabilities), where I lived (to see if I would be able to get there on short notice, i.e. to cover sick calls). The interviewers have all kinds of questions that don't directly say anything to violate the laws, and it makes me laugh when they think I don't see through their act.

Specializes in Oncology (OCN).

Thank you Nurse Beth. I read your book (even though I'm not a new grad). I found it very helpful. I discovered that I needed to make changes to my resume. It's been 10 years since I worked, but it's been almost 16 since I've been on a job interview!

NurseDiane. I appreciate your insight. My disability is not mental health-related. I have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (formerly called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy). It is a Nuero-inflammatory condition. It is still ongoing but new treatments have allowed me enough of a return to health where working part-time is possible. Still, like you mentioned, I'm discovering that perhaps being vague and non-specific may be my best bet. Although it feels dishonest not mentioning my absence from nursing is due to disability, I'm not even getting in the door right now so I do need to change that in my cover letter and/or resume to family/personal reasons.

Thank you all for your input.

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development.

I also read cover letters -- and they can be very influential in my decisions about the application. In particular, the cover letter is influential in deciding whether or not I want to interview the applicant. Write a bad cover letter, and you might not get the interview, which then gives you no chance to get the job. Write a good cover letter, and I might give a borderline applicant a chance.

Specializes in NICU, ER, OR.

Firstly , congratulations to the OP on recovering and being ready on returning to nursing !

i have a similar issue. I have been out approaching the 4th year . Part my health, part taking care of my mom whom has cancer. I’m recovered, she’s doing ok , plus I have help now for her which I did not before. So I’m fully ready and NEED to go back to work . I’ve only done OPerating Room and want to return there. So to start I assume to explain the huuuge gap in my history- I simply state the truth, correct, ? Ok now, these RN Refresher classes have NOTHING to do with the OR, it is geared towards unit, medical surgical nursing, so taking one would not benefit me... can anybody give me any ideas on what I COULD do instead? What’s my first step? I feel like I lost my career, that it’s over, and I’m starting to get depressed over it! Any and all ideas you can give me to get BACK TO THE OR, id be so grateful for!! Thank you in advance!

is my nursing career over? I feel very lost

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