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Retraining Displaced Workers As Nurses


The intended purpose of this article is to discuss the various issues surrounding the recruitment of unemployed and displaced workers into the nursing profession.

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 15 years experience.

Retraining Displaced Workers As Nurses

When the economy started to slump after the financial meltdown in the U.S. several years ago, masses of displaced workers suddenly began to view nursing as a safe haven.

The nursing profession has been a magnet for many unemployed people heading back to school (Robertson, 2011). During the past few years, people from various backgrounds have been flocking to the healthcare field due to the perception of job security, career mobility, and steady income.

Government money has paid part or all of the bill for those displaced workers to retrain (Schultz, 2010). And now that they have retrained, many are still seeking employment because something unexpected took place as the economy tanked.

Shortages that had been evident for almost a decade were all but wiped out as retired nurses returned to the workforce (Robertson, 2011). Also, nurses who once planned to retire had decided to keep working to replenish retirement accounts that lost money during the recession.

Is retraining displaced workers to become nurses a good idea? Even though this can be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no,' the question is not as concrete as it may appear. I will start by saying that many displaced workers would surely turn out to be amazing nurses due to their work ethic, life experience, maturity, unique personalities, and eagerness to learn. In addition, it greatly helps the situation if the dislocated worker has a true interest in healthcare and a passion for helping others.

However, a mass effort to retrain unemployed people and track them into one specific career pathway cannot always be beneficial, especially if many of these individuals didn't really have the inclination or personal desire to become nurses in the first place. In fact, too many people who are currently enrolled in nursing programs divulge that they dislike many aspects of nursing, but the idea of a middle-class income at the end of the pipeline was too irresistible to pass up.

Do other professions actively encourage displaced workers to become members of their ranks? There's a dearth of qualified employees in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions here in the U.S., but the leaders of these fields are not looking at unemployed people as the quick and easy solution to their labor shortages. This country is badly in need of family practice doctors, but I suspect the American Medical Association would frown upon using dislocated workers to fill more slots in medical school.

The displaced worker who has the desire to become a nurse should follow his or her dream and take the necessary steps. However, the people who are jumping on the nursing bandwagon for the supposed security and 'big bucks' might become sorely disappointed.


TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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53 Comment(s)

I have never heard of this program. I lost my finance job in the crisis, and since I'd intended to become a nurse for several years prior I chose to go for it. I assure you I am not receiving assistance with nursing school, and I was never offered any. I work as a CNA now and my tuition comes out of my income. I wonder if it's state by state?

TheCommuter, BSN, RN

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych. Has 15 years experience.

Can you give some examples? I have never heard of this program. I lost my finance job in the crisis, and since I'd intended to become a nurse for several years prior I chose to go for it. I assure you I am not receiving assistance with nursing school, and I was never offered any. I work as a CNA now and my tuition comes out of my income.
Click on the links below to read about special programs that train displaced workers to become nurses. The WIA (Workforce Investment Act) provides grants to certain dislocated workers who wish to retrain for another career. The focus appears to be on getting blue-collar workers retrained. I do not know if anything exists for former finance employees.

Programs Aim to Retrain Autoworkers as Nurses - NurseZone


How to Get a Grant for LPN-to-RN Programs Through WIA | eHow.com

In a number of states, people who are on public assistance/unemployment have to find a job within a certain period of time or lose their benefits. There are a few things to choose from, and the government pays for one to go to school to get a job and off of public assistance/unemployment. Which is a good deal if you can get it. So displaced workers on unemployment and/or public assistance can't find a job, make use of the funds available to go to school to do something else, have their childcare paid for......I am all for people wanting to better themselves. It is beyond heartbreaking to have a situation where someone loses their job and they have mouths to feed. However, I am a nurse because I want to be. Would I like to further my education? Absolutely. But it is expensive, and unaffordable for some. The wait lists are long for those who are wanting to pursue more education. However the fast track from public assistance/unemployment to a nursing career seems amazingly easy for those who can work the system to their advantage. It is a matter of "we have nail tech, CNA, nursing, food services, early childhood education..." and someone is put in the position of "pick one". Amazingly, it is not unheard of for one to go to school, still not be able to find a job, and go back to school for something else.....on the government's dime.

At the community college I go to we have a ton of displaced workers going for lots of different things, not just nursing. The crash hurt a lot of people. Nursing is not the only profession affected. Have you taken a look at what's happening to law schools? They are getting sued by the very students they taught because of hollow income promises and few job opportunities.

I am a displaced worker (shipping,receiving/warehousing) that benefited from a program to retrain as a nurse. I just passed my state boards for my CNA and am starting the long slog of looking for a position. I deceided to become a nurse after taking care of my wife post stroke (ischemic stroke, hemmorragic stroke, tia's, swallow problems) recovery. It has been ten years during this journey through her recovery that gave me many aquired skills in basic nursing. I was encouraged by visiting nurses and doctors to persue this line of work. On my side, I have asthma (since 6 months of age) and battle high blood pressure. As you can see, I have a general well rounded experience in the medical care field. Tying all these skills together just seemed to be a natural course for me, one I have embraced and am excited to jump into.

Why doesn't the government spend that money (and effort really) to prevent the displacement of American workers, instead of paying for them to learn something else to get displaced from.

BrandonLPN, LPN

Has 5 years experience.

I went to one of those ungodly expensive trade schools for my LPN. As I was unemployed, laid off from construction, the Michigan Works program paid for over 75% of my $27,000 tuition. I NEVER would have went to such a school without the massive financial assistance.

I guess it depends on the state. I looked at the Employ Florida site, and they don't seem to have much beyond "These are schools that offer education programs", but it looks like you can go into a one-stop center and fill out applications for grant money. Good to know. Little late for me, but glad to see opportunity for others.

mmc51264, ADN, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in orthopedic; Informatics, diabetes. Has 9 years experience.

I was a displaced teacher. I got my CNA certification and was going to go to one of those ungodly expensive schools. While trying to decide, the finance officer who was trying to help me, actually got me my job as a home health aide! I worked there as I got my CNA II (here in NC, they have a higher cert that allows us to do some clinical skills like BS, est. trach care, PEG tube feedings-no meds) and got through Nursing school. We had free job search help here, I collected unemployment for a little while until I could get enough hours. I had to borrow money to go to school, but there was a program that helped people keep their houses while going to school. I was fortunate enough to get a job after graduating in May and looks like we might survive this. When I went back to school after having my children, it was a choice between teaching and nursing. I chose teaching the first time, but I guess God had other plans for me. I work at a LTC/Rehab facility attached to a hosp and love it.

I wasn't pushed into Nursing here, but there was quite a bit of non-traditional, second career people in my class. There were more over the age of 35 than under. We are lucky, most of us have found jobs.

Communter- great article as usual. This is a very loaded article. Knowing me: this is not going to be brief- lots to say on the subject.

My thoughts are that this welfare to work program has been around for years that I know of. Just not effecting nursing in the numbers it has recently. I remember back in the late 1980's working with a young unit secretary who as her story goes- was recently divorced form a ex-army husband who was selling drugs in another state, she and the young kids fled and returned home to her parents, got on welfare and was entered into the welfare to work program. She caused many an interpersonal problem on the unit as the secretary- over stepping her job descripton as secretary was the bottom line. She did go on to get an LPN and then an RN.My reflection back on the situations is that she was butt kissing to get recommendations to get herself into a nursing school and her unauthorized interference in patient situations were viewed by some more simple minded( lazzy) staffers as "helping" For me, it was a case of "stop helping me, I don't need it and don't want your 'help', you have no license" . I resented it, was frustrated working with her( she didn't want to do the unit secretary tasks but wanted to stick her nose into the RN tasks) and frowned up on some one with no license interfering with my assignment.

Now for my view on the current surge of nursing influx due to this governemnt dime program. It has put alot of us old timer veteran nurses out of work and on unemployment. Why, because the new "second career" nurses have had governement assistance obtaining the education credentials (BSN included for those "needy enough" to qualify) needed for the new entry level positions which leaves us old veteran nurses- who have trudged along in these nursing trenches for years- SOL and out of a job and ultimated we are now in the poor house( forclosure, banckruptcy), having difficult to finding a new nursing position because we are on the top of our hard earned pay scale and the new ones can come in and will work for less money because the lower pay rate is better than a welfare check. We are financially over burdened and extended from life- our years of rearing a family and from us putting our selves on the back burner for our families and now our nursing credentials (our diploma and ADN's) from long ago, are meaningless and unemployable.

The nursing profession should have had the forsight to take care of it's own before opening it's arms up to the down and out. Sorry if this is offensive to a some, but it is offensive to us old veteran nurses who have trudged along for years, paid our dues aka, put in the time and sweat equity( our share of the holiday, off shift and weekend rotations, not to mention the brunt of harassment and abuse) and then only to get kicked in the pants. Besides not hiring older nurses; look at how our veteran nurses who have been employed in one facility for all these years are being treated- they are being harassed, micromanaged aka- age discrimination and hostile work environment, out of their jobs( aka a "hard earned pension") by the nursing leadership in the facilities who is doing the business side of these administrations bidding- 'get out the older nurses because they cost too much( payrates, healthcare benes) or will cost us some thing in the future( retirement pensions)' This new surge as new found interest in "nursing" by the welfare to work group, I feel, has greately contributed to the glut of new nurses. Nursing was never the #1 choice for high school candidates - back in my day it fell far below teaching, secretarial and cosmotology. There were 3 of us who went on to Nursng in a class of 400. The Law and medicine were becoming more popular as female domains( 1 female went into law, 1 female went into medicine) due to the clammerings of the Women's rights movement which was still hot and loud at that time- back in the 1970's. The thought of a male entering nursing back then was unheard of- I remember having 1 male student in my nursing class of 1978- he stuck out like a sore thrumb. The draft was still in effect during my early high school years( 1970-1974) and the young males( 18yr old,) were getting there rear ends shot off in Vietnam( Vietnam ended around 1971- 1972). Jane Fonda was posing for pictures on Vietnamese tanks in Hanoi.

The barriers between male and female professions have long since been broken down, So why would women today become more interested in a profession that has such low wages and be so emotional draining. the benefits of nursing are not out weighted by the sacrifice. The women of today are more interested in the IT, and business/ financial areas where wages are more lucritive. How many of these younger women today REALLY want to wipe but and take abuse when they can dress in nice business suites from Ann Taylor and work in the corporate business world?? The glut is not because it's "my passion" it's because of programs like this in a downturned economy- it pays more than welfare, and can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time and they don't have to pay for it and go into debt. The welfare mentality is to some degree- " have nothing*** to loose and can go now where but up."

As an older veteran nurse who has had to apply for and collect unemployment, I can attest to the fact that unemployed nurses are looked at like they have 2 heads- the true situation of nursing unemployment is not common knowledge- not even to the dept of labor. In the retraining waiver classes/sessions at the dept of labor/unemployment/one stop- which I did attend( I contradicted and interrupted to correct this farse of "lucrative nursing mantra".... nursing shortage crap: and I was almost thrown out. I expect the facts and truths be given to the masses/general public, not fairy tales)the counselors were spouting off the nursing propaganda and giving waivers for CNA certification programs. Over 75%=approx 30 people, of the room( the room was standing room only approx 40 people) stood in line for the CNA waiver.

I made it very loud and clear that I wanted a waiver for the IT program( only 2 of us requested this one) and wanted out of NURSING due to the nursing unemployment situation and felt it was disgusting that nurses were out on unemployment when the room full of people were there to get waivers for CNA programs and telling of the nursing shortage Bull crap.

Edited by kcmylorn

Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago has stated that he wants to see more Chicago/Cook County jobs held by it's residents. Somewhere he mentions a stipend paid if you hire graduates from Chicago city colleges.

He is making some demands of Chicago area Hospitals, etc. to hire from Chicago colleges. Nursing is one area he specifically is putting pressure on. He stated something in a press conference about not wanting nurses from other places getting jobs that could be filled by a Chicago college graduate (can't find the press brief - so not quoting). Even surrounding Illinois counties are not welcome in this plan for the city. He said he was going to build relationships with Cook county facilities (which means he is going to give them the squeeze) to mentor Chicago city college nursing students/hire. The news stories surrounding this move interview displaced workers going back for nursing degrees.

There are some heavy hitters in Chicago... Rush, Northwestern, U of C, Loyola, to name a few. These are very selective in hiring... but Mr. Emanuel is not one to be messed with.

So this makes things even harder for future grads in the Chicago area to find jobs, unless you went to college in Chicago.

netglow- My thoughts on this is that the money for unemployement checks come out of the state's funds. If I am reading your post correctly this is a good thing, which hopefully will spark for other politicians in other states to start similar actions and restrictions to prevent out of state workers coming in to take jobs away from state's residents. The message I get is 'we are going to employ our own first, and then if anything left" It stimulates the state's economy when it's residents are employed, not, when it's workers live in a neighboring state, take their money to their home state and spends said money in their own neighboring home state. When that happens money goes out of one state and is poured into another state .Draining the employer state and we residents of the employer state end up with lack of jobs and a higher cost of living. When that happened in my state- I am guessing around 2008-2009( the first I heard of it was 2009), my state was reported as "hemorrhaging residents"- meaning people were loosing their incomes, selling their homes and moving out of state. I had one patient tell me she and her family had sold their home and we moving out of state, they couldn't afford to live here anymore: but to do so, they had to pay out of the sale profit and certain % of the fee to the state to do so.

I know in my state, to attain a state position- be it anything: accounting, IT, garbage collector, nurse for the Public health dept's, it is now has residency requirements. My state was high on the US's unemployment list( above the national average), the foreclosure list(was #3 on the national list) and the bancruptcy list( was #5 on the US's list). My state has one of the highest property tax rates( again it was #1 or #2). My state was high on the nursing salary list( was #3 behind California and NYC). Our nursing salaries for new grads start at $32/ It is in commuter distance to 2 major cities and has plenty of mass transit. Students from all around the country flocked here approx 2-3 yrs ago for nursing positions. Now there are NO jobs to be found in any of the area hospitals - I have at least 7 major university Medical centers around me.

It has always left a bad taste in my mouth that new grads should be living on one coast and having to apply for nursing positions on the other. I think this is very destructive to the since of "family" and leaves a person without a support system. Which in my opinnion, is not healthy. Which contributes to that calleousness, cold, detatched personality that is often read about.

Also what is fueling the issue of displaced workers/ in commuter's article is the immigration of nurses from other countries. We have an extremely high percentage of foreign nurses employed in our hospital systems.

Edited by kcmylorn

simply put the reason many displaced workers dont flock to become MD's is for the following reasons

1. 4 year degree preferred ( in biological scienes as it includes most all pre-reqs needed to apply)

2. stellar undergrad GPA 3.8 and higher to be "competetive"

3. take MCAT and pass with an above average score if your GPA is lower than 3.8

4. If you dont get scholarship get over 100k in debt to pay for school

5. dedicate 4 years of undergrad, 4 years of medical schoox, + x amount of years for residency depending on specialty

for all theses reasons many people dont have the dedication to do all this to become an MD when you can go to school for 2yr. get adn and work as an RN and make alot more than minimum wage.

is a new RN salary decent ...short answer yes many people dont make more than 20 bucks an hour and only have to work 3 days a week

are you going to be able to buy a house cash or a maserati a few years into nursing...short answer...no

has there been nurses that can ...yes..but typically they are ARNP, DON, or make over 40/hr due to many many many years of exp.

The Chicago and surrounding burbs also has an extremely high percentage of foreign nurses hired into the hospital system - the LTCs as well. This is a tremendous problem that has affected employment prospects for those locally too. As these nurses move up the chain, some do preferentially hire only nurses from their homeland. Which I think is wrong if they want to continue to live here and be considered Americans. I used to think that this practice was not real, but I quickly was informed of it by those very nurses at my clinical sites.

The only problem I have with the keeping it local thing, is, that you and your family can be citizens for generations - but you decide to go to that fancy college you were accepted at because you worked hard in school, that college being not in Chicago or Cook County makes you a less preferred hire.

Our small community went crazy with the retraining of workers into the "in demand"field of nursing. The paper did an article about the record student enrollments into the local community college...numbers that hadn't been seen in years.and what was everyone going for? Nursing ! Out of 3600 full time students 1200 (approximately) were majoring in nursing...at a school who takes 80 students per year in a town with one hospital. What are people thinking!?

In my day; nurses had to have stellar grads to gain entry, continiously and stay in the program and hopefully to get to graduate. Like I posted- Nursing was not on the "hot" list for careers. We didn't have all these back door avenues to get into nursing school and yes, for the very few that did have the qualification to gain entry- there was waiting lists. The entry requirements were stricter, not many saw it as a "get rich quick scheme". Nursing was not and still isn't nor will it ever be, something you could force yourself to like or live with or through due to the nature of the work Back then - the "men were very quickly separated from the boys" so to say. A class could start out with 78 students and by the end of the first year drop down to 30 students and end up with a graduation class of 22.

There is only a very small percentage out there today that "should" be a nurse, just as it was back then. We used to have a phrase back then- "not nursing material"- well that still holds true still today,. only now the pool of nurses is greater and the great majority of which "are not nursing material" Those that cat claw, the all about "ME", get others fired- that power trip personality. Those are poeple who came from nothing and now have a status( so they think) they don't take seriously the responsibility that the job entails. When healthcare systems are so money driven with the business philosopy, that kind of selfish, self centered , reckless personality keeps be boobing around until some patient is harmed and then, too, they know exactly what to say and do to get them self off the hook. It's sad to say but nursing should have an ethics and a morality test as a pre req to gain entry into a program. Not just a essay that one can download and BS their way through like a greeting card. These are the "Hallmark" nurses but when push comes to shove- they are sad cases and a threat to patient safety. Why in the world are so many nursing students posting about- "Nursing is my dreeeeeam job. I t is my passion. I have a criminal conviction for ...... but it want my fault, do you think I will be disqualified. Back in my day- well, yeah!!! for sure!!!! if it was your dreeeeeam job and Passion, you should have given your actions more serious thought. Drug, DUI and shoplifiting and all the other criminal ditties I read posted on here, were not just invented with that Lindsey Lohman creature or that other jerk before her, Winona Rider. My generation coined the phase: "Sex, Drugs and Rockn'Roll" But those of us who wanted to go into nursing from our HS years KNEW, that if we were involved with any of this, our chances of our DREEEEEEEEEAM job would be gone!!! we kept our noses clean and our records.

For all those little ex cons out there thinking of nursing as your DREEEEEEEEEEEEEAm job- think seriously and hard of the responsibility and trust that a nurse has bestowed on them and then ask yourself honestly- am I really right for a profession that is responsible for some strangers life and well being. Do my actions really indicate that I am a responsible and accountable person. this should also go for nurses aids. I have seen nurses aids do some really horrendous and horrific things to patients up to and including pulling an elderly woman's arm out of her shoulder joint. Careless, thoughtless rough mishandling of a frail old lady.

Edited by kcmylorn