What happens if I take a 15 yr break from nursing?

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I am currently working in a Level IV NICU PRN for 2 12-hour shifts per month. I have a 6 month old and it kills me leaving him for so long, even though he stays with dad and it's not very often. I'm considering quitting and being a SAHM until our kids are older, but since we plan on having a big family that might be around 15 years out of the job. It took me a year and a half of working in the ICU in the same hospital to be able to move to this position. I love NICU nursing and wouldn't be a nurse if I couldn't be in the NICU. Will I be leaving the NICU forever if I leave for so long? Is it unrealistic to think I could go back after raising kids?

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

It's tough being torn between your career and your baby.

Whatever you decide, keep your license active. Some states require continuing education or practice hours for re-licensing, so check the requirements for maintaining these.

I will not lie; returning to nursing, primarily acute care, is highly challenging after a 15-year gap.

  • Skills and knowledge. NICU nursing is highly specialized, and advancements in medical practices and technology occur regularly. Being away for an extended period means you'll need to update your skills and knowledge before re-entering.
  • Employment gaps. Perception: Potential employers can view long employment gaps negatively, especially in high-stakes environments like the NICU.

Re-Entry Plan

If you leave the workforce, you must have a strong and strategic re-entry plan. Map out a long-term strategy that includes how you intend to stay connected to the field and steps for re-entry.

  • Networking. Staying connected with your professional network can help ease the transition back into the workforce. This includes maintaining relationships with former colleagues, participating in professional organizations, and attending relevant conferences or workshops when possible.
  • Continuing education: Online courses and certifications—Engage in continuing education through online courses or certifications that keep you updated on the latest in NICU nursing.
  • Professional development. Attend workshops, conferences, and webinars related to neonatal care.
  • Refresher courses. Many hospitals and nursing schools offer refresher courses for nurses returning to practice after a long hiatus. These can be invaluable in bridging the gap when you decide to return.


While it's not completely unrealistic to think you can return to NICU nursing after raising your children, it will require intentional planning and effort to maintain your skills and stay updated with advancements in the field. Staying connected to the profession in any capacity, whether through part-time work, continuing education, or professional networks, will ease your transition back into the workforce when the time comes.

You're better off working per diem like you do now to keep your foot in the door. Two 12's a month is probably the minimum you'd want to go. If you could find 8-hour shifts, that might make it easier for you, but I know they're rare.

I wish you the best with your decision.

Nurse Beth


Specializes in Geriatrics, Dialysis.

A 15-year employment gap will be challenging to overcome, especially in a specialized area of practice like a NICU.  Would you consider staying with your employer on a very part-time or even per diem basis if the option exists for you?


Specializes in Pediatric ICU, Sedation, Leadership.

I can speak to this exactly! I was a PICU, NICU, CICU RN, ECMO specialist, MRI sedation RN, and in the last role was more of a leadership/education/facility expansion liason type of role. That was 10 years ago. We had our 3rd baby, after the first 2 were born I managed to work PRN or Part time, right before the  birth of our 3rd child we had to relocate for my husbands job 13 hours away from any support network or family. I transferred my license and looked for PRN jobs but was unsecessful finding something, in that particular area they didn't hire PRN outside of the current staff. They only offered it to current employees. So I became a full time SAHM. A little before the youngest turned 5 I completed a nursing refresher course, and was interviewed for a school nurse subsitute position. I had just completed my first orientation shift when COVID shut schools down (March 2020). That Summer we moved again to be closer to family. I did not want to work hospital during the covid pandemic, and ended up in a non- nursing field working as a design consultant and project manager for a residential home builder. I am now looking for PRN or part time Nursing Jobs and I'm having a REALLY hard time. I've applied for I think 7 positions, and got the screening interview, scheduled an inperson interview, and every time they hired someone else prior to my interview. I'm frustrated and worried. I am wanting to peruse my FNP and want to get back into active practice during my coursework. I spoke to a recruiter at the hospital I previously worked, and inquired about part time NICU, I never heard back from that manager- she said my best bet was probably going to be med surg unit. UGH... I may just have to suck it up and do it but I've heard horror stories of short staffing and lazy foreign agency nurses who are unwilling to help. 

My advice........ stay on PRN, I wish I had figured it out. I regret not at least working the minimum PRN hours, at the time I would have been spending more on childcare than the shift would have paid me, but I think if I had viewed it as an investment in my career for the future I should have done it. HOWEVER I do not regret one second with my babies:) Best years of my life, truly. Good Luck!