61 With No Current Nursing Experience

Dear Nurse Beth Advice Column - The following letter submitted anonymously in search for answers. Join the conversation! Nurses Nurse Beth Nursing Q/A


Dear Nurse Beth,

I'm going to finish my 3rd Nurse Refresher Course in August, so I will start looking in September. I'm turning 61 in July. Last time I worked in Nursing was in 2006 part time at a busy hospital in Behavioral Health. Graduated Nursing School in 1980, I have a BSN and MBA.

Worked in Pharmaceutical Clinical Research from 1990 to 2016. Have not worked in 3 years. Last salary was 190K plus bonuses as a Director, Clinical Compliance. I'm in good health. The state Board of Nursing said clinical research was considered "Nursing" and I got my active license in compact state without having to take a refresher in 2012. I did a Refresher despite this assessment in 2012 but did not look for a nursing job because I was making too much money at my regular job. Now I am ready to work full time as a nurse. Am I hireable as a nurse? How should I approach a Job Search? My refresher course management says there is a Nursing Shortage and I should have no problem.

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Specializes in Tele, ICU, Staff Development.

Dear Refresher,

You have over 2 decades in clinical research and scant current experience in clinical nursing. Essentially you are changing fields and starting over, but not with the job-seeking advantages of a newly licensed nurse.

Your refresher course management says there is a nursing shortage and you should have no problem but even if they are motivated to say that to promote their business, they still may be able to give you some leads if they have connections in clinical settings. Be sure and ask.

The important thing, unless you are prepared to relocate, is the market in your area. To get your foot in the door, you may have to initially accept a job that's not your ideal job to start building your work history.

Cast a wide net, including Behavioral heath and sub-acutes. You've invested a lot by taking the refresher course, so good for you. You were very successful at your previous job and have a lot of life experience. A wise manager will appreciate your assets and not be intimidated or wary of your credentials and past. You will need to convince a hiring manager that you are not an over-qualified flight risk and that this is genuinely what you want to do-practice nursing.

Be persistent and good luck!

Nurse Beth

Specializes in Bahavioral health.

Nurse Beth:

Thank you for your realistic assessment of my situation. I know you have to disclose past salary and that might be intimidating. I am fully prepared to start out at a new Grad salary if need be. I'm OK with my past nursing experience considered cancelled. I know that my experience is still relevant because in my last refresher I caught on very quick and showed my preceptor a thing or two! Just want to get my foot in the door.

I will cast a wide net as you advise but I am trying to avoid nursing homes because of my age--the thought of being in one terrifies me. I will be open to any shift and schedule as well. I will make inquiries at my school as well. Thanks!

I don't recall having to provide past salary and I don't think it is legally obligated: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/ask-the-headhunter/ask-the-headhunter-never-ever

The past several jobs, the pay is done by a formula based on years of experience and shift and you fall somewhere in the formula and that is the salary. That has been in both unionized and non-unionized facilities.

I would wonder if you will be satisfied with a clinical nursing job? I had a previous profession many years ago, raised children for 25 years, then went back to school to get the RN and have been exclusively a clinical nurse in hospitals for the past 7 years. I can tell you that you will not be treated as a professional like you are in other professions. It is much more like a blue collar job. There are extremely strict policies and punishments surrounding sick time. One job I had you could not even use your sick time when you are sick (which I found very strange) You had to use PTO unless you were sick several days and got a doctor's note. And if you call in sick 4 times in a year, they can fire you- every time sick counts as an "incident" and if you call in on a weekend it counts as two "incidents".

I virtually never called in sick. Changed several jobs with weeks of sick time still on the books. Just the attitude of suspicion and stinginess around those benefits felt very disrespectful and unprofessional to me. As if they were ASSUMING I am cheating if I was ever to call in sick. My previous career as an engineer, we were not treated like that. The benefit was the benefit and you were entitled to it if you needed it.

If I was the hiring manager, the fact that you made 190K and were a respected professional would make me wonder if you could tolerate the relatively very humble pay and treatment of being a floor nurse. I would keep that a secret if you really want to get into the hospital. I don't include my first bachelor's and masters degree on my resume nor applications, nor do I include any references to my former engineering career.

Perhaps you should be looking into other nursing roles at hospitals- non clinical roles? Or you might make a great sales rep for a company - there are nurses that go around and present inservices on various new products the hospital buys. eg- skin care products, urine testing kits, iv start kits, telemetry monitoring units, etc etc etc....

Specializes in Bahavioral health.

2Ask, thanks for your comments. Most job applications I have encountered in the past have asked for the salary history. That is why I disclosed it because I knew it might be a problem for me. Its a shame that even if you sick you are expected to come to work; even with today' focus on Infection Control. I agree with you, when I worked it was the same thing. Don't dare call out on the weekend or holiday.

I could have pursued work in my past profession in Clinical Research. I have thought long and hard about this. I don't want to do research anymore and I am tired of it. I've had 3 years to think about it. I won't get the respect that I am used to, but I will get the gratitude from patients who will validate for me that I am where I am supposed to be. Nursing is what I want to do at this stage in my life. I had hoped by taking a Refresher it would show that I was committed to a new career (even though my state requires it). I'm not sure how I could keep my past a secret. If interviewed, I would try not to say anything about it except the skills that were applicable to the position I was applying for.

I was hoping for a position in behavioral health; or something like a doctors office clinic nurse, or an education nurse at a insurance company. I can see I will have a lot of explaining to do, if I do luck up and get an interview. I had hoped that employers would realize that if you apply for a job that appears to be way below what you did previously, that the applicant knows what they are applying for and the implications of working in a new role.

Luckily I don't have to work. If I fail to get a job, at least I will have tried my best. Isn't that what everyone says--Don't give up on your dreams no matter what your background--go for it? Or is that advice only for the young?

Specializes in Dialysis.

Try dialysis-either outpatient clinic or inpatient acutes. Get your feet wet and get the skills going while building a patient care track record. Good luck on your adventure.

I will put this out there, and yes I'm an older gal...ageism exists, no matter how much we like to say that it doesn't. You may have to go with a "less than desirable" field, or less than desirable hours. If you don't find what you want, try volunteering your time to a clinic

There are volunteer opportunities for nurses. I've volunteered at a church run clinic for underserved. Just brainstorming but perhaps you would qualify for work at a county health dept giving vaccinations and such? Do cruise ships have a nurse on staff? That would be a cool retirement gig.

I'd still recommend leaving your salary off. And re-work your resume to minimize flags that you are "old". (I only put on "recent work history and left off all my earlier experience)

You might consider community health centers as well. A lot of the nursing roles there involve patient education and care coordination, which would allow for a lot of 1:1 interaction.

Specializes in Psych, Corrections, Med-Surg, Ambulatory.
39 minutes ago, beekee said:

Or really any area of nursing?

When I worked on a surgical floor it was not unusual to receive food gifts from patients. When I worked psych I remember only 1 box of chocolates. No one remembered that patient so we checked the chocolates for needle holes before we scarfed them down.

In retrospect, I wonder if it was meant for the other psych unit upstairs from us, which is why no one remembered the patient. Bummer we ate their chocolates.

OP, here is the reality, and I’m not being harsh, just realistic. You are 61 with no bedside experience. And, you are not a new grad. You would have a better chance as a new grad at 61.

You’ve had what seems to be a great career with a good retirement. Having management change every 2 years is not at all unusual in nursing, even on the clinical side.

Good luck. I agree with trying for dialysis, but you may have to understand that bedside may not be in the cards for you. I would enjoy my retirement. I’m 43 and would love to be retired at 61. But, just keep applying. I am guessing though that your previous salary has something to do with things.

What happened to the previous job?, just curious as to why you can't continue doing what you were doing recently.

Specializes in Bahavioral health.


I left because of yet another change in management. I had 5 managers in 10 years! The last one systematically fired all management in my group and I left before she could do it to me. I have been "retired" for 3 years and took that opportunity to travel the world and take courses. As I stated, I am not interested in that work anymore; I started out as a nurse and I want to finish as a nurse. The corporate world was good to me and allowed me to retire without SS or pension. This choice based on my need to do something meaningful and I need the social interaction of work.

21 hours ago, Jordee said:

I won't get the respect that I am used to, but I will get the gratitude from patients who will validate for me that I am where I am supposed to be.

I found this somewhat amusing because it is not all that common to receive any kind of gratitude from patients, often it is just the opposite. I recommend you try for a behavioral health clinic if you have any interest in that. You are so fortunate that you don't have to work. I would so love to be in your shoes.