Refresher Programs Help Nurses Return to Work

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Are you ready to return to nursing after some time away, but feel you need to brush up on your skills before treating patients again? Many registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are finding the education and support they need to reenter nursing by enrolling in a refresher program.

Offered through colleges and hospitals, nurse refresher programs are designed for RNs and LPNs who have been out of the field for at least three years. Whether your current nursing license is inactive or lapsed, your state board of nursing requires you to take a nurse refresher course to return to active status.

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"There tends to be a lot of anxiety among nurses reentering the field," says Scott Gross, director of Science Technology and Professional Programs at Cal State San Marcos Extended Studies, which offers a 10-week RN refresher program. "They are returning to a different world where many of their duties, such as dispensing medications and charting, are now computerized."

For Sue Kuhns, who had been out of nursing for 14 years, the San Marcos refresher program, which combines classroom instruction with a clinical practicum, was a chance to renew her skills and reconnect with other nurses.

"We went through the program in a cohort group and supported each other every step of the way," says Kuhns, who worked as a nurse for 11 years before taking time off to raise her children.

The San Marcos program costs $2,399. Gross says the college and a local hospital are working out an agreement whereby the hospital will cover half the program expenses of students who accept jobs at the hospital. Students now meet tuition costs by taking out student loans or by using tuition reimbursement offered by their current employers. Other students use signing bonuses to recoup tuition costs.

Home Study

Michigan State University (MSU) is one college that allows students to take RN refresher courses from home, as does the University of Delaware and South Carolina's Beaufort Memorial Hospital, which offers a four-month online refresher course for both RNs and LPNs.

"Our online program attracts nurses from all across the world," says Katie Kessler, RN, MSN, APRN, BC, who until recently coordinated the MSU program. "Since our program is ongoing, students can enroll at any time and complete the program at their own pace."

Kessler says that while some students have completed the program in five to six weeks, most take three to six months to finish since they often juggle coursework with work and family responsibilities.

MSU's program features 15 online course modules that help prepare students to identify the professional roles, responsibilities and assessment skills needed to return to nursing. The entire program is $2,000 plus the cost of textbooks.

The university offers a 24-hour support line for students with technical or academic questions, and an administrator helps students secure a clinical assignment in their hometowns where they work with a nurse preceptor.

"Many of our nurses begin working in the hospitals where they have done their clinical assignment," Kessler says. "It's a win-win situation for both the nurses and the hospitals."

See their site for current staff and program requirements.

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Refreshers as Recruitment Tools

Like other medical centers across the country, Maui Memorial Medical Center uses a refresher program to help recruit and retain RNs and LPNs. The weeklong program, which was open to any nurse in the area, included training in wound care, respiratory and vascular therapies, infection control, pain management, dialysis patient care and documentation.

"The medical part of nursing stays the same but the equipment, medications and therapies change every couple of years," says Marianne Vasquez, RN, BSN, MEd, CDE, the facility's clinical education coordinator.

As part of the program, the hospital set up various skill stations where nurses learned how to use new equipment. Vasquez says nurses gave the program, which cost $300 to attend, such high marks that the hospital is planning to offer the training again next year.

Ready for a Refresh?

Here are some tips for finding a nurse refresher program:

  • Check with local nursing association chapters and your state board of nursing. As a state government agency, the board of nursing regulates the state's Nurse Practice Act, determines the requirements necessary to maintain active status and approves nurse refresher courses.
  • Contact state and community colleges.
  • Call area hospitals to see if they offer or can recommend a refresher program.

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