Returning to Nursing


Posted to Nursing, Nursing Jobs, Nursing News

Image © Alexander Raths via Fotolia

One of the biggest challenges for women seeking to build a career and also have a family is to figure out how to find a balance. Many professions require a level of commitment that is incompatible with raising a family, and it is rare to find a profession that allows you to take a long break and then return to work. Nursing is one of those rare professions.

The story of how one nurse took a long break from nursing, but then was able to return to the profession (and excel) is told in this article on

Some nurses break from the bedside and return to their patients with fresh eyes.

“My scope is bigger this time,” said Nan Whalen, RN, MSN.

Whalen stopped nursing for five years to focus on her family. She gradually added PRN shifts and as her children grew older, then flew from the nest, Whalen re-entered the work force full time. She said few professionals can re-enter their field of choice.

“That’s one of the unique benefits of nursing overall,” she said. “There are not a lot of professions that allow you to do that.”

To keep her options open, Whalen never let her nursing license lapse while she stayed home full time to raise children. She also fulfilled 45 hours of continuing education credits every three years required by the state of Iowa, where she lived at the time.

Whalen said it is important to do what is right for you and for your family. Nurses can take a break or scale down their hours, she said if that is what they choose. There is a need for nurses working in a variety of shifts and hours, Whalen said.

“Nurses work everywhere in the community,” she said. “There are so many ways to contribute. I am a firm believer in life balance. It was important to take care of my family and kids.”

Whalen encourages anyone struggling to maintain family and work to take a break or ot scale back, but to keep your eyes on the future.

“You have to be purposeful about it,” she said. “ I need to keep current in it. You‘ve got to take professional accountability.”

Whalen is administrative director of Inpatient Nursing Services at St. Joseph Medical Center, a position she never dreamed she would pursue. As a younger adult in her twenties, she viewed nursing as a means to support herself and her family and did not consider moving into leadership roles, she said. That changed after several decades of motherhood and patient experiences when delivering her children in a hospital. She came back to nursing wanting to make a better experience for patients.

“It was a completely different feeling,” she said. “I definitely viewed patients differently.”

It was tougher than she liked, taking those initial steps back into nursing, Whalen said. Having moved from Iowa, she quickly learned it would be wise to certify on both sides of the state line, she said. There were changes in medications and technology she knew she would face. She spent extra hours in orientation becoming comfortable with electronic record keeping.”

“It’s very scary to leave the field and come back,” she said. “Things change so rapidly in health care.”

Whalen said you cannot take the nurse out of nursing, however. A colleague told her that nurses are hard-wired to do what they need to do and Whalen has come to believe that. In the five years she was gone from the field, she saw equipment like drains, ventilators and computers had changed and grown in hospital settings, but the respiratory and cardiovascular systems remained the same, she said.

“The tools changed but the pathophysiology didn’t change,” she said. “It still provided the same benefit to the patient.”