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Re-entering Nursing - Is It Worth It?

Photo: Re-entering Nursing - Is It Worth It?
Nurses may be out of the workforce for a variety of reasons. These include taking a break to have children, or for financial or health issues.

No matter what the reason, enrolled or registered nurses or midwives can re-enter the nursing profession through a variety of pathways and schemes. Specialised programs have been developed just for this purpose.

Nurses who have been out of the profession for five or more years will have their nursing or midwifery re-entry application assessed by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA). This assessment process involves the board overviewing the nurse’s qualifications, professional practice history, and the amount of time spent away from the workforce. This is to help determine the best pathway for re-entering the workforce.

Depending upon the results of the assessment, one of three pathways will need to be taken:
  • Board approved supervised practice program
  • Board approved re-entry to practice program
  • Further studies through an AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency) program

Applicants are required to apply directly to an NMBA-approved education provider in order to qualify for recognition of prior learning (RPL). This education provider will then determine the requisite studies needed to be completed as part of an approved re-entry to practice pathway.

These requisite studies must be NMBA-approved to allow re-entry to registration upon conclusion.

Key role of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA)
The NMBA is in place to assist the public by making sure that all registered nurses or midwives are competent to practise. This board has developed a set of standards which the nurse or midwife must meet before being eligible to re-enter the workforce.

The competency to practice is not restricted to providing direct clinical care; rather it encompasses a set of vital skills that include:
  • Working with and establishing relationships with clients
  • Experience and skills with relation to management, research, advisory, regulatory and/or policy development roles
  • Any other skills needed for effective delivery of services

Specific requirements for nurses with sole qualifications
Previously registered nurses with sole qualifications in mental health, paediatric, or disability nursing will be assessed on an individual basis against the NMBA’s standards.

Upon successful completion of either an NMBA approved supervised practice or re-entry to practice study program, including an accredited pathway in the applicable area (mental health, paediatric or disability nursing), a nurse will be eligible for registration in that specialised area. The nurse’s registration will include a notation stating: “solely qualified in the area of mental health nursing/paediatric nursing/disability nursing”.

Cost of re-entry
In NSW, Nurses who have been away from practice for a period of 5-10 years who do not meet the NMBA’s recency of practice standards may be eligible for a re-entry to nursing scholarship as part of a New South Wales Government initiative. This requires the nurse to be undertaking a relevant NMBA fee-paying nursing program. The scholarship awards up to $10,000 to cover relevant costs associated with the studies.

Nurses who do not qualify must pay this $10,000 fee using their own finances.

Other states may have similar scholarships – check with your state health department.

Is it worth it?
Along with the $10,000 fee, the assessment of competence course requires the nurse to work for 150 hours without any wages. Clearly this is difficult for many nurses wanting to return to work. Matters are made worse as the Australian College of Nursing is the sole provider of these competency courses, so the nurses have no choice but to pay the large fee. (Previously nurses were able to gain employment with free public health training services and on-the-job training.)

Nurses attempting to return to work are facing numerous obstacles including making the choice of either paying the fee or redoing an entire degree, often with no recognition of prior learning.

It seems that APHRA also has long processing times for re-entry applications. Nurses can wait up to ten months to obtain the results of their assessment.

All of this needs to be taken into consideration when thinking about re-entry and nurses attempting to re-join the profession should explore all of their options before deciding to begin the long and costly process.



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