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It is not uncommon for nurses and midwives to leave the workforce for extended periods of time due to family or other reasons. Returning back to work after a long break can be challenging for a number of reasons, including, in some cases, refresher courses and extra study.

Carolyn Breen, an enrolled nurse in South Australia returned to the workforce after extended leave. She says there was variety of challenges, from study to the opportunities that were available.

Carolyn, who previously worked as a registered nurse for over a decade before leaving the sector in 1993, left to raise her children and worked in finance and accounting before returning to a profession she has always cared deeply for.

However, it quickly became apparent that there would be challenges in achieving the same level of education in a different registration and regulatory environment.

“I would have had to go back and re-train completely, but go through uni this time. I [originally] trained through the hospital system,” Carolyn explains.

“The amount of time I would have had to take off without pay to do placement and things like that- we weren’t in a position for me to do that.”

Carolyn ultimately opted to complete her enrolled nursing course through the ANMF

SA Branch’s program instead, taking just over a year to complete (Note: the course now takes 18 months to complete).

While she says some things, including manual handling, processes of accountability and the increased prevalence of technology have changed, the actual processes of nursing were largely the same, something that was reassuring for her.

“I did actually find the [course] quite easy… but it was reassuring to know that too, on the other side of it, to know that I still remembered it.”

However, Carolyn, who secured a community nursing job upon completing the course, and is happy and satisfied with her current role, believes more should be done to expand the pool of options for returning mature age nurses.

Still harbouring hopes of returning to the hospital setting after earlier working across acute care environments, she says this is something that is an “absolute nightmare” within the current recruitment system.

“I can’t do [hospital] agency work… you can’t do that without a couple of years’ experience… you can’t get the experience without a job obviously, and you can’t get a job in a hospital, without having had some acute experience,” the 62-year-old says.

Even though she now has nearly two years under her belt as an enrolled nurse, consolidating her previous experience as an RN, she is unable to draw on that earlier experience as part of her applications.

Compounding her difficulty, she finds herself being passed over for interview opportunities despite strong applications, in part due to a lack of experience.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Carolyn says.

Having sacrificed a healthy accounting salary to return to nursing, she admits it’s a little bit frustrating, especially given her passion for acute care.

“It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to achieve what I really wanted.”

Carolyn believes, that while it’s impossible for her previous knowledge to be legally recognised, there needs to be some way to deal with the fact that there are plenty of people with experiences like hers who have been out of the sector for decades.

“That was something that was acknowledged when I did placement, was how easily I adapted; I wasn’t the typical newbie enrolled nurse,” she explains.

“Once you’re there you can prove it, but you’ve got to get there and that’s the difficult part.”