Career advice

Return to practice: bringing my life experiences to a new nursing career

After 25 years away from nursing, work in menopause education drew Ruth Devlin back

After 25 years away from nursing, work in menopause education drew Ruth Devlin back

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I started my nurse training age 19 at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, qualifying in 1987. I am now 54 and after more than 25 years out of the nursing profession, I recently completed a return-to-practice course.

I spent seven years in clinical practice after qualifying, mostly in theatre nursing, before leaving the profession to pursue my creative interests. 

After training as a traditional upholsterer with a small Edinburgh-based company, I set up my own business. I also taught upholstery evening classes before taking over a family fire bellows business.

In 2014, after experiencing perimenopausal symptoms and realising the lack of consistent information available, I founded Let’s Talk Menopause, an organisation that provides comprehensive workshops and talks on all aspects of the menopause.

In May this year, I published my first book – Men…Let’s Talk Menopause – an easy-to-read, no-nonsense guide to help men better understand the menopause. 

Back to healthcare

My work in menopause education brought me back to the health profession, and I decided to re-register as a nurse. Doing a return-to-practice course would enable me to get back on the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register and train as a menopause specialist or go into another area of nursing.

I started my 15-week return-to-practice course in January this year. Undertaking the course can be challenging, depending on your time out of nursing, the area you worked in previously, the university you choose to train at and where you do your placements.

Only one of the 15 universities in Scotland ran a course with the right timescales for me and with spaces available, so I found myself travelling to the University of Stirling for an interview.

The last time I had been on the Stirling campus was to compete in their annual triathlon. This time I arrived with butterflies for a different reason; even as a mature woman with years of experience, I was nervous about the interview.

What the course covers

The course, classed as part-time, offers a thorough grounding in a wide range of topics, including medicines management, infection prevention and control, basic life support, and child and vulnerable adult protection.

It combines theory and practice hours: five days on campus followed by a minimum of 300 hours practical placement in an area of your choice, vacancies permitting.

Those 15 weeks are full-on. In addition to the placement, there is online work, an essay to complete and a presentation on the essay to prepare. I soon realised my perimenopausal brain had better step up a gear.

Attending tutorials again after such a long time was a challenge for some of my fellow students, but everyone engaged easily with the more practical elements of the course, such as refreshing our moving and handling techniques.

The first day of my placement was a baptism of fire. Walking down the long corridor towards the double doors of the acute medical ward, I was slightly dizzy from over-oxygenation having deep-breathed my way there. But I was soon back in the swing of things as most of the nursing staff were off sick with norovirus.

The pros and cons of a return-to-practice course


  • Placements Mine were excellent – an acute medical ward then theatres – and the standard of care was outstanding. Speaking to other students I discovered that care quality varied between health boards, but everyone’s experience was satisfactory overall
  • Mentors Students are assigned a mentor while on placement and I cannot fault mine. I had two experienced nurses with exemplary attitudes
  • Practice education facilitator Mentors are supported by a practice education facilitator. Mine also went out of her way to help me gain as much varied experience as I could during my placement


  • Variable experience Although my experience was excellent it was more variable for my fellow students. In some of the larger hospitals they encountered challenges establishing who their mentors were, while some never met a practice education facilitator
  • Disparity between courses Courses are run differently depending on the university you attend. A universal practice assessment document, familiar to all staff wherever placements are undertaken, would be helpful
  • Funding This needs to be regulated so all students receive some funding while training. I received nothing at Stirling but students at other universities received band 2 pay. With a 37.5-hour week (sometimes 48 hours) and course work to complete, undertaking paid bank work would have been impossible
  • Support With some courses, students return to the classroom during placements, whereas I was on my own after the first week with support only available online
  • Returning to the register I completed my practice placement by mid-April and only had some online work and a presentation left to do. But I was not revalidated until June and the delay in getting back on the register was frustrating
  • Supernumerary status Students on return-to-practice courses are supposed to be supernumerary, but this doesn’t always happen due to inadequate staffing levels throughout the NHS


Incentivising experienced nurses to return

When RCN Scotland launched its safe nurse staffing campaign Ask for More in September 2018, one in 20 nursing and midwifery posts in NHS Scotland was vacant.

In June this year, the interim NHS People Plan identified 40,000 nurse vacancies in hospital and community services in England. Actions set out in the plan to increase the nursing workforce in England by 40,000 by 2024 include supporting and encouraging more nurses to return to practice. 

Incentivising and encouraging experienced nurses to return to the profession is vital in tackling the nursing workforce crisis and relieving the pressure on a hugely overstretched NHS. 

These nurses have invaluable skills, knowledge and experience which could be put to good use.

Undertaking a return-to-practice course after many years out of nursing was not without its challenges, but I am glad I did it. A huge advantage for me was going back as a mature student with considerable life experience. If you have been out of nursing for a while and are looking to get back into the profession, don’t hesitate to apply for a return-to-practice course.

Find out more

Ruth Devlin is a registered nurse and menopause consultant. She is a member of the British Menopause Society and an independent expert for Health & Her, an online resource that provides advice on menopause from nurses, GPs and gynaecologists

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