Whether you’re a nurse coming from another state or returning to nursing after a break, here are the steps to take.

Share story

Tracy Gawryk was excited to return to work. After moving with her family to Arizona in 2010, she was eager to reclaim her position as a registered nurse in Swedish Medical Center’s cardiovascular surgery department.

“Leaving Swedish and the CVOR was disheartening, as I loved my job and the people with which I worked,” Gawryk says. “This place was and is home.”

There are 46,957 active registered nurses in Washington state, according to data collected from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, but maintaining an “active” status requires more than employment. The process of returning to the workforce after an extended leave or from another state varies by case, and the Washington State Department of Health provides instructions for every scenario.

Returning after less than three years

Washington state nurses who plan to leave work can elect to change their nursing status to inactive when the time comes to renew their license, and in general, returning to active employment isn’t complicated.

Nurses who have been inactive for less than three years must complete 177 practice hours and 15 continuing education hours within 12 months of returning to active status. DOH guidelines also require an audit within the same time period to ensure that all active status requirements are met.

Extended inactivity

A longer period of unemployment is more cumbersome for returning nurses. Those whose licenses have either expired or remained inactive for three or more years must reapply for an active license and complete a Washington State Nursing Commission-approved refresher course, according to DOH guidelines.

The course consists of in-depth nursing theory work and completing 160 hours of in-person clinical experience training. While the course load may seem overwhelming, Dean of Nursing Joyce Griffin-Sobel says that Washington State University’s compliant RN Refresher program was designed with flexibility in mind.

“A lot of the theory work is online,” Griffin-Sobel says, “and students can schedule when they want to come in for the two-day, live session. The clinical experience hours are also arranged around their schedules.”

Transferring from another state

Like Gawryk, nurses who move to Washington from another state are not required to retake the National Council Licensure Examination, and those who hold active licenses from other states may submit an RN by Endorsement application, allowing them to receive a Washington state license without taking a refresher course. The application includes demographic information, a criminal background check, school transcripts and personal data questions.

Nurses with expired out-of-state or Washington licenses are usually required to enroll in a refresher course to satisfy state requirements.

Former Washington nurses returning to the state are eligible to reactivate their licenses as long as they haven’t expired, a case which Gawryk found costly.

“Because my license in Arizona was in good standing, I was able to utilize the Endorsement application,” she says. “However, there was a catch. Because I had previously obtained a license in Washington and had let it expire, I was required to pay the additional fees to have my license reinstated — approximately $160 on top of the $120 renewal fee.”

In any case, it’s important to verify that all other certifications and trainings are up to date, including a seven-hour, state-mandated AIDS education course.

The process of reclaiming an active nursing status can be long but worthwhile. For Gawryk, it represents something more than her career: “The CVOR team is my second family. I love and appreciate it even more now that I’m back.”