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Student experiences of a return to practice programme: a qualitative study

12 August 2021
Volume 30 · Issue 15



Nurses, midwives and other health professionals who return to practice come from a range of backgrounds and return for a variety of reasons. Much of the research on return to practice concerns programme provision rather than returnee experience.


This qualitative study focused on the experiences of nursing, midwifery and allied health students undertaking a return to practice programme at a higher education institute. It interpreted the perceptions of the student experience of returning to clinical practice following a lapse in professional registration.


Data collection methods were qualitative and involved focus groups. Findings were analysed using thematic analysis.


Several themes and subthemes emerged from the data, including ‘the importance of returnee identity’ and ‘challenges and barriers’. Findings demonstrated different approaches to and influences on returnees' learning journeys.


Previous knowledge, skills and experience were often hidden from view and hard to explain although crucial to returnee success.

Nurses returning to practice are a heterogeneous group because they have a variety of backgrounds (self-employed, retired, working in non-nursing health or social care roles, or carers) and academic qualifications (from certificate to PhD level). They had allowed their registration to lapse for a range of reasons, such as caring responsibilities, a life crisis, ill health, relocating abroad or retirement. They are valued for their knowledge and experience, having a love of nursing or midwifery and wanting to make a difference to the lives of patients (Kent, 2015).

This study examined the lived experience of nursing, midwifery and allied health students undertaking a return to practice programme at a university. The first author is programme lead in a university responsible for return-to-practice (RTP) recruitment, and the idea for research was triggered by a returnee comment during a personal tutor session. The returnee had felt criticised for wanting to come back to nursing, and this had a lasting effect on their experience.

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