A nurse who left the profession for 17 years is now back working at the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) after deciding that the job was “a big part of who I am”.

Mary O’Sullivan currently works as a nurse on the haematology and oncology ward at the RFH. She is supporting a new NHS recruitment campaign,  'We are returning nurses', aimed at encouraging nurses who have left the profession to consider returning.

Mary, who became a nurse 30 years ago, said she had been initially drawn to the profession because she wanted to use the skill she’d gained on her psychology degree in order to help people.

She said: “Nursing suited my career path and it definitely was the right choice at the time.”

But after 12 years of nursing Mary decided it was time for a change.

“I’d risen up the ranks but if I’m honest I was getting a bit burned out and stressed,” she admitted.  “Back in the 1990s I was working with HIV and AIDS patients and the mortality rate was very high, which took its toll emotionally.”

Mary left to set up and lead projects at a council.

“I thought I’d just stay two or three years,” she said. “But I ended up taking on bigger and bigger projects and I enjoyed learning new skills.”

It was Health Education England’s launch of ‘Return to Practice’ (RtP) a few years ago that caught Mary’s attention.

She said: “If I’m honest I realised I was missing the person-to-person contact and this was my chance to regain my registration. It was good to get away for a while but I really wanted to make a difference again. That matters a great deal to me, especially as I get older.”

Mary has now set her sights on working in palliative care   so she can be of “help and consolation”. She works part time which enables her to have the right work-life balance.

Mary admits returning wasn’t easy but she has made the right decision and would encourage others in the same position to give it serious consideration.

She said: “Everything worried me when I thought about coming back. My age, the fact I’d been gone so long and the changes to the profession. It was very important that I had the skills and competency to look after patients and keep them safe and help them to get better.”

Mary says it is her fellow nurses who make the job so worthwhile. “They are worth their weight in gold,” she said. “If you are having a hard day that teamwork is invaluable. I got used to working on my own but here you are never working on your own. You can’t, it’s all about working together.”

For Mary there is no doubt in her mind she has made the right decision and the same goes for her family and friends.

“When I told them I was returning to nursing they weren’t surprised. They simply said, ’You’re a nurse Mary’. They had never stopped seeing me as a nurse and that was very telling for me. They are right – being a nurse is a big part of who I am.  I want to be there for my patients.”


Mary’s top tips for others considering a return to nursing:

Be honest with yourself about your reasons for coming back – you will need to motivate yourself to take on the studying.

Be determined.

Accept that you will face setbacks and as an older person you might find it harder to concentrate on your studies but don’t be put off.

Ask for help– people do understand it’s tough.

Learn from others – I found it helpful to observe and ask the junior sisters questions.

Get to know your continuing practice educators – they are there to support you.

Manage your energy levels. Do you have to work full time? You are likely to find, like I did, that your employer can be flexible.

Find more information about returning to nursing here.