Coming Out of Retirement During a Pandemic -- Is It Possible?

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


March 23, 2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are hearing about healthcare provider shortages on a daily basis, and these staffing crunches could get much worse. Retired nurses and advanced practice providers may want to help their former colleagues cope with the waves of sick patients pouring into the healthcare system.

The questions most often asked are whether lapsed licenses can be reinstated, and do any national emergency declaration provisions allow nurses in one state to cross state lines and work in another state?

To answer either of these questions, the nurse should check the state board of nursing, and check back daily, because the rules are changing day by day. Governors of some states are authorizing boards of nursing, pharmacy, and medicine to cut through red tape to allow nurses, as well as pharmacists and physicians, who are retired or are licensed in other states to be licensed as quickly as possible.

For example, Gov Jared Polis of Colorado has authorized emergency provisions for nurses licensed in other states but living in Colorado and for retired Colorado nurses. In a guidance document issued March 13, 2020, existing licensing exemptions allow for individuals in the healthcare field who either hold licenses in other states or who have allowed their license to expire in Colorado to immediately resume work within their scope of practice, provided their out-of-state or expired license is/was in good standing.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing has compiled a State COVID-19 Response Document with information about emergency action by states.

The retired nurse's inactive license usually can be reactivated by filing forms with the board of nursing. It is likely to be more complicated if the nurse has been retired for more than 5 years. For example, in Maryland, nurses who have practiced 1000 hours in the past 5 years do not need to complete a refresher course and may reactivate their license by filing the application and paying a modest fee. Those who have been retired for more than 5 years usually will need to undergo a refresher course. Again, check with your Board of Nursing, and check frequently.

Note that some Board of Nursing staff may not be in the office during this time of social distancing. Some staff may be able to conduct business from their homes.

In regard to working across state lines, nurses registered in states that are part of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) may work in a compact state without obtaining another license. Check the website of the Board of Nursing in the state where you want to work to verify that state's policy on eNLC.


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