Reorienting after a layoff : Nursing2022

Journal Logo


Reorienting after a layoff

Hooten, Phyllis PhD, RN, NPD-BC; Knodt, Diana R. BSN, RN

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000884544.00878.2e
  • Free


Although nurses are adept at regrouping following work setting changes, many may be unprepared for layoffs. This may be because nursing is considered a secure profession as supported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) projection of 9% growth in nursing employment opportunities by 2030.1 Even so, layoffs do happen. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the loss of 1.2 million jobs in education and health services, the largest of which was in healthcare.2 Healthcare system mergers or service line changes can also result in layoffs.

While nurses are not immune to layoffs, extended unemployment is uncommon. The BLS's annual projection of 194,500 openings for RNs and healthcare worker shortages discussed in 20 governors' 2022 State of the State speeches suggest a healthy job market.1,3 Regardless, layoffs are stressful and scary. However, it does not have to be devastating, as discovered by two seasoned nurses who experienced pandemic-related layoffs. In fact, we emerged with eager anticipation as we ventured into a new chapter of our professional lives.

Managing the initial shock

A survey of laid-off faith community nurses revealed reactions including sadness, anger, mourning, and surprise.4 Years of witnessing dismissals of qualified, experienced, and dedicated staff due to an organization's financial challenges or restructuring has reminded us that no one is exempt from a job layoff.

In our own experience of being laid off, we went through a gamut of emotions, especially momentary initial shock. Even after recognizing that we had no input into the decision, we fully controlled our response. It was empowering to choose a gracious exit. We avoided asking “Why me?” or “How was this decision made?” Instead, we opted to express gratitude for the employment opportunity, listen to termination instructions, and ask about the departure process.

During the first 24 hours, quietly processing the experience buffered an interchange of emotions including sadness, rawness, and numbness. Limiting contact to an inner circle of family and friends provided space for grieving and embracing positive and negative emotions without focusing on others' reactions. Fortunately, Diana, one of the authors of this article, had 40 years of nursing experience and had relatives, one a minister, visiting. The timing was impeccable, for through their comforting and caring presence she quickly resolved feelings of embarrassment.

Throughout our careers, we have attended many celebrations of a colleague's new job or retirement. We did not recall festivities associated with layoffs. So after learning of former colleagues' terminations, we planned celebrations with them. Planning the event afforded us a positive focus; meeting with others was tremendously healing. We felt we could say that what we did mattered and made a difference by encouraging us to focus on emerging opportunities.

Managing finances

Abrupt job separation concerns are not only emotional. The loss of regular paychecks results in the sudden evaluation of one's finances. Although we consistently saved for the future, neither had fully assessed our financial situations. A nationwide survey reported that 66% of respondents could answer only three out of five personal economic or financial questions correctly, suggesting we were not alone in our inadequacies.5 Phyllis, the other author of this article, was an RN for 41 years and worked as a nurse scientist when she was laid off. She has been working with a certified financial planner for years and made retirement investment adjustments based on reaching full retirement age. In hindsight, she recommends conducting portfolio reviews that include financial calculations if prematurely leaving the workforce.

Through budgeting, receiving unemployment benefits, and saving, we navigated without financial hardship. Financial management experts recommend maintaining an emergency fund containing between 3 and 6 months of living expenses.6,7 The relief we felt when we recognized we had enough in savings to qualify as an emergency fund was priceless.

Receiving unemployment benefits eased financial concerns. Neither of us had ever thought we would be requesting benefits, and there was a learning curve for successfully navigating the system. Phyllis was humbled by the importance of following instructions from government agencies. Hurriedly skimming state unemployment office correspondence resulted in submitting incomplete documents that subsequently required multiple phone calls and additional paperwork. Carefully and thoroughly reading instructions would have saved us time and prevented extra stress.

Finding health insurance was another concern since our employers had always provided coverage. Explanations about COBRA and the federally managed Health Insurance Marketplace, when terminated, left us dismayed at the substantial costs. Further discussions with the human resource (HR) departments from the immediate past and previous employers uncovered healthcare insurance options for both of us at reduced rates. Because of service years with her immediate past employer, Diana was eligible for retiree premium rates; earlier in Phyllis' career, she had been a state employee. A meeting with their HR revealed eligibility for retiree insurance due to a combination of maintaining a state retirement account, age, and service years.

Developing a new mindset

Progressing past the initial shock, taking care of financial concerns, and considering our next career moves fostered a hopeful mindset. Our new mindset was enhanced by taking advantage of the break. After spending years planning around work demands, having the freedom to decide how to spend our time was exhilarating. We took spontaneous morning drives down country roads to savor seasonal changes or traveled midweek enjoying lower rates and fewer crowds at popular tourist destinations.

With more time on our hands and a fired-up desire for new experiences, we began volunteering. Diana volunteers with the Texas Peer Assistance Program for Nurses supporting nurses with mental illness or substance use disorder, which allows her to continue contributing to the profession. Phyllis volunteers with the local animal shelter, fulfilling her desire to help homeless animals.

After months of submitting applications, we decided against full-time employment. Diana, fulfilled through volunteering and traveling, is now retired; Phyllis is focused on writing and grant evaluation. In the end, we found that we have the power to optimize a decision that was made for us.


1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered nurses: occupational outlook handbook. 2022.
2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Covid-19 ends longest employment recovery and expansion in CES history, causing unprecedented job losses in 2020. Monthly Labor Review. 2021.
3. Ollove M. The Pew Charitable Trusts. Health worker shortage forces states to scramble. 2022.
4. Ziebarth DJ, Knighten ML. Wounded healers: job termination in faith community nursing. J Christ Nurs. 2021;38(2):108–115. doi:10.1097/cnj.0000000000000814.
5. FINRA Foundation. Gauging the state of financial capability in the U.S.
6. Edward Jones. How much should I save for emergencies?
7. Saving for an emergency. How much should you be saving for an emergency?

employment; job layoff; job loss; nursing career; personal finance; retirement

Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved