Children’s Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 2023 Workforce Report

Once a Nurse, Always a Nurse: State Provision Allowed Retired Nurses to Return to NICU

As the only health system dedicated solely to the health and well-being of kids, Children’s Wisconsin is committed to providing the best and safest care to kids and families. For so many of their employees, the work they do to serve the children in Wisconsin feels more like a calling than a job. That is certainly true of the nurses who spent their careers caring for some of the tiniest, most vulnerable babies in Children’s Wisconsin’s 70-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the largest NICU in the state. 

The bond and friendship is so strong that even after retirement, a group of Children’s Wisconsin NICU nurses maintain a regular schedule of gatherings, such as a monthly breakfast. During one such meeting in 2021, the group was talking about the challenges the pandemic had created in hospitals—with higher patient censuses returning, there was less staff to cover shifts and new viral trends emerging. The discussion led the group of nurses to think, “What if we came back? How can we help?”  

Still friends with NICU leadership at the hospital, the nurses shared their desire to come and help.  

Children’s Wisconsin leaders took advantage of the state’s regulatory licensing flexibilities implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed the nurses to quickly get re-licensed, and created the NICU Alumni Squad. Many of the retirees functioned as nursing assistants, pairing up with current Children’s Wisconsin NICU nurses to help lighten the load. They did everything from folding linens to feeding and bathing babies, assisting with procedures and supporting families.  

The Children’s Wisconsin NICU Alumni Squad has more than 100 years of combined knowledge and experience. They’ve seen it all—the setbacks and milestones, the tears and smiles of parents. While their hands-on assistance provided relief to the Children’s Wisconsin NICU team, the perspectives and advice they shared with the newer nursing workforce was invaluable. Through our culture of collaboration and innovation, the Alumni Squad was able to provide a different approach to mentorship. 

While this program started with retirees, our leadership realized the potential of expanding this idea to other NICU nurses who left nursing as a whole, or just left Children’s Wisconsin. Through that network, some nurses who still feel that calling to serve kids and families have come back to Children’s Wisconsin in casual or part-time roles.