Background: 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. Aim: 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. Methods: Data collection methods were qualitative and involved focus groups. Findings were analysed using thematic analysis. Findings: 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. Conclusion: Previous knowledge, skills and experience were often hidden from view and hard to explain although crucial to returnee success.