Aims: To investigate inactive nurses' human capital, intention to return to hospital nursing and incentives for returning. Background: Few studies have discussed the loss of human capital with regard to inactive nurses and how to attract them to return to clinical work. Method: Systematic random sampling was used, with 328 subjects completing the mailed questionnaires, resulting in a response rate of 25.4%. Results: Inactive nurses not only had moderate to high human capital (average years of nursing experience was 10.29, with moderate to high levels of nursing professional commitment and nursing competence) and were young. Forty-three percent of subjects reported intending to return to hospital nursing. Sufficient nurse staffing, greater safety in the working environment, and re-entry preparation programmes were incentives for returning. Conclusions: Recruiting inactive nurses back to hospital work is vital and feasible as inactive nurses had a moderate to high degree of human capital. The most feasible way is offering reasonable working conditions, in particular, providing sufficient staffing, a safe working environment and re-entry preparation programmes. Implications for nursing management: The findings confirm the human capital of inactive nurses and provide concrete directions for nursing managers to follow when recruiting inactive nurses to hospital nursing.