Nursing Students Are Graduating Early To Join The COVID Workforce
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on across the country, there is an ongoing need for qualified nurses. Experienced nurses continue to leave the bedside, nurses are consistently quarantined due to exposure, and others have succumbed to the virus. While there are no easy solutions to this problem, some nursing programs have allowed senior nursing students to graduate early in order to start working at the bedside. But is this really a good answer? Is this a disservice to nursing students? Could patients be at risk with highly inexperienced nurses?
In November 2020, the University of Maryland announced that they were allowing students to graduate early in order to help fight against COVID-19. According to a press release from the University, all graduating Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students will exit early, November 30, provided successful completion of fall courses. This is roughly two and a half weeks early. There were approximately 138 BSN students that were eligible for early graduation. This early exit plan was developed in direct response to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s request to help increase the nursing workforce.
“We are committed to once again partnering with Maryland’s health care systems to support them as they navigate the increasing demands for personnel during this latest phase of the pandemic,” said Dean Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN. “School of Nursing students eligible for this early-exit option are fully prepared and equipped to help meet the state’s needs by serving our health care institutions as nursing graduates. I applaud those students selecting the early exit option for their willingness to contribute their skills during this time of increasing urgency and sincerely thank all of our students – whether continuing their studies or preparing to graduate – for persevering in their education and preparation for nursing careers despite challenging and sometimes difficult circumstances.”
While the University of Maryland, only graduated students weeks early - other programs have been able to shave off over a month of programs. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Franciscan University has consistently been graduating students early since the start of the pandemic. Most recently, 38 students graduated a month early in the fall. The University has already announced that there will be another early graduation in Spring 2021; however, there has been no indication of how many students will have the ability to graduate early. Furthermore, if the U.S. is in the midst of recovering and the need for nurses isn’t as high in April and May, early graduation may no longer be an option.
Other major universities have graduated nursing students since the start of the pandemic. Rutgers University in New Jersey, University of Vermont, Towson University, University of Toledo, and Montana State University have all graduated hundreds of nursing students weeks early to assist in the fight against COVID-19.
For example, the University of Vermont graduated 95 students early in the spring, Rutgers University graduated approximately 350 students early, and Colorado Mesa University had nearly 50 students graduate early.
Nursing students graduating early were given temporary licenses in order to practice at the bedside without successfully passing the NCLEX. Temporary licenses were available thanks to executive orders from state governors and state nursing boards.
The ongoing question is - are these students prepared to work at the bedside? While they have successfully passed their exams and clinical hours - graduating early rushes nursing students through the end of their programs. Spring semester senior year is often when nursing students are taking capstone courses that bring together their entire nursing school experience.
Nursing programs across the country utilized different approaches to allow students to graduate early including virtual simulations, condensed classes, and increased hours during clinical days. Students were still required to meet all program requirements in order to graduate early; however, it was up to the nursing program how that was accomplished.
Overall, students seem to be eager to graduate early and start working at the bedside despite missing out on valuable clinical and classroom experience. These students face an uphill battle because they are not joining the nursing workforce at a time that focuses on nurturing new nurses and properly orienting them. The new graduate nurses are being pushed through an accelerated orientation process in order to start working at the bedside to alleviate the stress on healthcare systems. If nursing students are missing out on valuable clinical experiences while still in school and are now being rushed through orientation - are they safe to be caring for patients? While controversial, the overwhelming response is yes. Yes, early graduate students are safe and are welcomed in all facets of nursing.
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