EDUCATION
October 8, 2021

NCSBN Wants Unvaccinated Nursing Students Disenrolled, According to Proposal

Vaccine
Leona Werezak
By: Leona Werezak BSN, MN, RN

While people in the U.S. are free to decide to be vaccinated or not, nursing students across the country now have to think carefully about this decision because this might be a dealbreaker in their choice to become a nurse— at least while the pandemic continues.

According to a survey of the Covid-19 vaccination status of nursing students, new graduates, and faculty conducted from July 1st to August 15th, 2021 by the National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA), less than 15% of nursing students and new graduates and less than 8% of nursing faculty were unvaccinated. 

Despite this small percentage, the potentially career-altering choice to remain unvaccinated is a problem some U.S. nursing students now face. This comes after the NCSBN and eight other leading nursing organizations issued a news release and policy brief on September 28, 2021, in which these organizations provide recommendations to boards of nursing and nursing programs that are receiving requests from unvaccinated nursing students for alternate clinical placements.

Nursing Programs Not Obligated to Make Special Clinical Accommodations for Unvaccinated Nursing Students

In their policy brief, the NCSBN and other leading nursing organizations such as the National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA) state nursing programs are not obligated to make special clinical accommodations for unvaccinated nursing students who don’t meet exemption requirements due to “disability laws” or a “sincerely held religious belief.” 

What Nursing Organizations Worked On This Policy?

Eight leading nursing organizations who collaborated on this policy with the NCSBN include:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)
  • American Nurses Association (ANA)
  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL)
  • National League for Nursing (NLN)
  • NLN Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA)
  • National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA)
  • Organization for Associate Degree Nursing (OADN)

What Does This Mean for Current Nursing Students?

So, what does this mean for nursing students currently enrolled in a nursing program? Students who aren’t able to complete the clinical component of their nursing program as assigned may be “disenrolled” from the institution or nursing program or be unable to graduate because they cannot meet program requirements.

This follows on the heels of the 4th wave delta-led variant of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic which became a public health crisis in February of last year in the U.S. and most other parts of the world. 

As the pandemic began early last year, college and university campuses closed and students were refused entry to assigned clinical placements in hospitals and other facilities. This left nursing programs scrambling for alternate clinical experiences such as simulation to help nursing students meet clinical requirements. 

How Are Nursing Programs Dealing With This Issue?

While the answer to this problem may be to simply offer unvaccinated students simulation experiences in lieu of in-person clinical experiences in healthcare facilities, nursing programs are restricted in how much simulation they can provide students.

This is because nursing programs must follow professional nursing guidelines established for nursing programs laid out in documents like The Essentials for Baccalaureate Education for Professional Nursing Practice so they meet accreditation standards set by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

In this document, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) explains “Simulation is a valuable element of clinical preparation. However, patient care experiences with actual patients form the most important component of clinical education.”

Can Simulated Clinicals Provide an Alternative For Unvaccinated Nursing Students?

How much simulation can a nursing program offer students so they still meet nursing school clinical experience requirements is the question that arises next.

From 2011-2013, the longitudinal, randomized, controlled NCSBN Simulation Study evaluated participating pre-licensure programs that had a significant portion of student clinical hours replaced with simulation. At the end of the study, researchers concluded up to 50% of “traditional clinical hours” may be substituted with “high-quality simulation” and still produce new graduate nurses “ready for clinical practice”.

With the possibility of simulation replacing only some of their clinical practice hours, unvaccinated students will be left with few options if they want to continue in their nursing program. Seeking a recognized exemption from the vaccine is the route many unvaccinated students are trying to take.

Can Nursing Students Apply for a Vaccination Exemption? 

As of October 4, 2021, ABC News reported that the Biden administration was still working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify “approved medical exemptions” for the vaccine. 

Conditions reported to merit a medical exemption so far include a previous history of allergic reactions to the vaccines. A 90-day delay in vaccination is reportedly recommended by the CDC for those currently receiving treatment with monoclonal antibodies and those with “a history of multisystem inflammatory syndrome”.

Although the CDC recommends that women planning to get pregnant, those already pregnant, and those breastfeeding should receive the COVID-19 vaccine, ABC News reports that the federal government will take individual medical circumstances into consideration if a pregnant woman requests to delay being vaccinated.

Students who believe they are eligible for vaccine exemption can learn more from this article by the U.S.Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

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