Throughout our Year of the Nurse celebration, and in our relationships with long-term and post-acute care (LTPAC) facilities, PointClickCare has connected with countless dedicated members of the nursing profession. Our Nurses of the Month are among hundreds of thousands who have many shifts under their belts, giving them the experience to cope with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19. However, there’s one group of nurses who also deserve recognition, not just for how they’re contributing during the pandemic, but also how it will shape their future. During this National Nurses Week, we’re applauding student nurses. Let’s take a brief look at today and tomorrow from their point of view.
Enthusiasm Doesn’t Match Opportunity
In the midst of a nursing shortage, nursing schools still reject thousands of potential students. In 2017 alone, 56,000+ qualified applicants were turned away from undergraduate nursing programs in the U.S. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing points to a decade-long trend of denying admission to 30,000 applicants annually – students who had met all admission requirements. What’s led to this trend?
- Intense competition due to increased interest in nursing
- Lack of qualified nurse educators
- Reduced class size to increase safety and accommodate clinical settings
Despite the odds, nursing students are still entering and completing programs to pursue their dreams. For most of them, the curriculum is no cake walk. When Rasmussen College spoke with nursing students last year, they were candid about the challenges, but also the importance of their preparation. One said, “Nursing school is not always black and white, just like real life.”
So thousands of students were studying to become nurse – and then COVID-19 began to spread around the world. From state to state, and country to country, students moved to online classes and suspended their clinical placements. Those near the end of their schooling wondered when or if they would graduate. And even though they aren’t yet official nurses, they want to step up and help care for the victims of the novel coronavirus however possible.
Where There’s a Will…
At the end of March, Project Hope said it’s time to leverage the skills of nursing students in the fight against COVID-19, whether they’re graduating this year or have more training ahead of them. It recommended that states follow the lead of Georgia, where nursing students who have finished coursework but haven’t taken licensing exams are eligible for temporary RN licenses during the pandemic. Project Hope suggested that nurses still in school could screen patients or help those feeling ill find the appropriate resources. It pointed to Idaho, where nursing students who complete a basic nursing course are working as unlicensed assistive personnel in the state’s nurse apprenticeship program.
Other states also are allowing nursing students to either assist on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, or help those fighting the battle in other ways:
- Texas set aside some licensing restrictions so nursing students could enter the workforce.
- California has reduced the number of hours nursing students must train in hospitals, enabling graduating students to begin work in healthcare facilities.
- When Wisconsin nursing students were unable to practice before their graduation, one of them had the idea to offer child care to healthcare workers in their nearby hospital – and 15 nursing students immediately signed up.
Since the pandemic has touched nearly every part of our world, nursing students in other countries are seeking ways to join the fight, too. In the U.K., the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is allowing third-year student nurses in their final six months of training to opt into a temporary COVID-19 register, so they can work with qualified colleagues on the front line.
Nursing will Change – and Remain the Same
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 and its aftermath will color all nursing curricula in the future. Texas nursing student Marlayna Chalmers says the virus has not deterred her desire to become a nurse. “I think there will be new tools and new things to get created for this virus and the interventions of it. Every health student will learn about this… If anything, I wish I could be (in the field) helping more.” Retired physician and professor Dr. Peter Petroff believes COVID-19 will “bring nurses and respiratory therapists into an (even) more important position,” making urgent decisions with doctors.
Student nurses will also hear from those who worked in pandemic hotspots – from large cities to long-term care facilities. They’ll become greater advocates for personal protective equipment (PPE), and address the mental fall-out for the warriors of their profession. Nurses are trained to control the spread of disease, educate their patients, and work hand-in-hand with their medical colleagues. As student nurses fortify the front lines of the healthcare workforce, PointClickCare is proud to give them a round of applause for standing and sacrificing with nursing professionals around the world.