Nursing students are ready to get to work, but graduation requirements stand in their way

Nursing students
Posted at 7:39 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 03:37:39-04

DENVER — Nursing school students are waiting to find out whether the state board will grant a waiver for them to be able to graduate in May despite the fact that they are a few dozen hours short of completing their clinical work.

The clinical work is hands-on experience that is a requirement for the students to be able to graduate and take the NCLEX exam to become licensed.

“It’s really the application of the knowledge; Nursing is a practiced profession, we’re a hands-on profession,” said Fara Bowler, the senior director of experiential learning at the University of Colorado College of Nursing.

However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinics where the students typically complete their work have had to shift their focus to caring for coronavirus patients and cannot train the students.

“Our clinical partners really aren’t at capacity to be able to host students. They are in crisis management,” Bowler said. “That’s been difficult because our rotations are part of our coursework.”

Many of the nursing students who were set to graduate in May are about 140 hours, or a few weeks, short of meeting their requirements.

“At this point, I’m about 23 clinical hours away from graduating,” said student Natalie Rodarte. “It’s just frustrating to just like, want to help.”

Rodarte was looking forward to graduation; she’s a first-generation college student in her family and so the prospect of graduating from nursing school would be a major achievement. She even had relatives from out of the country planning on attending the May ceremony.

The dream of walking across the stage in front of her family came crashing down, however, when the ceremonies were canceled as the new virus spread through the state.

Despite this, Rodarte is one of the lucky ones. CU was able to move the clinical work for some of the students to remote work in order to help them meet their requirements.

“If my school hadn’t gotten creative in how they could get my clinical hours to be remote, I would’ve had to possibly wait until the end of the year to be a nurse,” Rodarte said. “I feel prepared and ready to start my nursing career.”

Many of her peers have not been able to meet the requirements and don’t know if or when they will be able to graduate.

Because the clinical work is often a part-time, paying job, the nursing students have also lost an important source of income during the pandemic.

In an effort to help the students be able to graduate and start helping in the fight against the pandemic, the University of Colorado and 20 other Colorado schools sent a letter to the nursing board and the Governor’s office asking for a waiver to be granted so that the students can graduate and take the state exam.

“We’re asking for modifications in this pandemic time to some of those rules and regulations,” said Tammy Spencer, the assistant dean of the undergraduate program and the University of Colorado College of Nursing.

The letter was sent to the state board on March 20. Then on March 27, schools sent additional, individual letters asking for the modifications to be made. So far, the schools have not received a response.

If the waiver is nor granted, Bowler and Spencer say it could cause a backlog of students needing to fulfill their clinical hours once the pandemic is over.

“Think about the impact that this is going to have on our workforce around the state, again, at a time when we are in the midst of a nursing shortage,” Spencer said.

More importantly, it prevents these nursing students from being able to help with the public health crisis.

Across the country, 32 other states have granted similar waivers for nursing students, according to Bowler.

Spencer is convinced that even without the clinical hours, the nursing students at her school are prepared for their careers.

“We want to make sure that that workforce pipeline continues to be well stocked,” she said. “We have nursing students who are so eager to start their careers and they are so ready to get out there and to take care of patients.”

Denver7 reached out to the Governor’s office and the state nursing board and received a statement that said the Division of Professions and Occupations has received the request for a waiver and has completed an analysis of it.

The statement went on to say that it recognizes the need for qualified nurses, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and has made it a priority to provide regulatory framework to help meet the needs of the health care field.

“As such, the Division of Professions and Occupations (DPO) has now completed an analysis of our jurisdiction and authority as it relates to the emergency suspension of State Board of Nursing requirements impacting currently enrolled students unable to complete the requisite clinical hours in a clinical setting. At this time, we are proceeding with the necessary steps to ensure this analysis is converted to action and expect an announcement on this front will be made soon,” the statement concluded.

For now, the schools and students are trying to complete their classes remotely and hoping the board will decide soon whether they will be able to graduate and get to work.

“I feel like if we can get more nurses out on the front line to support each other, that’s going to make the healthcare worker stronger, it’s going to make our community stronger,” Rodarte said.