Each May over 100,000 nursing students graduate from programs across the country. Most of those students are now being pulled out of clinical and their classes have moved online. Some are being told their graduation may be delayed. The faculty will make every effort to deliver the content, but it will not be the same as the in-person classes. As anyone who has developed an online class knows it is an extreme amount of work that can’t be done in a few days.
Considering the current 8% nationwide vacancy rate for nurses and that the additional need over the next few months may exceed 100,000 nurses, it would help with the surge needs of hospitals to grant the May graduates their degrees now and waive the NCLEX. I know that some will think this is radical and how will we ensure quality. The truth is most students pass on the first try (88.18%) and if you add a second try (72.85) it is near 100% total pass rate. While students may go back and study more they do no more clinical. Thus the clinical skills they have at graduation are the ones they will have when they enter practice even if they take the exam a second time. If we can get the students out now, it may be a substantial help to hospitals that are likely to become quickly overburdened. Additionally, most of these nurses will be in the age group less impacted by COVID-19.
A second option would be to allow them to graduate now, practice for 6 months as an RN and at the end of that time take the NCLEX. As a faculty member, I prefer option 1 because we know that the longer the student delays the NCLEX the less likely they are to pass on the first attempt. Universities are assessed based on that pass rate and it would be unfair to penalize them, or the students, as the result of a national emergency.
I can hear the uproar now from people saying they need to be oriented, we don’t enough people now, and so on. However, much of the orientation could be condensed. Much of HIPAA is waived during a public health emergency so do they really need that training right now? Most have used the electronic medical record in school, so it could be taught very quickly. They are all required to have the necessary vaccines, CPR, and many other items just to enter their clinical practice settings. The truth is there is a lot of redundancy between what a hospital requires for the new employees and what schools require for students in clinical.
It is time for the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and all Boards of Nursing to take bold action. We should think out of the box and while we are at it break it down and throw it in the recycling bin. If we continue to practice as normal and hold tight to our policies we will do more harm than good if the worst-case scenario occurs with COVID-19. It is the time to act and let our May graduates have their degrees right now. If we wait until we are facing the worst-case scenario it will be too late. We must put the patient first.
Let May graduates practice. Let them join the fight against COVID-19.