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UC college supports nursing pipeline during pandemic

Nurses playing key roles in delivering COVID-19 patient care

Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the World Health Organization declared 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic around the world, the role of the nurse in global health care has never been more critical, and the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing is taking steps to ensure that current and future nurses receive needed support.

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/00mPKssAF3U?rel=0

“We have a diverse student population comprised of frontline nurses continuing with their education, students needing to complete clinical hours, new admits joining our programs and soon-to-be graduates navigating licensure and career placement at an exceptional time,” says Angela Clark, PhD, executive director of undergraduate and pre-licensure programs at the College of Nursing.

a woman looking at the camera and smiling

Angela Clark, PhD, executive director of undergraduate and pre-licensure programs at the UC College of Nursing. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

When the university suspended face-to-face instruction in March, the college was forced to halt its on-site clinical experiences and co-op program for undergraduate and pre-licensure students. In the following weeks, faculty and staff worked tirelessly to implement solutions and offer guidance.

“Across all of our undergraduate and pre-licensure programs, we have adapted policies and procedures to support student success and the nursing pipeline,” Clark says.

In a short time, faculty and staff converted nine clinical courses with 600-plus students to virtual clinical platforms and proctored more than 1,000 computer-based exams to ensure students remained on track to graduate and join the workforce. Students without access to a laptop computer received one on loan.

In addition, administrators and academic advisers held a series of town hall meetings to communicate policy changes and next steps for Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students and soon-to-be graduates to help alleviate student anxiety during this stressful and uncertain period.

The process to become a licensed registered nurse (RN) requires nursing program graduates to receive an authorization to test (ATT) from a nursing regulatory body, after schools submit final grades. With an ATT, individuals schedule an appointment to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). In the past few months, because of COVID-19, NCLEX testing sites closed or limited their capacity to follow social distancing and sanitizing recommendations, causing a bottleneck of applicants.

“We don’t know how long it will take them to get into the room [to test],” Clark says. To help graduates receive their ATT and get registered for the NCLEX as soon as possible, College of Nursing faculty and staff worked together to review students’ courses and requested faculty release grades a week early. Faculty and staff also helped direct seniors to open testing sites.

“Because testing sites are limited, we wanted to ensure everyone can get in the system and get tested; if [new BSN graduates] don’t test right away, they don’t do as well,” Clark says.

students walking outside of a college building

Procter Hall, home to the UC College of Nursing. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

While they wait, new graduates can get a temporary license to practice. Many states hoping to boost the number of health care providers in the workforce have enacted laws authorizing their state nursing regulatory boards to issue temporary licenses to NCLEX applicants. In Ohio, temporary licenses are valid until 90 days after the duration of the COVID-19 emergency period or Dec. 1, 2020.

Garrett Aini is a new College of Nursing graduate navigating many unknowns as he begins his nursing career in the midst of the global pandemic. Aini says his experience at UC and in the College of Nursing’s co-op program — a one-on-one, paid mentorship opportunity in a clinical environment — have prepared him for what’s next. Aini’s co-op gave him the opportunity to experience real-world nursing at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC) emergency department.

“I was able to put my clinical skills and judgment to the test while further developing myself in so many other areas,” he says. “My time working at UCMC, a level I trauma center, allowed me to witness, learn and do so much. These skills will be put to good use as I progress in my nursing career, especially given the current situation.”

While offering additional support to its pre-licensure students and new graduates, the college is helping nurses continue their education in the RN to BSN Online program. In many cases, the college is working with enrolled students on an individual basis to help them balance their professional and family obligations and course requirements, says Rebecca Lee, PhD, associate professor and director of the program, which consists of 540 active students living in 24 states and Guam. Some students are on the frontline in COVID-19 hot spots, including New York, New Jersey and Washington.

“The RN to BSN Online program is designed to be responsive to the needs of our students, many of whom are already working as registered nurses,” Lee says.

In addition, the College of Nursing adjusted the program’s admission requirements to allow new associate degrees in nursing (ADN) program graduates with a temporary license to apply for acceptance to UC’s RN to BSN Online program and start working toward their BSN while waiting to take the NCLEX.

a woman at a podium holding up a piece of paper

Greer Glazer, dean of the UC College of Nursing. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

In the midst of the global health crisis, the U.S. will celebrate National Nurses Week, May 6 to 12, with the theme “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health.” At UC College of Nursing, students understand their role as leaders in the health care workforce.

“We have a tagline, ‘UC Nurses. We See Leaders,’” Greer Glazer, PhD, dean of the College of Nursing, told a virtual meeting of senior class nursing students April 21. “You’re all leaders. You’re all going into health care settings. You can lead from the beginning.”

Clark says, “Our students are entering the nursing workforce ready to provide quality, patient-centered care to all during an incredibly challenging time for health care providers, and I'm grateful to our faculty and student affairs team who have worked to transition our courses and clinical environments with an exceptionally high level of rigor to meet the demands brought on by the current situation.”

Featured image at the top UC College of Nursing students training at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Photo/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/=e0d5bdb809?rel=0

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