All categories of health care workers, including nurses and nursing students, can apply to join the volunteer California Health Corps – irrespective of their licensing status. Under the powers given to him under the declared state of emergency, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 30 to prepare for the expected surge in COVID-19 patients.
After New York, California has the highest number of cases who have tested positive for COVID-19 and during the preceding weekend there had been an additional 2,000 cases in the Bay area alone. Governor Gavin Newsom had announced on March 23 that they were already preparing for an additional 50,000 hospital beds.
Prior to the announcement, nursing students had already been calling for a temporary change in requirements so that they could help meet the need for nursing staff.
Weeks from graduating, thousands of nursing students in California were facing delays in their graduation and licensing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many health services in the state had suspended student programs as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around 14,000 nursing students who were due to graduate in about 12 weeks’ time were unable to complete the clinical education hours that they need for licensing.
A petition was started by student nurse Ryane Panasewicz on Change.Org asking for the California Board of Registered Nurses (BRN) to relax the clinical learning requirement from the current 75% direct patient contact hours and only 25% classroom, simulation and skills labs hours.
The petition, requesting the BRN to provide alternate solutions, had received over 130,000 signatures before the California Health Corps was announced. “We are ready to pour our skills, knowledge, and hearts into the medical community,” the petition reads. “The fate of our future employment lies in the hands of those at the BRN. We desperately want to partake in alleviating the nursing shortage in California.”
Lisa Rients, a nursing student due to graduate at the end of May, believed that a temporary relaxation of rules was necessary for a pandemic. “We’re not proposing going into an emergency department and treating COVID-19 patients,” she said. “There will be plenty of other areas in hospitals that are going to be taxed because those seasoned, experienced nurses need to move to critical care.”
The California Association of Colleges of Nursing and California Organization of Associate Degree Nursing had approached Governor Newsom for relief of the state requirements for clinical hours. They asked for an executive order to allow colleges more flexibility to use simulation and other models to help students complete their education and enter the workforce in this time of need.
The California rules for licensing were compiled in the 1960s. Since then, teaching through simulation has advanced considerably. Research has shown that students can do up to 50% of their clinical hours through simulation without a change to educational outcomes, according to Maryann Alexander, the chief officer of nursing regulation at the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
Nursing faculty members at a number of institutions are even supporting a call for temporary emergency licenses to be granted to students who had nearly completed their courses. “We’ve got up to 14,000 nursing students due to graduate this spring, and that’s a lot of nurses that we really need right now,” said Joanne Spetz, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Only a week ago, the California Board of Registered Nursing indicated that it was not contemplating curriculum changes, but was monitoring the situation around the COVID-19 crisis.
The executive order signed on March 30 announced that there would be temporary adjustments in order to bring onboard health care staff who did not currently meet licensing requirements.
For the duration of the emergency, government departments would be able to waive professional licensing and certification requirements and amend scopes of practice. The waivers could include examination, education, experience and training requirements for licensure. These departments would work with the relevant licensing boards to ensure public safety.
Volunteers will be paid and covered by malpractice insurance. If you are a qualified nurse or a nursing student not currently licensed in California and want to offer your services during the COVID-19 crisis, you can apply to the California Health Corps website.