The adverse impact of COVID-19 on the country’s nursing workforce is continuing to emerge. As the global pandemic accelerated throughout March 2020, many hospitals canceled onsite training for nurses. While the rationale was to protect both students and patients from getting sick while also reserving PPE, which was in short supply, this also placed a full stop on the path to a career for thousands of nursing students.
Aside from COVID-19, our country is projected to suffer a nursing shortage in the imminent future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2026, the need for nurses nationally will increase by 15 percent. While people continue to live longer, 1 million nurses will retire by 2030. Statistics show that nearly one in five new nurses leaves his or her job within one year of employment. There is no question; we need nursing education to continue to address country’s immediate and long–term patient care needs.
A Solution: Academic–Practice Partnership Model
In June 2020, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing announced an academic-partnership model to provide nursing students with clinical education requirements while assisting the nation in a time of crisis. Under the model, which OADN endorses, hospitals hire nursing students and pay them as employees while they earn their clinical credits. This is a win–win solution, benefiting both the nursing student and health care institutions. It allows the health care institutions to employ eligible nursing students who then experience both clinical skills and employee roles and responsibilities while assisting during a time of global crisis. However, each nursing program is responsible for communicating with students about protection from infectious disease and implementing infection mitigation measures to protect their students. This solution, while it expedites the employment process, puts nursing students on the frontlines of, and at risk for, COVID-19.
Best Practices to Keep Nursing Students Safe
To keep the nursing pipeline flowing with highly educated nurses, we must deploy strategic tactics to protect the clinical rotation and academic–practice partnership processes. We must keep nursing students, healthcare professionals, and patients safe by implementing the following measures:
- Temperature checking– Nursing students involved in academic practice partnership models or clinical rotations must follow best practices to monitor for a fever. This should include twice-daily temperature checks with documentation.
- COVID-19 testing– Academic nursing programs must ensure that they have a means of communicating COVID-19 testing requirements to students and a secure method of receiving their results. This method should be compliant with relevant student confidentiality laws, including FERPA.
- Contact tracing– Academic nursing programs must have a system is place for contact tracing within their department to notify affected students and faculty immediately should one receive a positive COVID-19 diagnosis.
- Risk monitoring– Nursing students must report high–risk factors, such as traveling and using public transportation, daily.
- Quarantining and isolating– Academic nursing programs must have an established system for ushering students and faculty who test positive for COVID-19 into, then back out of, a period of quarantine.