CFA Members Keep Nursing Students on Path to Graduation

Across the country, medical students are getting their degrees early to join the COVID-19 relief effort. TIME reports records from the American Association of Medical Colleges “show at least 13 U.S. medical schools have allowed students to graduate early and join the COVID-19 response.”

But California’s approach was different. The state initially left nursing students near graduation in limbo for weeks before changing the formula for students’ clinical hours. CFA members who teach and facilitate in these programs are making adjustments.

KCRA reported on March 26 that “about 14,000 nursing students from across the state were set to graduate and enter the workforce.” But coronavirus hit and it left them in a state of uncertainty as campuses – including the CSU – moved classes online and hospitals and clinics began releasing students. Nursing students had to complete clinical hours, with 75 percent coming from direct patient contact and 25 percent from simulated work.

Then on March 30, the Board of Nursing, under the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), made some concessions for nursing students.

“The DCA waiver automatically reduces the proportion of clinical hours that students must spend in direct patient contact to 50 percent from 75 percent for nursing students in obstetrics, pediatrics, and mental health/psychiatric rotations,” according to The Sacramento Bee, with students in geriatrics and medical-surgical courses able to complete up to 50 percent of patient care through simulation or lab training, under certain conditions.

Denise Dawkins, an assistant professor for The Valley Foundation School of Nursing at San Jose State University and a member of CFA, said that these concessions have helped some students, though there are some obstacles.

For students, she said she has seen the difficulties manifest in two-ways: first, not all students have consistent internet access, and second, many of these students must now balance working in the field, taking care of a family, and finishing their education.

“When you do these virtual programs, people have to understand that you have to have the bandwidth. Not every student has internet. Especially the students who were sent home from the dorms,” said Dawkins.

“(Master of Science in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice students) are working nurses. They are already working. So what’s happening with them: they’re struggling to get their assignments in and do their work because sometimes they have to do mandatory overtime. Plus, they have stress too, because now they are going into places where their patients are positive (for COVID-19) and they’re afraid to bring it home to their family. We’re all going to need a little bit of counseling,” she added.

Dawkins said at SJSU, faculty is working with their students to relax due dates to help them graduate on time

Beyond schooling, Governor Newsom created the California Health Corps to encourage thousands of medical, health, and nursing students to help the state in its battle with the coronavirus crisis. According to CalMatters, more than 86,000 people applied for the health corps, including Dawkins.

“I know a lot of us have signed up, so (we’ll go where needed) if they call us into duty,” Dawkins said.