COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that has changed the face of America for the last several months, has forever changed the healthcare landscape. While the general population is learning to navigate the “new normal” nurses, nursing students, and prospective students are facing the unknown. As restrictions across the country continue to ease and states enter the green phase, the pandemic is far from over.
One of the most notable changes to nursing during the pandemic is the relaxation of state regulations for licensure. At the start of the pandemic, state boards of nursing allowed for temporarily changing certain requirements that affected nurses practicing in their states, due to the impact of the coronavirus on their healthcare workforce. Every state, territory, and the District of Columbia declared a state of emergency, allowing nurses licensed in other states to be fast-tracked for practice.
Currently, states are tightening restrictions again but many are currently looking at the importance of the Enhanced Nursing Compact License. With thirty-two states, and two more set to join in July 2020, the eNLC can help solve the predicament that many states had at the start of the pandemic. If all states were part of the eNLC prior to COVID-19, nurses could have easily mobilized to areas of highest need, specifically Seattle and New York City.
So let’s break it down to how it is affecting nurses, nursing students, and prospective students. Unfortunately, most would say that COVID-19 has hurt the field of nursing because it has changed many opportunities that were once available to nurses such as flexibility in per diem jobs, raises, vacation time, and overtime shifts. Many healthcare systems have been forced to re-evaluate their budget and this has dramatically affected nurses and future nurses.
- More colleges and universities are offering online and distance learning programs.
- Nursing programs are limiting incoming classes due to clinical placement restrictions.
- Prospective students are unable to tour nursing classrooms and lab facilities to determine compatibility with their needs.
- Due to limitations on class size, nursing programs are becoming increasingly competitive. Applying to multiple programs is essential to earning your well-deserved spot.
- Many nursing clinical rotations have been canceled or suspended while others have been moved to COVID-19 testing sites.
- There has been a mass movement to online and distance learning education versus in-person instruction.
- Senior nursing students did not all graduate due to the suspension of in-person clinicals.
- The NCLEX examination was delayed at the start of the pandemic and now there is a backlog of students needing to take the exam.
- There have been many changes made to the NCLEX examination,
- Exam Time: Shortened from 6 hours to 4 hours
- Questions: Decreased the number of questions to pass the exam from 75 questions to 60 questions
- Maximum number of questions: Decreased from 265 questions to 130 questions
- No pre-test questions
- Research section questions of NCLEX have been removed
- Students must wear gloves and a mask
- Some nursing students are concerned for job opportunities after graduation as most healthcare companies instituted a hiring freeze due to the pandemic.
- New nursing jobs are expected to emerge from the pandemic, especially those in telehealth and remote work-from-home settings.
- Increase in telehealth and remote work-from-home positions.
- More flexibility to work in different healthcare settings.
- Learn ICU skills quickly and with limited orientation.
- Travel nursing became extremely competitive during the height of the crisis but now travel nurses are struggling to find contracts as many hospitals are seeing a downward trend in patients.
- Ability to expand nursing skill set.
- Ability to function more autonomously at the bedside.
- Connection with patients as most hospitals and nursing homes has visitor restrictions and patients were often alone, especially those suffering from COVID-19.
- Focus on community and public nursing care versus individualized nursing care.
- Hospitals have taken a thoughtful look at finances and cut overtime, per diem nurses and instituted hiring and wage freezes during the pandemic. They have also limited vacation time.
- The safety of nursing staff has been an ongoing issue. Due to the focus on PPE and lack thereof in most hospitals, nurses are concerned about another wave of the pandemic. Most have had to reuse PPE for countless shifts which have left many to question the effectiveness of it.
- Nurses continue to work with fewer resources due to staffing shortages and budget cuts.
- Increased retirement due to concerns of catching COVID-19 in the workplace.
- Increase in compassion fatigue and decrease in self-care.
COVID-19 highlighted the need for nurses throughout the United States. As the nursing profession continues to grow, the shortage also continues to grow. Now as nurses fight to earn back quality and safety standards in hospitals, healthcare systems will continue to have high expectations of their nursing staff. During the pandemic, healthcare administrators used the attitude that “a nurse is a nurse is a nurse” but that is not true. Each nurse has a special skill set, whether they work in the OR, ER, ICU, or medical-surgical floor. Nurses can not simply be replaced by another nurse but this is now the current expectation.
The effects of COVID-19 will long be seen throughout the nursing profession and despite everything that it has taken from nurses, nursing students, and prospective nurses – the “Year of the Nurse” will continue to show that nurses are resilient, dedicated, and compassionate.