The University of Vermont is allowing senior nursing students to graduate early and join the workforce, which will ease the coronavirus-exacerbated nurse shortage.
The Vermont State Board of Nursing will offer students temporary permits so they can start working immediately after graduating in May, instead of later in the summer as they typically would after passing the licensure exam.
All 95 graduating nursing seniors at UVM opted to graduate May 1 instead of later in May, according to the university. The graduation move is pending the approval of the Faculty Senate.
Dr. Rosemary Dale, chair of the university’s department of nursing, said the state nursing board had decided to accept documentation of graduation to grant emergency nursing permits to allow graduates to get into the workforce.
Normally, recent graduates would take time to study for licensure exams to get permitted and start work later in the summer, Dale said.
“Essentially, they’re out in the market, almost two to three months early,” Dale said.
The nursing profession is under stress due to the virus, Dale said, which is exacerbating the already present shortage of nurses. Getting UVM’s graduate class into the workforce earlier will help take some pressure off nurses currently working with Covid-19 patients, she said.
“People who are working now, working very hard in very stressful conditions, will need a break and want a break in the summer,” Dale said. “Hopefully, by graduating these nurses early, they can be fully oriented and ready to at least begin to provide some entry level professional care by the time others will need to be off.”
The graduates will study for licensing exams as they work and take the exams after the crisis has passed, Dale said.
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UVM’s Larner College of Medicine is discussing the issue of early graduation for doctors but no decisions have been made yet, Jennifer Nachbur, the college’s public relations director, said via email.
While recent nursing graduates would almost certainly not be working in intensive care units or with patients with the extreme symptoms associated with Covid-19, Dale said entering hospitals now will be stressful for recent graduates.
Dale said many of the graduating nurses are worried about starting their careers amid the pandemic, but she was hopeful they were prepared and would have support from their hospitals.
“Even entering into that environment can be frightening,” she said. “Being a new graduate is a little bit intimidating, and then to walk into an environment that is obviously contagious, adds another level of trauma and fear.”
About half of UVM’s graduating nursing students stay in the state, Dale said.
One of these graduating students is Kathryn Calisti, who will be working at the University of Vermont Medical Center after graduation. Calisti, who is from Massachusetts, said she loves Vermont and the people of Burlington she met during her time at UVM.
“I’ve gotten to love them, gotten to know them, and become part of the community,” she said. “ I kind of would feel bad leaving, especially as a nurse, because Vermont is hurting for nurses.”
Calisti said she was happy that the process was streamlined to allow her to get started earlier.
“The process is to speed us up and get more numbers into the hospital for relief measures,” she said.
Calisti said the coronavirus has made her reflect more about the merits of her future career as she approached graduation.
“It’s definitely made me reflect on what it means to be a health care worker, and there is a lot of honor there that I wasn’t quite ready to think about,” she said. “This is honorable work, and there’s a certain proudness of myself and all my other nursing student cohort and friends.”
Correction: Kathryn Calisti’s last name was misspelled in an earlier version.
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