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Illinois Considers Temporary Roles For Student Nurses To Help With COVID-19 Fight

ISU nursing students
Illinois State University
Students at work in Illinois State University's Nursing Simulation Lab in Normal.

The dean of Illinois State University’s nursing college says she supports a plan being considered to temporarily allow graduating seniors to enter the workforce early to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday the state was looking seriously at giving “temporary licenses” to nursing students who are mostly trained and nearly graduated. Ohio has already done something similar.

“We need health care workers, and we need to add to our workforce in every and any way we can,” Pritzker said.

Judy Neubrander, dean of ISU’s Mennonite College of Nursing, said she welcomed the idea.

“We’re desperate in many parts of the Chicagoland area and the rest of the U.S. for more nurses,” Neubrander told WGLT. “I think it’d be a great way to help especially in this pandemic to make a difference and help flatten that curve.”

Because of the pandemic, ISU’s older nursing students have not been able to complete their on-site clinical experiences, such as in hospitals, schools, and day cares, said Neubrander. While they’ve been able to get some experience with telehealth in the weeks since, she thinks students would be interested in returning to the field.

ISU has around 170 nursing students set to graduate in May and August. If the state allows it, those students could be offered temporary “intern” roles at hospitals, ideally working under a mentor, Neubrander said.

The students would still need to take the national nursing licensure exam later. That doesn’t typically happen until mid-June for the 140 to 150 May graduates, and even that could be delayed because of the coronavirus, Neubrander said.

“Even our new graduates may not be able to sit for their license in a timely manner,” she said. “We at the state level have concerns about that and are monitoring that. So if the governor did something like this, it would get these students out there quicker and practicing and working in the hospitals even before they sit for their licensure exam.”

And ISU’s nursing students tend to do well on the exam. MCN graduates achieved a 96% pass rate in 2018—better than state and national averages (88%).

Neubrander, a former ICU nurse, said it’s fitting the World Health Organization designated 2020 the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.

Nurses, she said, want to be on the front lines.

“How often do we have a pandemic where you can learn while practicing? It would be an amazing opportunity for these students if they want to do it,” she said.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.