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Temporary waiver helps student nurses in Virginia

For seniors graduating this semester, many have already started their direct clinical hours.
For seniors graduating this semester, many have already started their direct clinical hours.(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 6, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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While many student nurses in Virginia are unable to continue their clinical hours at a physical hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, a waiver signed by Governor Ralph Northam is giving them the experience they still need.

Melody Easton, Interim Director for the School of Nursing at James Madison University, said for many schools across the commonwealth, due to the spread of COVID-19, they're unable to work with agency hospitals they normally work with throughout the year.

Those hospitals are a place many nursing students go to get the hands-on experience they need and clinical hours to graduate and get their license.

Last month, Gov. Northam waived some nursing education program regulations, such as the minimum hours of direct client care a student needed and the amount of simulation that equaled clinical hours.

"Normally, we have to have 50 percent face-to-face clinical time in each course," Eaton said. "The state did provide waivers this semester for our graduating seniors so that we were able to do virtual simulation."

Before most universities in Virginia closed and while students were still away for spring break, faculty were able to put together an online simulation program, called VSIM, that would work for both students and staff.

"We saw this kind of snowball effect starting and wanted to get ahead of it," Eaton said. "We wanted to make sure our students are successful and that their learning outcomes are met."

Jamie Robinson, associate director for undergraduate programs, said the program runs around an avatar with a situation and full patient list. She said there are decision points throughout the situation that an instructor can check in on while a student is working.

Robinson said while students are still able to get the hours they need to graduate this helps a national push to get more nurses on the frontline of this pandemic.

"That's where the VSIM and the board of nursing waiver that came from the governor really play well together," Robinson said. "So that we're able to get our students out in the workforce quickly."

While the spread of COVID-19 is changing every day, The School of Nursing at JMU is continuing its efforts to plan ahead and have a contingency plan set up for the next semesters.

"We have three plans one is to go back to clinical," Robinson said. "The other two are in case we can't go back to clinical or we need to go a little bit later into the semester."

As education regulations have changed for student nurses in Virginia due to COVID-19 so too has the test students take to get their licenses.

In order to allow more students to take their boards the National Council of State Boards of Nursing has changed the number of questions on the test and maximum time the test may be taken.

Until July 2020 the maximum number of questions will be 130 and testing time is set at four hours.