With the growing coronavirus pandemic squeezing the health professions, the University of Maryland School of Nursing for the second semester in a row is offering the option of an early exit to undergraduate and graduate nursing students in their final semesters.
All 138 graduating Bachelor of Science in Nursing students will exit on Nov. 30, more than two weeks ahead of their scheduled graduation on Dec. 17. This semester’s early exit program was developed at the urging of Gov. Larry Hogan, who approached the school two weeks ago to ask officials to allow nursing students to enter the workforce as soon as possible in response to Maryland’s current surge in COVID-19 cases.
This is a departure from the spring’s early exit strategy, which required students to have achieved a certain GPA to qualify. Maeve Howett, professor and dean of the baccalaureate program at UMSON, attributes this shift to how successful the spring’s early exit program was.
Nursing graduates became invaluable resources in COVID-19 units and at the Baltimore Convention Center, which was being used as a testing site and field hospital, and each of the students who exited early went on to pass their licensure exams
“They can just really be that extra nurse that you need when things are so tight, and freeing up the more experienced nurses who then might be floated to the ICUs and COVID units,” Howett said. “The students really had a good impact on the state’s recovery from that first wave of infections.”
Students in one of UMSON’s graduate programs, the Entry-Into-Nursing Clinical Nurse Leader master’s, will also have the option of exiting early, though in their case, they have to have achieved a 3.3 GPA and must complete their final scholarly paper and practicum first. 44 CNL students qualify to exit early on Dec. 2, though unlike the undergraduates, they have the option not to do so.
Although the nursing graduates exiting UMSON next week inhabit a space somewhere between nursing students and registered nurses — they’ll still have to take their licensure exam — Howett says they can still play a vital role as hospitals are inundated with new COVID-19 cases. There are only a handful of things that fully licensed nurses are permitted to do that nursing graduates are not, including distributing medicine.
The news of the early graduation program came suddenly to UMSON’s students; they were first informed of the decision only last Thursday. But because students were offered the opportunity to graduate early last semester as well, Eymmy Jimenez, a graduating BSN student, was not particularly surprised when she learned that Monday would be her last day.
Jinemez, like several of her classmates, already has a job lined up; starting in January, she will be a nurse in the COVID-19 unit at a hospital in Silver Spring, which she declined to name because she has yet to sign her employment contract.
“When I decided to become a nurse, I knew that my primary commitment was going to be to the patient, the family and the community,” Jimenez said “Especially in times of crisis, I’m more than happy to help and eager to start working.”
Because she isn’t starting her job until January, the early exit program will instead give her more time for the onboarding process, which includes, among other things, a background check and an N95 fit-test. She also plans to spend the month of December volunteering as a part of the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, through which she has volunteered at flu clinics and COVID-19 testing sites in Montgomery County. The corps has a number of open volunteer opportunities throughout the winter, she says.
“Now that I don’t have to worry about all these deadlines and exams, I can actually sign up and volunteer,” Jimenez says. “That’s the way I’m going to be helping until work starts.”