COVID Disrupts Nursing Pipeline With Graduation, Education Delays

Pandemic delays graduation for some nurses, shuts off some school admissions.
Posted at 4:16 PM, Jan 12, 2021

"I was planning on getting out there and helping in December. But because my graduation was delayed, they don't have that new batch of nurses," says Aly Antczak a nursing student at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa.

Antczak will graduate in May — five months later than expected because the coronavirus has impacted the capacity for hospitals and nursing homes to train students.

"When the pandemic hit, we are about to go to clinicals for that semester and all the local hospitals shut things down. So we weren't able to go," says Hunter Smith another Kirkwood Community College student. 

Students are required to do in-person clinicals — real-world experience with veteran nurses and actual patients.  

"The entire pipeline of nursing education is impacted when hospitals say we can't take students," says Claire Valderama Wallace, an assistant Professor, California State University, East Bay. She's part of their nursing faculty. The university canceled nursing admissions for this spring and fall, making room for former students to catch up with their clinicals safely. 

Wallace says, "When nurses are working with students, that is time taken away from patients, of course, is educating the next generation. But when we have a crisis like we have now with the pandemic, we also know that PPE is running low. So can we ethically have students in clinical placements when they're not protected?"

Some schools are partially substituting in-person clinicals virtually or simulations, so students can graduate on time. But some students don't feel as confident with this. 

"It's definitely scary, but I would say that I'm lucky that this last semester is heavy, heavily clinically dependent... And luckily, when we graduate nursing, your first nursing job is considered a residency," says Rebecca Borstmayer a nursing student at the University of Texas Health at Houston. 

Not all nursing schools have delayed graduations or closed admissions.  But one thing is clear, the coronavirus has increased the demand for nurses and we're not keeping up. Even before the pandemic hit, the American Academic Colleges of Nursing predicted 16 states will experience nursing shortages in 2025. Factors include an aging baby boomer population, high turn-over rates and a lack of nursing educators. 

"I'm going to retire in June, I'm 70 years old. And we have a lot of nursing faculty who are hanging in there, continuing to teach simply because there isn't a doctor like prepared faculty member available to take their place," says Philip Greiner, the director of the School of Nursing at San Diego State University.

A lack of nurses coming into the workforce could mean lower nurse-to-patient care ratios, which can decrease quality care and lead to worker burn out.