A fight in Arkansas to put more nurses on the ground

Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 8:21 PM CST
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Hospitals and long-term care facilities are under immense pressure as they face the COVID-19 pandemic with a high nurse-to-patient ratio due to staff shortages.

Keeyera Dotson is a first-year nursing student at Arkansas State University.

She expressed that going into the program while in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some challenges.

“I feel like that’s what makes it so special that I’m going through it through a very, very tough time in life,” Dotson said. “I’m taking it day by day.

Dotson mentioned she was aware of the nurse shortage, which motivated her to get into her career field.

“We need more nurses everywhere,” she said. “There’s always a hospital shortage, there are always people who need people to take care of them.”

She believes she is at the right place at the right time.

“COVID is just making us better nurses preparing us for the unexpected,” she said.

For the past two years, the Arkansas State Nursing Board has made adjustments to its rules on becoming a nurse to address the shortage.

“We spent a lot of time looking at what in our rules we can waive during the declared state of emergency that allowed nurses to enter into practice quicker,” said Sue Tedford, director of the Arkansas State Nursing Board.

Tedford mentioned the changes do not include shortening the curriculum, given nurses are responsible for “life and death decisions”.

One change the board has made was paying student nurses while they complete their clinical hours, which the board prohibited prior to the state of emergency.

Some hospitals had placed a restriction on allowing student nurses at the beginning of the pandemic, but Tedford said even after the restrictions were lifted, there were only a limited number of slots.

“Before the pandemic, we were already having an issue with not having enough clinical slots for the student,” she said, “This is exacerbating the whole problem with student rotations.”

Colleges like Arkansas State University were allowed under the Arkansas State Board of Nurses to use simulations to fully count towards student clinical rotations.

“We had to find simulations, and our faculty did that seamlessly,” A-State Associate Dean of Nursing Dr. Sarah Davidson said.

Dr. Davidson said the university has been working around the clock to try to get more nurses into the field, starting with having two admission cycles instead of one.

“We have 17 students in the pilot that we started this January, and we expect to steadily increase that,” she said.

The associate dean added the university is working to add another program for students that are coming straight out of high school “that want to get their associate degree which does lead to an RN license just like the Baccalaureate degree.”

When it comes to keeping more nurses in Arkansas, Dr. Davidson mentioned she encourages her students to do what’s best for them.

“We do our clinical rotations in our local facilities,” she said, “many of our students are very comfortable with that setting, and many of them are hired before they even graduate because of going to clinical rotations in those facilities.”

Dr. Davidson believes the student nurses will go into the field ready to become the “heart” of the hospitals.

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