Nursing board adjusts rules to help students earn degrees

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina Board of Nursing is adjusting rules in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure undergraduate students finish their requirements to earn a degree and join the health care field.

The North Carolina Board of Nursing recognized a roadblock and changed policy to allow remote instruction as a way to satisfy clinical requirements, the Asheville Citizen Times reported Friday.

Scott Pearson, interim dean of the undergraduate nursing program at Mars Hill University, said both Mission Hospital and the Veterans Administration ended programs that offered local nursing students clinical experience under faculty supervision. Pearson said the school’s seniors were left weeks away from graduating without a way to complete the 120 hours of clinical experience needed to earn a diploma.

With the change by the board, students now can study from a remote location.

“We’ve created a combination of video conferencing and video instruction, where students watch a video and are then assessed to see if they understand the material and have built the necessary skill,” Pearson said, adding that the arrangement works within the distance learning setup currently in place at Mars Hill, where the campus is closed through the end of the academic year because of the pandemic.

Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College has instituted similar changes for its nursing class of 2020, the newspaper reported.

“Senior nursing students have completed or will complete enough clinical hours, through either on-site or virtual clinical experiences, to complete their requirements for graduation on-time,” Christy Andrews, chair of the school’s nursing programs, wrote in an email. “Students who are not in their last semester will have an opportunity to resume clinical and complete the number of clinical hours remaining once the facilities are able to reopen to students.”

While permitting online instruction, rising registered nurses could not take their licensing exam because social distancing guidelines across North Carolina closed the testing sites.

The nursing board responded by instituting a “graduate nurse” status that allows nurses who have earned their degree to practice under RN supervision. Students who gain the approval of their school’s nursing program director can apply for the temporary permit, which will remain valid until they can take the exam.

The temporary status also allows retired and inactive nurses to reenter the workforce and help combat the outbreak, according to Julia George, CEO of the N.C. Board of Nursing.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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