Newswise — The University of Vermont has given nursing students the option of early graduation so they can enter the nursing workforce and provide support to overstressed healthcare workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

All 96 members of the class opted to graduate on May 1 rather than in the third week of the month when other students at the university will earn their degrees.

UVM is among the first colleges in the country to allow nurses to graduate early.

Vermont’s State Board of Nursing will offer students temporary permits so they can begin staffing hospitals and other healthcare facilities in the state immediately after they graduate. Nursing school graduates normally begin work in early August, after they’ve taken a licensure exam and become registered nurses.  

Typically about half of UVM’s graduating nurses work in Vermont, with the others working at out-of-state healthcare facilities. Most states issue temporary permits to nursing school graduates. Students who choose to work immediately will be able to take the exam and become RN’s after the immediate crisis has passed.

“The timing is what is so important,” said Rosemary Dale, chair of the Department of Nursing in UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Healthcare workers need support now, when the pandemic is at full force. Our students will be able to make a real difference.” 

“Our graduating nurses deserve great credit,” said Scott Thomas, interim dean of UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “These are challenging times, and they have careers to begin. But many are stepping up the plate and looking for ways to help now. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”  

Senior nursing student  Kathryn Calisti, of Yarmouth, Mass., will begin work in early May on a general surgery floor at the UVM Medical Center, where she worked as a student intern and has been offered a job.  

The decision to begin work during the pandemic was a difficult one; she called her parents to talk it through. But in the end, she decided that going to work now was the right thing to do.

“If you can get into the hospital a little earlier, and help out, that’s what you want to do,” said Calisti, who plans to study for the licensure exam while she is working.

The pandemic is taxing what was already a severely stressed nursing workforce.

Economists at Georgetown University estimate that 200,000 nursing positions are projected to go unfilled at hospitals across the country this year. In all, one-in-eight nursing positions will go unstaffed.

Nursing students like those at the University of Vermont could help ease the pressure. About 155,000 registered nurses graduate each year in the United States.

The early graduation is pending approval of UVM’s Faculty Senate on April 20. The Faculty Senate’s president, Thomas Chittenden, said he saw no reason why the senate wouldn’t approve.

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