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To cope with diminishing resources during the state’s spike in COVID cases, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the State Board of Nursing have issued a temporary order permitting graduate nurses to treat patients during the crisis.

At Medical University of South Carolina’s Florence Medical Center, Chief Nursing Officer Costa Cockfield stated, “This is a win-win situation, the nursing students have a pathway to work while waiting to take the licensure exam. Likewise, the hospital benefits by getting the new graduate oriented and into clinical practice much faster.”

With NCLEX testing sites closed due to the pandemic, the state has been suffering from critical nursing shortages that have been unrelieved by any inflow of new RNs. Under the new order, graduate nurses who have not been able to take the NCLEX can temporarily fill staffing gaps despite lacking a license. The new rules apply to graduate nurses who have registered for the NCLEX and have graduated from an accredited nursing program. The grads are required to work under the supervision of an RN at all times.

Tony Derrick, Chief Nursing Officer at McLeod Medical Center, said, “There is certainly a place where… [these graduate nurses] could fit in to assist as a resource, and while they’re doing that, they’re learning, so I think it’s a positive win for both the student nurse for resource allocation as this pandemic continues and I don’t think it hurts to have this as a good resource.”

South Carolina is one of the few states to issue an order to temporarily admit graduate nurses into the workforce. In March, Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed a bill allowing newly graduated nurses to obtain a temporary license prior to passing the NCLEX, but so far few states have followed suit. Prior to the state’s surge in COVID cases, the Texas Nurses Association, the Texas Board of Nursing, and the Texas Organization for Nursing Leadership issued a joint statement advising that “Prelicensure RN students from diploma, associate degree and baccalaureate degree nursing programs and PN/VN students from certificate nursing programs could augment and support nursing services in health care facilities.” The American Organization for Nursing Leadership released a policy brief recommending similar measures, but such proposals have not gained traction among officials and legislators.

For more details on the decision in South Carolina, see the story at the Florence, SC CBS affiliate site.

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