Saturday, October 28, 2006

Nursing Students Ignored in Washington State Disaster Response Plans

Recent disasters such as hurricane Katrina have underscored the need for skilled volunteer workers. In every state, there are hundreds- if not thousands- of Nursing students who can be useful to healthcare organizations during public health crises. Yet some states, such as Washington, ignore the large group of people who can effectively augment and enhance a disaster response.

In particular, senior-level nursing students can provide a broad spectrum of services due to their advanced level of training. Furthermore, senior Bachelor's Degree nursing students are capable of performing not only basic healthcare, but also of performing more advanced work such as community health assessments, research, and team leadership. (This is not a dig on Associate's Degree nursing (ADN) programs, but simply reflects the enhanced level of education that Graduate nursing students receive.)

It is not as if utilizing volunteer nursing students is without precedent.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Ivan and Frances, Florida State University School of Nursing Dean Katherine Mason offered the services of her senior nursing students, and the results were most impressive.

There are hundreds of student nurses in the metropolitan King County region in Washington State. Five of these programs provide Bachelor's Degree-level preparation. There are at least five more Associates Degree nursing programs in the same region. Figure an average class size of 34 you get between 60 and 70 students in every BSN nursing program. Now factor in the average class size of the other programs in the region, and you will arrive at somewhere between 600 and 700 student nurses (counting both juniors and seniors)in the Metropolitan King County region alone who can rovide much-needed assistance in a disaster; and the County will not use them if a disaster occurs.

And when you look at the entire state, that means that thousands of skilled people are forbade from serving their communities with the skills they possess if a disaster strikes. To that end, it is the opinion of this writer that a great disservice is being done to the citizens of Washington State through the government's failure to recognize and utilize a large and valuable resource.

The subject of student nurse volunteers is not specified anywhere in the language of the Washington State laws specific to nursing education. Even Nursing Technicians (an interim licensure for senior nursing students) are barred from medical-related volunteer service simply because the possibility is not addressed in the existing law, and because medical disaster response teams are exluded from the group of approved facilities for employment of Nursing Technicians.

Nursing students in Washington State would jump at the chance to put their newly-gained knowledge and talent to use for the public service in time of crisis. As described above, the precedent for their use exists; likewise their effectiveness. Yet in the most densely populated region of the state, hundreds of them will be barred from volunteering to serve in a way that they have trained to serve.