BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The University of Maryland School of Nursing has approved an early-exit option for students who want to start working as nurses to bolster the essential workforce during the coronavirus pandemic.
The option is available to select students in the entry-into-practice Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Clinical Nurse Leader master's option who are scheduled to graduate on May 14 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
Gov. Larry Hogan's public health surge plan is calling for adding up to 6,000 hospital beds across the state and included reopening Laurel Hospital and a field hospital an alternate care site at the Baltimore Convention Center.
UMSON has 98 BSN and 53 CNL students qualified to request for an early exit.
"We are very pleased to partner with key Maryland health care systems to support them in meeting their needs for nursing personnel during this incredibly critical time," said Dean Jane Kirschling, PhD, RN, FAAN. "The UMSON students opting into our early-exit option are well prepared and fully equipped to make a major contribution through their service as nursing graduates. I salute those students eligible and willing to serve under this unique initiative. And, I applaud all of our students for their dedication and resiliency during this tumultuous time, whether they are persevering in continuing their educational studies under difficult circumstances or are preparing to graduate and serve our larger community."
To be eligible, students must meet a specific GPA and academic program requirements.
UMSON will give students a letter to give to prospective employers saying they have met all program requirements and have qualified for and taken the early-exit option.
One of the students taking part is Debbie Sahlin. While she officially graduates in mid-May, on Monday she was hard at work at a newly-opened field hospital caring for patients recovering from COVID-19.
"For all of us, this is just not something we ever expected doing," she said.
Despite that, Sahlin said she's ready to begin helping others.
"I'm trained -- I have to do it," she said, "and second, I didn't go to school to help healthy people, right? Don't you go to school to become a health care professional because people you serve are sick?"
In total, 107 graduate nurses are taking part in the early workforce entry program.
Amid the global pandemic, their help is greatly needed, Dr. Maeve Howett, the associate dean for the nursing school, said.
"We need them. There is a shortage of nurses nationally and hopefully this just empowers them to feel as though the work they're doing is terribly important," Howett said.
Virtual training won't compare to the hands-on experiences the soon-to-be graduates will get.
Sahlin knows more than most about hospital stays and fighting through hardship; her son suffered a traumatic brain injury as an infant and has been in a wheelchair ever since.
She said she wants to be a nurse known for her compassion.
As of Monday morning, Maryland currently has more than 19,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 850 people have died from the virus.
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Although Gov. Larry Hogan recently said he hoped to reopen Maryland by early May, he said the number of hospitalizations and deaths must begin to trend down before he can do that.
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