Why, amid a pandemic, do we not have new nurses hitting the floors and providing care? Testing, testing, testing. We have heard about the desperate need for COVID-19 testing. There is another type of testing that we also need to increase: Nurse licensure testing for new graduates to become registered nurses. Currently, many nurses cannot take the test and get licensed to practice.
Due to COVID-19, PearsonVue, the company that administers the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), closed all their US and Canada testing sites. I graduated from nursing school in December of 2019. As much as I was excited to start working, I still needed to take the NCLEX. With a test date of April 16 looming, my rigorous study routine started almost immediately. I devoted at least eight to ten hours a day to studying like it was a full-time job. When, on March 16, PearsonVue announced that they would close their testing sites due to COVID-19 concerns and re-open on April 16, I felt incredibly lucky, since the closure would not affect my scheduled test, and I would still be able to get out there and work. Unfortunately, the announcement left many of my fellow recent graduates, who expected to test in March, scrambling to secure a new test date. To get even a slot in May, many had to choose sites in neighboring states, hours from their homes. I listened to frantic and frustrated phone calls and tried to offer some sort of comfort, all the time knowing that it could have been me without a test date.
And then suddenly it was me. After a brief attempt at re-opening, on Monday, April 6, PersonVue closed their testing centers once again, citing concerns for the safety and health of their staff and test-takers. I received an email cancelling my scheduled NCLEX test. They were kind and worked to reschedule me for their first available date… June 16…more than two months out and almost seven months after my graduation.
While some sites re-opened for limited testing May 1, I am still in a precarious situation. If the sites shut down again I will not be able to test. The sites have, previously, tried opening, only to be closed again. It is very conceivable that it could happen again and nurses are worried about losing their testing dates. No matter what happens, recent graduates must wait months and months to test and get to work.
I am in a grey area. I am no longer a student, and I am not yet a full-fledged nurse. It is hard to find anyone to advocate for those of us in this position. I spend my days treading water, studying to make sure that I’m prepared when, and if, my date comes up. Preparation is my priority; however, I want my priority to be helping patients in an ICU ward. I have a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. I am frustrated.
To get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), you complete a program that teaches every type of healthcare and disease process that you might come in contact with as a nurse. This training includes learning in the classroom as well as hands-on hospital clinicals. After graduation, you sit for the 6-hour NCLEX, and then you are ready, legally and experientially, to take care of patients.
The current testing system works in a perfect world. The world has changed and highlights problems within the system. Right now, the lives and livelihood of nursing school graduates are at a complete standstill. These recent nursing school graduates, whose numbers continue to increase as more students graduate, will, for the foreseeable future, be forced to stay on the sidelines rather than work and provide respite to the overworked and stressed out nurses who are currently on the frontlines.
During these unprecedented and unpredictable times, when so many people need nurses, I cannot jump in and help by doing what I have been trained to do. While, around the country, nurses are being asked to come out of retirement and across state lines, there are many recent graduates, like me, who are so ready to serve but cannot. It feels like watching a twelve alarm fire, holding a hose, hearing calls for backup, and not being allowed to turn those hoses on the fire. We need testing practices to change, to include proctored remote testing, so that new graduates can begin to work.
Atoya Troy Brewster, BSN