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Solano, Marin nursing schools consider options for students to enter workforce during COVID-19 pandemic

The statewide call for more health care workers to help during the coronavirus crisis has gotten the attention of Touro University California and Dominican University of California, both of which offer nursing programs.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the California Health Corps initiative on March 30, Sarah Sweitzer, Ph.D., provost at Touro University California, said a number of nursing students expressed interest. Touro University is a private graduate school in Vallejo with about 1,500 students.

Sweitzer noted she hadn't heard about Newsom's initiative until the day it was announced.

“What we learned on Tuesday morning is that they had 20,000 people apply in the first 12 hours of launching it,” she said. That number would more than quadruple a week later.

Touro's nursing students are licensed registered nurses with work experience. They come to the university to pursue a master's degree, doctorate program for nursing practice, or to become a family nurse practitioner.

Even though Touro's nursing students are interested in learning more about the California Health Corps, Sweitzer said the process isn't simple, for working registered nurses or those studying for their initial nursing licensure.

“Right now, nursing students who are in those initial licensure programs are having trouble getting their clinical hours completed because many hospitals have asked students to leave because they don't have enough PPE to cover their own staff, much less students,” Sweitzer said.

For now anyway, Touro's graduate students are continuing onward with their studies, which, like other colleges, has transitioned to online learning during the pandemic.

Dominican University is another college that moved its classes to a remote learning environment, said Ruth Ramsey, dean, School of Health and Natural Sciences.

Dominican has about 400 nursing students enrolled in its four-year nursing program, she said, adding that many were excited to learn about potential opportunities with the California Health Corps program.

“I know that prior to (Newsom's announcement), we did have nursing students asking what options were available and being very vocal in the press about their desire to receive a provisional license or have some opportunity to get out in clinical practice as quickly as possible,” Ramsey said. “So we do anticipate that at least some of our students will be doing this.”

Early in the COVID-19 outbreak, before it was declared a pandemic, Dominican still had nursing students at various clinical sites, but they began shutting down over a two-week period, she said.

In the current pandemic environment, with so much work to be done, Ramsey said she's glad the governor helped create the California Health Corps.

“We stand ready to support our students however we can to ensure their success and that they have the opportunity to help contribute to the overwhelming needs of our health care systems right now,” she said.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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