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To graduate, or not.

That was the question facing prospective California nursing students until state regulators took action late Friday.

But another track is emerging in the medical profession: Those who have job prospects even as other medical professionals are now hurting for work.

GV Wire spoke with a Fresno City College nursing student, Nicole Barnett, who is happy but “nervous” about entering the workforce during a pandemic.

Meanwhile, other healthcare workers are seeing their hours curtailed as many elective procedures and routine medical office appointments are not being performed.

GV Wire spoke with a physician’s assistant in Tampa, Florida, who has seen her hours reduced dramatically.

“Cuts have been made,” said Heather Hart.

“I am hoping by June we are seeing a downhill trend, but I think this is going to last longer than the general population is predicting. Everyone needs to be mindful of themselves and others. Stay home unless you absolutely need to leave the house and practice good hand hygiene.” — Heather Hart, certified physician assistant in Tampa, Florida

Relief and Fear

Barnett said she is feeling a sense of relief followed by a sense of fear.

She just learned late last week she’ll graduate next month from the Fresno City College nursing program after the state took action.

“Many of us thought that we actually wouldn’t be graduating,” Barnett said.

Barnett is an “extern” in the emergency department at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno.

“Part of the time I work underneath another nurse’s license performing nursing duties. And the other part of the time I work as a patient care assistant,” Barnett said.

Q&A With Barnett

GV Wire: What About Working During the Possible Height of a Pandemic?

It is scary especially when you hear about the instances of healthcare workers, you know contracting the virus. I am prepared to go into that situation. I think it’s a scarier time than it would be if I’d been graduating and none of this was happening. So there’s concern but mostly I really want to help.

What Is the Hospital Setting Like Where You’re Currently Learning on the Job?

In terms of the number of patients that are in the hospital right now, it’s actually lower than it normally is because people are trying to stay away from hospitals.

What Do You Hope to Do After You Graduate?

I’m hoping that CRMC wants to keep me in the emergency department. I’ve really enjoyed working down there. I enjoy working with all the patients and I enjoy all of my co-workers.

Thousands of US medical Workers Furloughed

By June, an estimated 60,000 family practices will close or significantly scale back, and 800,000 of their employees will be laid off, furloughed, or have their hours reduced as they see a decline in business during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a HealthLandscape and American Academy of Family Physicians report released last week.

The workers range from dentists and general surgeons to medical assistants and nurses, from allergists and dermatologists to primary care physicians and pediatricians.

The AAFP in conjunction with HealthLandscape created an interactive map that projects potential impacts of office closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can pull a slider over to select a time period and see how various parts of the country, including Central California, might not fare so well over time in the interactive graphic below.

Q&A With Hart

Heather Hart is a certified physician assistant in Tampa, Florida. She answered questions by email.

GV Wire: What Happened to Your Job When COVID-19 Hit?

With a majority of our surgeries canceled, and patients not seeking care for non-life threatening injuries, our patient volume has significantly diminished. With that decrease, in order for our company to maintain its overhead, cuts have been made. All mid-levels and physicians in our practice are now only working part-time.

The only surgeries being performed are now only for emergencies that threaten life/limb. We have gone from performing 15-20 surgeries a day to maybe 3-4.

What Are Your Thoughts About Nursing Students Getting Full-Time Work When They Graduate Next Month?

If the nurses have passed their certifying boards, then I am all for them working full time. However, I think many will be overwhelmed if working in an emergency department or critical care setting. Many critical care nurses have had years of experience on medical, surgical and telemetry floors prior to working in ICUs.

What Are Your Hopes in Coming Months?

That we can get through this as quickly as possible. I am hoping by June we are seeing a downhill trend, but I think this is going to last longer than the general population is predicting. Everyone needs to be mindful of themselves and others. Stay home unless you absolutely need to leave the house and practice good hand hygiene.

Fresno County Health Department Staffing Needs

The Fresno County Health Department provided guidance on COVID-19 staffing needs moving forward during a teleconference.

GV Wire: “Last week, the state issued guidance that nursing students at Fresno State and other universities that are close to graduation could enter the workforce soon. I’m curious if you have had any applications from any of them or if you’ve hired any of them?”

Dr. Rais Vohra, Fresno County interim health officer: “That’s exactly the kind of flexibility that I think will be required. We can really start to employ some of our workforce that we know has the skills and commitment and motivation to be able to help us take care of all these patients.”

Fresno State said that it has 57 nursing students scheduled to graduate. At Fresno City College, that number is 110.

Nursing Students Hands-on Training Curtailed by Virus

Because of the outbreak, hospitals began shutting down hands-on training for medical students — a key requirement for graduation — because of the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.

That left up to 10,000 nursing students who were close to graduating without a way to complete their degree requirements and enter the workforce at a time when California is seeking more medical workers to fight the virus.

Students already nearing graduation will now be able to fulfill up to half of their clinical requirements through simulations and lab-based training, the Department of Consumer Affairs announced. Previously, simulations could only account for a quarter of that training.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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