As nurses, you have always had a critical role in our society, but no event in recent memory has underscored this fact like the COVID-19 pandemic. As the coronavirus spread from hotspots like New York City to widespread surges nationwide, nurses have answered a vital call to deliver care to patients in need. Not only has the pandemic increased demand for nurses exponentially, it is changing the way nurses get licensed in new states.
The growing demand for nurses
Experts estimate the demand for nurses has double since the beginning of the epidemic, and the number of travel nurses has grown from approximately 31,000 pre-pandemic to more than 50,000 today. Healthcare systems and governments are deploying solutions to address needs and meet demand, including scaling back services to redirect resources toward COVID care, altering nurse-to-patient ratios, allowing nursing students in their final year to certify early, and enlisting more travel and short-term nurses.
More mobility for nurses
One important solution to help meet this demand is the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). The eNLC is a multi-state compact that allows nurses to practice both in their home state and other eNLC states without having to obtain additional licenses, thus increasing their mobility. Licensing standards are aligned in eNLC states and in the event of a disaster, nurses from participating states can easily be deployed to provide critical services.
Well-situated to benefit
Presently, 37 states belong to the eNLC. James Puente, MS, MJ, CAE, and director of the Nurse Licensure Compact, says member states were already well situated to benefit from the compact. These states could put nurses to work almost immediately to meet the surge in patient need in their states.
“Compact states benefited because when they onboarded a nurse from another compact state who holds a multistate license, there was zero delay for licensing processes before the nurse was able to start practicing since the nurse already held the authority to practice in their state,” Puente says. “Such a nurse already met the requirements in their state, which are agreed upon in the eNLC statutes.”
A slower response in non-compact states
Non-compact states were more limited in their ability to quickly respond to an increased demand for nursing services.
“Non-compact states did not have the same benefit,” Puente says. “They were subject to whatever form of loosening of regulations the governor ordered, in order to bring in nurses from other states. Nurses brought in were subject to the expiration date of the governor’s order and such orders often brought about confusion for nurses and employers.”
The value of flexibility
Puente believes the pandemic has demonstrated the value of more flexibility in nurse licensure and may accelerate its adoption and use in current non-compact states.
“COVID has definitely increased awareness of the eNLC, primarily in the states that have not joined yet,” Puente says. “Nurses and hospitals in non-compact states have asked ‘why isn’t our state a member?’ As a result, a number of such states are inquiring about the eNLC.”
The future of nurse licensure
The pandemic has left an indelible mark on our nation and world. From a nursing licensure perspective, Puente anticipates states will use key learnings from the pandemic and put measures in place that ease the burden of healthcare staffing across borders in the future.
“We expect that states that are not yet members of the eNLC will consider introducing legislation to become an eNLC state as a part of the state’s disaster preparedness plan,” says Puente. “While you hope to never have a pandemic, once you are in it, you realize what could have been better and how you could be better prepared. The eNLC is just one such solution. The eNLC will move closer to having all states as members – a Compact Nation.”