ANAHEIM, Calif. — Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, estimates warned of a severe nursing shortage. Currently nurses are pushed to the breaking point physically and emotionally.
Across three campuses, West Coast University (WCU) trains about a thousand nurses a year, but the school turns away thousands of applicants because enrollment is limited.
Due to stay-at-home orders, WCU nursing student Erisa Pooee rarely visits campus.
“It feels unreal that I’m going to be a nurse in a year and I don’t know anything hospital-wise,” said Pooee.
While her schoolwork is virtual, the professional preparation during the first year of her program is very real. As a nursing student, Pooee was able to get the COVID-19 vaccine and it was the closest she’s gotten to the pandemic front lines.
“We just have to laugh at this point because I’ve never seen a patient. Now I’ve got to go and take care of the most critically ill patients and just kind of figure it out,” she said.
Pooee is isolated, studying alone in her room most of the time. No one can blame her for feeling disconnected from the harsh reality of COVID-19.
On the other hand, pediatric nurse and recent WCU graduate Elyse Shelger has been working outside in tents – pain and loss are all around her.
“I think that my colleagues have definitely suffered and just having empathy makes that affect you as well, but I’ve had colleagues who have lost parents recently so you do see it,” said Shelger.
While recent graduates and current students grapple with the pandemic, their school is in a battle of its own. West Coast University is suing the California Board of Registered Nursing. The private school’s General Counsel, Scott Casanover, says the board won’t allow them to increase the nursing program’s enrollment.
“It’s sad on two fronts: you have a nursing student that wants to go to a nursing program and get a good education and come out and help in this pandemic, and it’s really sad for the hospitals and the patients who need more nurses,” he said.
Casanover has butted heads with the state board before, when hospital lockdown orders stood in the way of clinical training for nursing students, putting graduation in jeopardy. This time the school is preparing to go to trial.
Meanwhile the students remain laser-focused.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to the California Board of Registered Nursing for this report. In an email they responded:
“The Board of Registered Nursing does not comment on matters of pending litigation.”