ORLANDO, Fla. – Nursing students in Central Florida are hitting a roadblock following graduation, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
David Frederick is a 2020 graduate of the University of Central Florida's College of Nursing.
Frederick said his last semester should have been focused on the specialty of his choice inside a Central Florida hospital. In March, when coronavirus patients began showing up in emergency care, he and his nursing classmates were pulled from their hands-on practicum, in compliance with university regulations. Shortly after, the students continued their semester by transitioning to virtual labs.
"We had all the interventions that we would have in a hospital setting at the tips of our fingers, or the tips of our mouse," Frederick said.
In an ironic twist, Frederick began working on his honors thesis last summer, highlighting personal protective equipment.
"Talking about PPE, such as gowns and shoe covers, and I was supposed to present it in the spring semester, and this all happened," Frederick said.
Mary Lou Sole, the dean of UCF’s College of Nursing, said 10% of the nursing faculty have health care simulation certifications, and were able to integrate emergency training response into their curriculum.
"They might communicate with you as an actor in the simulation," Sole said.
Following their virtual coursework, the students participated in a virtual graduation. But the next step for the graduates is unclear.
"The term they're using is hiring pause," Sole, said.
Sole said graduates of UCF's College of Nursing have been in high demand for years, due to the state's continued shortage of nursing professionals. Unfortunately, graduates in 2020 have a new obstacle, COVID-19.
"There's still going to be a shortage, between retiring nurses, and the education," Sole said.
Sole said she does not expect the “hiring pause” to prevent graduates from working in Central Florida hospitals, but they will have to wait longer than expected.
While UCF graduates may not immediately get their first choice of positions, Sole anticipates a strong job market for them and that there will continue to be openings in long-term care, home health, hospice and community health.
As for Frederick, his desire is to get back to working in a hospital as soon as possible.
“To other health care graduates from 2020, I hope that you don’t ask, ‘Why me?’ When this pandemic first unfolded, I hope that by now you’re at least able to say, ‘Why not me?’ You know we are the resilient group that will have defeated the odds, and that we will have a different perspective on things, and I think that’s a strength and we shouldn’t view it as a weakness,” Frederick said.
News 6 reached out to Orlando Health and a spokesperson said the organization is seeking new employees to fill empty rolls.
“Orlando Health continues to seek external candidates for essential positions that cannot be filled by current team members,” an Orlando Health spokesperson said. “Like all healthcare organizations, our staffing needs are based on the number of patient visits at our outpatient facilities and patient volumes in our hospitals. As Central Florida residents become increasingly comfortable attending to healthcare needs they may have delayed at the height of the pandemic, Orlando Health will adjust staffing to meet the needs of those returning patients.”