Coronavirus Pandemic Underscores Need For More Doctors, Nurses In Wisconsin

State Officials Meeting With Governor On Ways To Quickly Increase Health Care Workforce

Health care worker puts on gloves
Hospital CLINIC (CC-BY-ND)

Patients severely sickened by the new coronavirus could potentially fill up Wisconsin hospitals, adding urgency to an existing problem: how to shore up the state’s health care workforce.

Wednesday afternoon the Wisconsin Board of Nursing held a meeting in which members voted to draft emergency rules that recognize nursing credentials issued by other states and make it easier for returning nurses to obtain a license. The board also wants to allow more simulation to replace in-person clinical training for nursing students and address supervision and licensing requirements for advanced-practice nurses. The changes still require additional action and won’t take effect immediately.

Board members also discussed whether retired nurses should be required to take a refresher course before being allowed to practice.

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“Basic nursing you’re not going to forget,” said board Chair Peter Kallio. “If they’re coming back they’re coming back out of the goodness of their hearts to do this. If you’re looking at what’s happening in New York right now, they are just overwhelmed. They’re getting 40,000 healthcare providers coming into New York City to help them out. I hope we are not another New York but I think we have to be prepared for that and allow the maximum amount of healthcare providers in Wisconsin.”

Prior to the meeting, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services, which oversees the nursing board, said it has been working with Gov. Tony Evers office to maximize doctors, nurses and other health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are considering, with input from partners in practice, any and all steps that could eliminate or minimize impediments to re-entry to practice, renewal of credentials, and initial licensure. Our goal is to position health care professionals to do as much as they can, as easily and safely as possible, to stem the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wisconsin,” read a statement from DSPS.

The state’s Medical Examining Board plans to meet Friday. Other states are taking a variety of measures to increase their health care workforces, which not only face increased demand, but the possibility their ranks could be decimated by illness as doctors and nurses are exposed to the virus caring for infected patients. As NPR reported, some of these efforts include reaching out to retired physicians.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association has written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, urging the Trump administration to take critical steps to expand the physician workforce to meet the increasing demands on the American health system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AMA called for opening visa processing at embassies and consulates worldwide for physicians seeking to join United States residency programs starting in July, and urged public confirmation that foreign physicians working in the country under the J-1 visa program are permitted to be redeployed to new rotations.