A WSU College of Nursing refresher course for nurses who have let their licenses lapse is seeing a surge of applications and interest in recent weeks.

Susan Rossetti, director of professional development at the college, said a shortage of healthcare professionals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is behind the increase.

About half of the new calls and applications are from nurses who retired from the military, and about half are from nurses who let their licenses lapse because they decided to stay home with their kids or for other personal reasons. WSU offers a military discount for the program.

“In the last four days I have received double the amount of applications that I received in the last two and a half months,” Rossetti said last week.

Nurses whose licenses have lapsed or become inactive must take a refresher course before they can practice again. In addition, some students are required by the state Department of Health to take the course to satisfy disciplinary requirements.

Eve Stern, of Lake Stevens, Washington, is one of the newly admitted students. Stern began her career as a registered nurse in pediatric oncology then went into nursing administration, health care entrepreneurship, and most recently, worked as a medical esthetician.

“In light of what’s going on, I really feel a calling to get back into clinical nursing,” said Stern, 63. “I still have a lot of energy and thankfully I’ve got my health. I haven’t figured out yet how best I can serve.”

WSU’s RN Refresher program has three parts: an online theory course, a two-day skills review and 160 hours of bedside clinical experience, all of which are mandated by state law.

Newly enrolled students can start right away on the theory course, but coronavirus restrictions are affecting the other two parts of the course.

Students in the program won’t be able to gather for the in-person skills review until the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order is relaxed, for example.

But Rossetti and Victoria Sattler, the RN Refresher program clinical placement coordinator, have asked the state for a program change to allow the WSU College of Nursing to substitute online simulation hours for up to half of the in-person clinical hours. The college, like other nursing education programs, suspended clinical experiences last month to safeguard students, as well as to help hospitals and clinics conserve resources of personal protective equipment and to free up the time of the nurses who usually mentor students to engage in patient care.

Stern said it makes sense to her that some of the clinical experience could be completed online.

“I think with this whole thing we’re living through, we’re not going to go back to the old normal,” she said. “It’s showing we can use technology to do things differently and not compromise the outcome.”

Rossetti, who’s a nurse herself, said it’s common for nurses to want to step up and help in a time of need.

“They think of it as their calling to go back to work,” she said. “My job is to advocate for these nurses, to get them out into the health care field as soon as possible.”

More information on the RN Refresher Course can be found online.