'Let us help': Bow Valley College nursing students weeks shy of graduating seek changes to criteria

Bow Valley College nursing students just weeks away from graduation say if they were on track to graduate before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, they should — so that they can join other health professionals on the front line in this time of need.

Students say they have the necessary skills to help during the COVID-19 pandemic

Bow Valley College nursing students Chris McKelvie and Morgan Winn are asking their school and provincial regulators to consider changing graduation requirements this year so that they can get to work and help the health-care system during COVID-19. (CBC)

Bow Valley College nursing students just weeks away from graduation say if they were on track to graduate before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, they should — so that they can join other health professionals on the front line in this time of need.

The college said it removed students from practicum last week at the request of its health-care work placement organizations to help the health-care system focus on the demands of COVID-19.

'We're skilled and ready to work'

Nursing student Morgan Winn had three and a half weeks left in her practicum before she would qualify to apply for a temporary licence and work as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) in Alberta. 

Winn believes accommodations should be made so that she and other students who were set to graduate next month can put their skills to use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's not like we're unequipped to go and help. We're skilled and ready to work," she said.

"It's important people realize we're not at the beginning of our nursing journey, we're weeks away from graduation … we were just in the clinics and hospitals working, using our skills for good."

'We're the hands, let us help'

Fellow nursing student Chris McKelvie said now, more than ever, the health-care system needs all hands on deck.

"We are the hands, so let us help. We're basically just sitting at home twiddling our thumbs waiting to do something really good," he said.

"We paid a lot of good money to become a nurse, and now that they need them more than ever, they're not letting us help. It's very frustrating."

'Move learners back into the system'

Nora MacLachlan, dean of Bow Valley's School of Health and Wellness, said the college agrees that these students —who are close to graduating and in good academic standing — should be in the field as soon as possible. But, in the immediate days following the declaration of the pandemic and local state of emergency, she said the college needed to act.

"We needed to just pull back and allow our health-care system to regroup, and do that with without having hundreds of learners coming to their place with varying levels of education and knowledge at particular times in their programs," said MacLachlan. 

"We've taken everyone out of the placements for now and we're looking at ways that we can strategically — and in an organized fashion — have learners move back into the system."

Winn said late last week she wrote a letter to the premier and started a petition seeking the school and regulators to consider either allowing students to complete their hours for graduation, fast track those weeks away from graduating, or exempt them from the final graduation criteria "in this time of medical crisis."

As of Monday evening, the online petition had nearly 4,000 signatures. 

'It's really about meeting those learning outcomes'

Winn said students need answers, and the communication between students and the college hasn't provided all the answers they're asking.

"The last email we got said students who worked 120 hours would be given two credits and then would be allowed to finish the remaining hours after COVID-19 blew over," said Winn.

"They didn't address the students with under 120 hours which makes us believe that they would have to restart their entire preceptorship."

But MacLachlan said in these circumstances it's about more than just hours. 

"Last week in our former world — [in that] way of doing things it was easy to just look at it in terms of hours," she said. "But it's really about meeting those learning outcomes and the competencies that reflect their level of ability and capability when it comes to standards of care and standards of practice." 

Right now, MacLachlan said the focus is on making sure standards are maintained when those students are able to enter the workforce. 

"We're gathering data from evaluations that may have been written about the learners and putting that information into some organized data [so] that we can then look at potential flexibility around how they're meeting those outcomes," she said.

"It might not look like it used to look but we will definitely be really looking at that competency and how they're meeting that competency."

'Working toward that'

MacLachlan the college is currently working closely with regulators including the College of Licensed Practical Nurses in Alberta on ways they can best accommodate students and get them in the field.

"We're absolutely working toward that. We just are in the first week of this crisis and what we don't need is a crisis in the crisis," she said.

MacLachlan said she hopes to have things figured out so she can update students soon, and offer any help and resources they can to Alberta Health Services. 

"One of the ways that we can help is to offer our learners who would like to be in those places and have met the learning outcome where they can actually help facilitate what's happening in there," she said.


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at