Early graduation offered to UAA nursing seniors as need for nurses surges

by Matt Jardin  |   

UAA School of Nursing sign
(Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

As part of UAA’s response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Health (COH) and School of Nursing (SON) are supporting nursing students to help them join Alaska’s health workforce as quickly as possible — potentially sooner than they would otherwise be able to. 

Through this initiative, students who are in the final semester of their nursing program are given the option to complete course requirements on an expedited timeline so they can graduate early. This offer is available to up to 72 nursing students in good academic standing who are in their final semester of UAA’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing or A.A.S. in nursing programs.

“Our professors did an amazing job pulling that off,” said Mandi Lyon, one of the early nursing graduates. “They really took their time to make sure students were safe. I feel confident to enter the workforce and I don’t feel that I’m any less prepared than I would be if COVID had not hit.”

“As unfortunate as this situation is, we joined this career field because we want to help people and give back to the community,” added fellow nursing graduate April Brown. “The fact that we are graduating at this time gives us that opportunity.”

Students who are approved for early graduation will be able to apply for temporary licensure from the Alaska Board of Nursing, which qualifies them to practice for six months. These students will still be required to take the national licensing exam within six months to obtain full licensure as a registered nurse, but will be able to begin practicing before taking the exam.

“I know they are eager to go out and support the community and do the work they’ve trained to do,” said Christine Michel, interim director of the SON. “They worked hard and they deserve this, and I know they’ll be fantastic.”

In addition to the early graduation option for this group of students, the School of Nursing is encouraging qualifying students across all of its nursing programs to take the Certified Nursing Assistant exam to become a CNA. A student is qualified to take the CNA exam after completing the first full year of their undergraduate nursing program. The certification allows students to enter the health workforce immediately in various health care provider facilities, and to assist with important health care activities under the supervision of licensed nurses.

Expanding Alaska’s health workforce is an essential component of the response to rising cases of COVID-19 across the state. A recent UAA study predicted that the number of hospitalizations related to COVID-19 would increase exponentially between April and September 2020, and underscored the importance of expanding the state’s health care workforce as quickly as possible in order to meet the rapidly increasing need for care.

“Alaska’s need for locally trained nurses has always been high, and now that need is more acute than ever,” said Jeff Jessee, dean of the COH, which houses the School of Nursing. “These students want to put their training to work — they’re knowledgeable, capable and compassionate, and they’re ready to provide care for Alaskans in this crisis. It’s our goal to do everything we can to support them and to expand the state’s health care capacity at the same time.”

The initiative is thanks to collaboration between UAA, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, which are working together to expand the nursing workforce across the state at a time when the need has never been greater.

“Both organizations were extremely positive and supportive of being creative and flexible to get students through the program in a timely fashion,” said Michel. “And all of the hospitals and our community partners are excited about the possibility of getting our graduates a little earlier to help them during this situation we find ourselves in.”


Written by Henry Randolph, UAA College of Health
Contributions by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement