The Pennsylvania State Nurses Association claims the process could be completed in a matter of a week or two.By Andy Sheehan

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For nearly a year, frontline nurses have been put to the test, facing long hours and burnout.

Now some hospitals, especially those in rural areas, are experiencing nursing shortages. Turns out, there are many new nursing graduates who’ve been ready to get into the fight. But they’ve had no choice but to sit on the sidelines, some of them for months.

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“I’m ready to work. I’m ready to help my community out, but I’m at a crossroads. I can’t do anything,” said a recent Community College of Allegheny County nursing school graduate.

He applied for a permit to practice from the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing in Harrisburg in December. He didn’t want to give KDKA his name for fear of facing further delays, but he told KDKA he recently had a job lined up at a major hospital and was left in limbo because he was still waiting on his license.

“I’m frustrated. All my classmates are frustrated going through the same thing. It’s a struggle,” he said.

And he’s not alone.

“The new nurses are telling us they’re frustrated. What are they going to do?” said Betsy Snook, the CEO of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association.

Snook says the association has heard hundreds of complaints about delays and long waits from new applicants as well as existing nurses waiting on license renewals. It’s preventing them from working when some hospitals, especially those in rural areas, are experiencing shortages.

The association claims the board is short-staffed and more focused on disciplinary hearings rather than getting nurses to work.

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“We think their processes need to be streamlined. We think they need to take a look at how things are working because they’re not working well at all,” said Snook.

However, the Pennsylvania Board of Nursing says it has neither a backlog nor delays.

The board claims the licensure process takes 12 to 15 weeks. The board says it takes four to five weeks for preliminary permits. Then it takes another seven to eight weeks for the applicant to take and for the board to certify a qualifying exam. Finally, another one to two weeks for the board to give final approval.

In a statement, the board says, “The licensure process is highly individualized, and the department provides all applicants with realistic timeline expectations, but experiences may vary depending on the applicant’s own circumstances.”

But the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association calls this process absurdly long and claims it could be completed in a matter of a week or two, not months.

“We’ve got COVID-19. It’s not like we don’t need our nurses. We need all the nurses we can get on board. We need them. Our patients need them. The process should be sped up if nothing else,” said Snook.

At St. Clair Hospital, they’re working around the problem by giving additional supervisors to recent graduate hires as they wait for their certifications. St. Clair’s Chief Nursing Officer Diane Puccetti says the idea is that each new hire is covered by a compliment of extra staffing.

Still, the angst there is just the same.

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“They want to be part of the team. They want that RN behind their name. They want to practice at the top of their capacity. So that frustration has hit some of our new graduates,” said Puccetti.