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Joint State Government Commission Study Suggests Ways to Improve Nurse Licensing

By Robert Swift Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG (May 11) – The pathway to licensing nurses could be made smoother by hiring more employees at the state Board of Nursing, better processing of licensing applications and changing the criminal background check process, a new legislative study has concluded.

The study by the Joint State Government Commission concerns delays with issuing nursing licenses by the board.

The House adopted Resolution 142 authorizing this study last year.

The study is part of an overall focus in recent years by the Wolf administration and lawmakers of both parties to remove barriers and streamline the state licensing process for a number of occupations.

As of June 2021, there were more than 300,000 active licenses for five nursing-related occupations in Pennsylvania with registered nurses being the largest category.

The resolution sponsor, Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-Carbon, said recent nursing school graduates have contacted him about delays with the issuance of an Authorization to Test for nursing license applicants.

The state can’t afford lengthy delays in getting health care providers when they have increased demands due to the COVID-19 pandemic and employee burnout, said Heffley in a memo.

The study found that licensing delays were aggravated by the pandemic and retirements of two key board staffers in early 2020. The board said it has restored processing back to pre-pandemic timelines with the rehiring of one of the retirees.

But the commission study said its recommendations can lead to further improvements in licensing.

One recommendation is to provide funds to increase the nursing board complement to 43 employees from 32 employees. This would include two administrative officers and three education certification evaluators.

Another is to enable applicants to make changes in their applications and correct errors that have slowed processing. The board is replacing the current licensing system.

Nursing license applicants are currently required to submit an official state criminal history record check from every state in which they have lived, worked or been educated within the past ten years or five years depending upon the license category.

This has proven a stumbling block for some applicants, the report said. To fix that, the study recommends that an applicant supply the state criminal records check only from their state of residence as well as making an FBI background check mandatory.

The study suggests creating a State Board of Nursing Task Force to review processing issues and prepare Pennsylvania for new quality standards for nursing education published by the American College of Nursing.

The study suggests some changes with the nursing board membership, including potentially having some seats filled by nurses who are elected by nurses holding valid state nursing licenses as North Carolina does.

It recommends the board issue more frequent reports on the nursing workforce.

Pennsylvania enacted a law last year paving the way to enter a multi-state Nursing Licensure Compact.

"The nursing compact is important because it allows a nurse to practice in their home state and all participating states with one license issued by the home state, eliminating the burdensome, costly, and time-consuming process of obtaining single state licenses in each state of practice,” the report said.


Additional Info from the Jt. State Government Commission

In this episode, the JSGC podcast crew interview Frank Lill, project manager of the report "License Processing Times of the Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing," released in April of 2022. We discuss how long it takes to get a nursing license in Pennsylvania, factors contributing to delays in processing time, and recommendations for how to improve these conditions. A one-page summary and access to the full report are available here.


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