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Nursing Students Who Refuse a Mandated COVID-19 Vaccine Could be Disenrolled

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   October 04, 2021

Education programs are not obligated to provide alternate clinical experiences based on a student’s vaccine preference, new policy issued by leading nursing organizations says.

Nursing education programs are not obligated to provide alternate clinical experiences requested by unvaccinated nursing students when the designated clinical facility mandates the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new policy issued by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

The NCSBN and eight other leading nursing organizations, including the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and the American Nurses Association (ANA), issued a policy brief to provide guidance to boards of nursing and nursing education programs receiving requests from students for alternate clinical experiences when a program’s clinical sites require the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nursing education programs are mandated by boards of nursing as well as accreditors to provide students with clinical experiences, but they are not obligated to provide substitute or alternate clinical experiences based on a student’s request or vaccine preference, the policy states.

"As nurse leaders we wanted to provide direction to nursing programs that are dealing with a small number of unvaccinated students," Maryann Alexander, PhD, RN, FAAN, the national council's chief officer, nursing regulation, said in a press release. "Clinical experiences are crucial to nursing education and simulation, while extremely valuable, cannot completely replace direct care experience.

The policy brief recommends that nursing programs reach out to vaccine-hesitant students and counsel them about the benefits of the vaccine and dispel myths and misinformation students may have.

If the academic institution mandates the vaccine, students can refuse it. However, if they are not entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the disability laws or for a sincerely held religious belief, then the student may be disenrolled from the institution or nursing program or may not be able to fulfill the clinical requirements of the program, resulting in them not graduating.

"We know that vaccination protects both the person vaccinated and those for whom they care," Alexander said. "Our hope is that unvaccinated nursing students follow the science and get the COVID-19 vaccine."

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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