“Had they put us through the same licensing that it took to get a license in this state, New York would still be extremely understaffed because they wouldn’t have been able to deploy 1,000 nurses out in a week and a half.”
When Jamie Edens got pregnant at 16, she was determined to prove everyone wrong.
“Everyone was telling me I couldn’t do it,” she said. “When somebody sees a 16-year-old with a child, the last thing they think is, ‘They’re going to work and finish school.’”
“They think they’re going to need help from the state just to keep food on the table at that point,” she said.
So after giving birth, Edens did exactly that: she finished school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., cared for her baby in the afternoon, and worked at a supermarket at night.
“I’m going to do this for me and him, no one’s going to do it for me,” she said of her determination at the time.
In the years later, Edens got married, had another son, and shortly thereafter got divorced. A single mom of two at 23-years-old, she decided it was time to go back to school and pursue not just a job, but a career.
20 years later, that career path also led her to a one-way ticket to New York City, where she and her now-husband Ryan Ward, also a nurse, signed up to care for patients in the center of the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic.
Edens considers herself lucky compared to other nurses who went to help out in New York City—she gets to still be with her husband, who gets what she’s going through.
“He knows exactly what I’m talking about,” she said. “Everything I say to him, he understands.”
On April 2, the couple left Tulsa, Oklahoma, and began work in New York City on April 4.
The process of transferring their nursing credentials to work in New York was easier than the couple’s previous attempts to work in other states. That’s because, when the pandemic hit, New York eased occupational licensing requirements so they could quickly process temporary licenses for nurses and other medical professionals.
“Had they put us through the same licensing that it took to get a license in this state, New York would still be extremely understaffed because they wouldn’t have been able to deploy 1,000 nurses out in a week and a half,” Edens said. “There’s no way.”
Some states are members of the The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which allows a nurse to have one multi-state license that enables them to practice in other compact states. In non-emergency situations, nurses who want to practice in states that aren’t part of the compact must get licenses specific to that state, which each have their own requirements for education, training, testing, and fees needed to work.
Some licensing requirements are onerous or unnecessary and serve as obstacles for people to work rather than a health or safety precaution. Some states also make it difficult for licensed workers from other states to operate there.
“It’s time-consuming and it can be pretty expensive to do,” Edens said of the process. “I wish it was just one application, one fee, and your licensed in all the states.”
By reforming licensing requirements, lawmakers could make it easier for health care and other professionals to work in different states under normal circumstances. And when the COVID-19 pandemic finally ends, that’s exactly what Edens hopes to do.
“Our whole dream is, we wanted to do travel nursing – maybe medical missions – and get involved in that a little bit,” Edens said. Of course—with her partner and husband by her side.
“There’s never been any other plan than to do it together, side-by-side,” she said.
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