“Anywhere you go, nursing is nursing.”
Rachael Alligood works as an emergency room nurse at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center in Lakeland, Florida. Normally, Lakeland Regional is the busiest ER in the country. With the unit housing 120 beds, the ER nurses are kept busy. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit certain regions hard, Lakeland emptied out as people steered clear of hospitals.
Alligood says that “it felt like we were sitting around, it was so slow down here in Florida.” But she recognized that, at same time, in other parts of the country, “there are people who need my help.”
Alligood has been an emergency room nurse for two years. While she initially didn’t know what career she wanted to pursue, she became pregnant while attending college and was determined to create a good life for her daughter.
“I wanted to be something that was very respected, to be a role model for my daughter,” she said.
Nursing fit her giving nature, so she went to Keiser University and became a registered nurse. Alligood chose the ER because of her natural energy and the fast pace of the unit. “It’s never the same,” she explains. “Every day that I walk into work it’s something different. I like the variety of work that we get in the ER–a little bit of everything.”
After a fellow nurse from Lakeland Regional traveled to help out in NYC, a nursing travel agency reached out to others at the hospital. Alligood said that since she was trained regularly for critical rooms, she had the specific skill set needed to help COVID-19 patients in New York.
A group of about 15 nurses from her hospital traveled together to New York. The Lakeland nurses signed up for a four-week assignment. They worked the night shift, from 7pm to 7am, five days a week at the Interfaith Hospital in Brooklyn.
Usually, it would be difficult for a Florida nurse to start work in New York. Florida is part of an inter-state compact that allows for universal nursing license recognition within the member states, but New York is not part of the compact. But due to reduced regulations in order to get medical professionals to help in hard-hit areas, New York has recognized out-of-state licenses. Now, the application process is much easier than usual. Alligood had to provide her RN license number, vaccine records, references, and her resume, as well as undergo a drug test and background check. But normally, trying to work in New York would require extra training; costing both time and money.
Alligood says she thinks it should be easier to transfer nursing licenses between states: “Anywhere you go, nursing is nursing.” And referring to the national board exam that all nurses must pass: “The NCLEX is the same. It doesn’t go by specific state rules.”
She says that there can be small rule differences between states but those could easily be learned by special certification or training classes. For example, when she went to New York, she learned that nurses are not allowed to push any life-saving medications. But in Florida, a nurse could run a whole code.
Alligood had other examples: “In New York, a lot of the nurses weren’t able to do things that we normally do in Florida. Even just taking a patient two minutes up to the intensive care unit by ourselves.”
She explains that despite these minor differences in state policy, she supports keeping licensing requirements “the same across the nation. Medicine is medicine.”
Overall, Alligood says she had a positive experience serving in New York. “Everyone in NY was very supportive,” she said. “We definitely felt appreciated.”
Do you have a story about how occupational licenses are holding you back? Share your story here