Spokane Journal of Business

The Journal’s View: State should streamline nursing license process


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Washington state faces a serious nursing shortage, and a bill before the state Senate proposes one step toward alleviating the problem by joining 34 other states that have approved the Nursing Licensure Compact.

Joining the compact, as Senate Bill 6209 proposes, would streamline hiring for nurses relocating from out of state and perhaps help expand the nursing workforce here.

The NLC is a multistate agreement that allows registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in each participating state to practice in other states, instead of having to apply for separate licenses for each state they move to or work in. Washington is one of four western states not participating in the compact. Idaho and Montana have joined the compact.

The NLC would benefit nurses who are spouses of military personnel and who often are subject to relocation. It would be especially appropriate here, where Fairchild Air Force Base is expanding its personnel and a number of spouses could be coming here with nursing experience.

The current “expedited” process to license an incoming military spouse qualified in nursing to practice in Washington takes six weeks. That’s a long time to be unable to work.

The compact also could allow nurses in border communities, such as Spokane, to practice in person or via telehealth in their home state and across state lines.

The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission, a state board that regulates the competency and quality of nurses, supports SB 6209, as do representatives of the Department of Defense. It’s also supported here by Greater Spokane Incorporated and the West Plains Chamber of Commerce, among other organizations.

Legislation proposed last year for Washington state to join the NLC had popular support in the public testimony phase, but it didn’t make it out of committee because it was opposed by the Washington State Nurses Association over concern that the compact would infringe on the state’s jurisdiction over the practice of nursing.

One argument often raised against the compact is that it doesn’t have a requirement for states to keep track of incoming nurses. That, however, is more of a matter of how states collect data. Even without the compact, Washington state, for example, doesn’t know how many of its nurses are actively working, let alone where they are working. It’s a question of logistics that state agencies can address independently of whether the compact is in place.

As recently reported in the Spokesman-Review, a nursing shortage is expected to grow statewide, and rural and small-town hospitals, especially, are having trouble recruiting nurses. Part of the problem is lack of capacity in the nursing educational pipeline.

If SB 6209 has legitimate flaws, let’s figure out a fix and get it passed. Three more states joined the compact last year. If there were glaring problems, NLC would be shrinking rather than growing.

While there’s plenty of work to do to expand nursing education pipeline, joining the NLC would at least bring down one barrier for qualified nurses to work here without delay or added expense.

In a field in which there’s a growing number of vacancies, let’s do what we can  to make it easier for fully trained, qualified, and experienced nurses to work here.

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