ATLANTA --- Thousands of potential registered nurses could be denied a license -- at the same time that Georgia faces a shortage of health-care professionals -- because of a state panel's interpretation of a new law.
The Georgia Board of Nursing's decision to reject applications from graduates of the nontraditional program offered by New York-based Excelsior College has drawn fire from the school and the Georgia Nurses Association, which helps administer the program. They say the board's decision will keep thousands of otherwise qualified students from helping ease Georgia's nursing shortage.
But the panel says its hands are tied by a new state law ordering it to crack down on schools with weaker standards.
"Applicants for licensure by endorsement must graduate from schools whose curricula are no less stringent than those standards established by the Board," said an announcement on the changes posted on the board's Web site. "The Board is not unsympathetic to the plight of the students who have been adversely affected by this new law, but the Board has a duty to uphold the law and is currently doing so."
The nurses association said it fully supports efforts to shut down "fly-by-night" schools, but argues that the Board of Nursing misfired in going after Excelsior, a private school established in Georgia in 1975 and with campuses in several states.
About 1,100 students are enrolled in Excelsior's program in Georgia.
The students, who usually hold another type of nursing license or have clinical experience, learn at their own pace and take eight tests before a 21/2-day clinical assessment administered by the Georgia Nurses Association.
That "nontraditional" model doesn't fit into the guidelines established by the Board of Nursing for in-state schools, Excelsior and the association argue.
"The board needs to be more discriminating than that," said John Ebersole, the president of Excelsior.
"They need to understand that what is appropriate for an 18-year-old isn't appropriate for a 40-year-old. ... We feel like the stringency is there. It just looks different than it does in a traditional program," he said.