California relaxing rules for nursing and med students to help fight coronavirus pandemic

California Governor Gavin Newsom is making an urgent appeal for anyone with health care experience to join the coronavirus fight. 

He has launched the California Health Corps, inviting medical retirees, part-timers and students to apply. 

"If you're a nursing school student, a medical  school student, we need you," said Newsom. "If you have just retired within the past five years, we need you."

The goal is to hire nearly 40,000 new personnel, from managers to paramedics, dentists to psychologists. 

It will require the relaxation of some licensing protocols and expand the scope of what some providers can do.   

"We'll get you up and running and get you out the door so you can support the needs of the people of California,"  Newsom said at a Monday news conference. 

The Corps was welcome - but slightly confusing - news to more than 10,000 nursing students across the state.

They are less than two months from graduation, but their required hospital rotations were cut short by the spread of COVID-19.

Nursing schools have been asking for leniency in graduation requirements, so the students can move forward.

California's Nursing Board, unlike other states, has not budged. 

"All nursing schools are telling them what we need, what we need to get our students through, and it's a disaster on top of the COVID-19 disaster," said Sharon Goldfarb, Dean of the Nursing Program at the College of Marin in Kentfield. 

Many of COM's 42 nursing candidates this spring are already helping fight the virus, with no guarantee of credit toward graduation. 

"I don't see a lot of people shying away from this at all, in our class," said student Michelle Green, who is among those working at Marin County's drive-through COVID-19 test site. 

"Some people who come for testing break down crying and some are super thankful that we're there," said Green. 

At 42, nursing is a midlife career change, but one she doesn't doubt, even in a pandemic. 

"I think I was put on this earth to be a nurse and be there for patients and make a difference," said Green. 

Other students, also helping administer the test, echo that view. 

"We do know the risks, and it's COVID-19 now, but in healthcare you know there are always things you can pick up and you're as careful as you can be," said student Sara Gorelick, 42, who also gravitated to nursing as a career change. 

As an educator, Goldfarb tells her students to consider their families and what will hopefully be decades-long careers in nursing, as they weigh their participation in fighting COVID-19. 

"The choice as a nursing student, to go to the front lines, is really yours," she advises.  

She is proud that the majority of them are unhesitating about wanting to help. 

"During a pandemic, to be able to look into someone's eyes and let them know we care about them is very fulfilling," said  

student Krista Alborg. 

The California Health Corps has an online application, and is a streamlined five step process.

Newsom calls the recruitment a surge in human capital, to match the surge the disease is making.

From Friday to Monday, hospitalizations in California doubled, and ICU cases tripled. 

When New York issued a similar call to boost its healthcare workforce, 40,000 people applied in less than a week. 

Debora Villalon is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU