Drug testing required at nursing school

Andrew Messamore

Before nursing students can begin their clinical classes in the spring, the UT School of Nursing will require them to pass a drug screening next month as part of new compliance standards.

Clinical programs are one of several types of classes required in the nursing curriculum, and nursing students participating in clinical programs next semester will need to complete their testing between Dec. 1, when the University-approved vendor will be ready, and Jan. 14.

Linda Carpenter, assistant dean of the School of Nursing, said the foremost reason for the new policy is to ensure the safety of patients treated by students and to standardize drug testing for all students in a way that meets industry guidelines.

The new policy had been expected for a decade, Carpenter said, but was finally instituted this year after the Health Industry Steering Committee reported new industry standards requiring standardized drug testing for students working in Central Texas hospitals.

The committee, a local industry-lead regulatory group, circulates industry guidelines from medical accreditation agencies to medical employees in Central Texas, and includes nursing and pharmacy schools.

“The bottom line is [that the new policy] is for patient safety,” Carpenter said. “You can’t have people working in health care settings, being responsible for peoples’ lives, if they are under the influence of anything.”

Nursing junior Tiffany Torrence, networking officer for the Hispanic Nursing Student Association, said the hard work put in by students to enter into the nursing program should already demonstrate the quality of the students at clinical agencies.

“I don’t think we need to have stricter drug testing for students,” Torrence said. “You’re already going to be tested at any of the sites you’re working at, and if you have made it into an upper-division program, you’ve already showed that you are an upstanding student and that your academic and social career can be balanced.”

Some clinical agencies already test students enrolled in their programs, including St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, but the new policy requires all students to receive testing through the University-approved vendor, PreCheck Inc. Each screening will cost students $41.14.

Ana Mejia-Dietche, director of the Health Industry Steering Committee, said the committee and the School of Nursing sought to require the least restrictive guidelines necessary for students in nursing.

Professional nursing involves high levels of regulation and testing, Mejia-Dietche said, and the policy is meant to partially prepare students for the career path they are entering.

“We are thrilled to have new nurses in the program and we know how hard it is to get to this point,” Mejia-Dietche said. “But [nursing students] are going to go into a world that is heavily regulated and this is just another step along that path.”

Students who fail drug screenings will not be allowed entry into their clinical classes, but will be able to continue enrollment in the nursing program, Carpenter said. Depending on individual circumstances, students may be able to wait to take a second screening or may have to show proof of treatment for substance abuse before screening again.

Additional screenings will not be required for students after passing their initial test, although an individual clinic could mandate repeated screening.

The new guidelines will also apply to other universities in the Central Texas area, although Texas State University and Texas A&M University-College Station already require drug screenings for admitted students. Texas Tech University does not require drug screenings and has no plans to start them because the hospitals its students work at are regulated by different groups.

Printed on Thursday, November 29, 2012 as: Nursing clinicals to require drug testing