Granting temporary healthcare licenses in pandemic expanded health access for public and maintained worker supply for hospitals

Aug. 29, 2022
Rutgers researchers say program provided a critical need and lessons for future health emergencies.

New Jersey’s effort during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to grant temporary healthcare practitioner licenses to out-of-state physicians, nurses, psychologists and other licensed workers proved effective, according to an analysis conducted by Rutgers University with data provided by the N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs.  

Granting temporary licenses helped stem what might have been critical labor shortages in fields such as respiratory therapy, as well as opening the door to a new era of telehealth and helping maintain the infrastructure of non-COVID-related health services, Rutgers researchers said. 

Writing in Health Affairs, the researchers analyzed the outcomes of the March 2020 initiative, formally known as the COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Reciprocity Licensure program, that allowed more than 30,000 healthcare workers from every U.S. state in to treat residents either in person or on a virtual basis. The program, conceived when New Jersey emerged as one of the nation’s first pandemic hot spots, was one of the first of its kind in the nation.  

According to the study, by January 2021 about 27 percent of the tens of thousands of temporary licenses went to physicians, about 26 percent to mental health providers, about 35 percent to nurses and nurse practitioners and 2 percent to respiratory care therapists, with the remaining 10 percent representing an array of disciplines. 

Researchers analyzed 10,000 completed surveys from the more than 30,000 sent out by the Division of Consumer Affairs to professionals who received temporary licenses. The division oversaw the temporary licensure program. The analysts sought to answer two questions: Where were the temporary licensees based? How did they assist patients? 

The results surprised researchers, who expected that most temporary workers would have relocated to the state and would have focused on COVID-related care. Instead, while a group of respiratory therapists and nurses relocated and helped address a critical shortage, a significant portion of temporary health care workers engaged in telehealth services, mainly assisting in the sharply rising need for pandemic-related mental health care. A large second group provided non-COVID care. 

Rutgers release