STORRS, Conn. (AP) – Nurses across America are running out of steam from the COVID-19 crisis and quitting, but applications for nursing schools are on the rise, fueled by what educators say are young people seeing the emergency. global as an opportunity and a challenge.
Among them is Brianna Monte, a sophomore at the University of Connecticut, a 19-year-old from Mahopac, New York, who had been considering majoring in education, but decided to pursue nursing after seeing nurses caring for her. his 84-year-old grandmother, who was diagnosed last year. with COVID-19 and also had cancer.
“They changed their protective gear between each patient, running like crazy trying to make sure all of their patients were taken care of,” he said. “I had that moment of clarity that made me want to jump right into medical care and join the workers on the front lines.”
Nationwide, enrollment in nursing bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs increased 5.6% in 2020 from the previous year to just over 250,000 students, according to the American Association of Nursing Colleges.
Figures for the current 2021-22 school year won’t be available until January, but administrators say they have continued to see an increase in interest.
The University of Michigan School of Nursing reported receiving about 1,800 applications for 150 freshman positions this fall, compared to about 1,200 in 2019.
Marie Nolan, executive vice dean at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, said she has seen the highest number of applicants to date, many of them applying even before a vaccine was available, despite her concern of that COVID-19 would scare students. .
Students from these and other schools have been able to gain valuable hands-on experience during the pandemic, doing COVID-19 testing and contact tracing and working in community vaccination clinics.
“We told the students, ‘This is a career opportunity they will never see again,'” Nolan said.
Emma Champlin, a freshman nursing student at Fresno State, said that like many of her classmates, she saw the pandemic as an opportunity to learn critical care skills and then apply them. And she is young and her immune system is fine, she said, “so the idea of contracting the virus did not scare me.”
“It is time for us to step in and give it our all and find out how we can help, because there has to be a new generation and that is ours,” said the 21-year-old.
The higher enrollment could help alleviate the nurse shortage that existed even before COVID-19. But it has brought its own problems: The increase, combined with the departure of too many experienced nurses whose job it is to help train students, has left many nursing programs without the ability to expand.
The rise is coming even as U.S. hospital leaders report that thousands of nurses resigned or retired during the outbreak, many of them exhausted and demoralized due to pressure to care for the dying, hostility from patients and families and the frustration in knowing that many deaths can be prevented by masks and vaccines.
Eric Kumor saw many of his nursing colleagues from a COVID-19 unit in Lansing, Michigan, transfer or accept other jobs last spring as the third wave of the pandemic began to hit. He followed them to the door in July.
“It was like this mass exodus. Everyone chose their own health and well-being over dealing with another wave,” he said.
He said he plans to return to medical care one day, but for now he is working in a steakhouse, where the worst that can happen is “burning a breast.”
“I’m not done with the infirmary yet,” he said.
Betty Jo Rocchio, director of nursing at Mercy Health, which runs hospitals and clinics in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, said her system has about 8,500 nurses but loses about 160 each month.
Outings are also taking its toll on nursing education, which relies on clinical instructors and preceptors, experienced and practical nurses mentoring students on the job.
Nursing faculty is expected to shrink 25% by 2025 across the country as nurses retire or leave due to burnout or other reasons, said Patricia Hurn, dean of the Michigan nursing school.
Mindy Schiebler, a cardiac nurse from Vancouver, Washington, taught nursing students for three years before quitting in 2016. She said she would love to continue teaching but that it is not financially viable. She said she knows nursing professors who have multiple jobs or who are taking advantage of their retirement savings.
“How long can you subsidize your own work?” she asked. “Nurses will earn double what you earn in a few years.”
Administrators said they would like to see more financial incentives, such as tax breaks for instructors and preceptors. Rocchio said it would also help to have national licenses rather than state-by-state requirements, giving health systems more flexibility in training and contracting.
Champlin, the Fresno State student now conducting clinical studies in a COVID-19 ward, said stress, even on students, is sometimes overwhelming. It is physically and mentally exhausting to put on cumbersome protective gear every time you enter someone’s room and then watch as a tube is inserted into the frightened patient’s throat and the person is connected to a ventilator.
“I don’t even know when it will end,” he said. “Is this the new normal? I think the fear has disappeared at this point, and now we are all exhausted.” She confessed: “That has made me reconsider my career choice at times.”
Hurn said the pandemic has led to a new focus at his school on student mental health, leading to the creation of programs such as “Yoga on the Lawn.”
“For nursing, you must develop the skills to be resilient, to adapt to high stress conditions,” he said.
Monte, whose grandmother survived, said she believes the pandemic is waning and hopes to have a long career regardless of the challenges.
“They have this shortage of nurses right now, which is selfishly good for me, because I won’t have a problem finding a job, wherever I decide to go,” she said. “I feel like I won’t be exhausted, even if we have another national emergency. I feel like I’ll still be committed to nursing.”