The COVID-19 crisis is causing nurses in the U.S. to quit and become exhausted. Yet, applications to nursing schools are increasing, driven by young people who see the global crisis as both an opportunity and a threat.
Brianna Monte, a University of Connecticut sophomore, is one of them. She’s a 19 year old from Mahopac, New York. She had considered majoring in education, but she decided to study nursing after seeing nurses care for her 84 years-old grandmother, who was also diagnosed with COVID-19 last year.
She said, “They were changing out their protective gear between each patient, running like mad trying to ensure all of their patients were taken care of,” “That moment of clarity made me want to join the frontline workers in health care.”
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the national enrollment in bachelor’s, graduate, and doctoral nursing programs increased by 5.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year to just over 250,000 students.
Although figures for the current school year 2021-22 will not be available until January of this year, administrators claim they continue to see an increase in interest.
According to the University of Michigan, there were approximately 1,800 applications for 150 slots in the University of Michigan’s nursing school this fall compared to 1,200 in 2019.
Marie Nolan, the executive vice dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, Baltimore, stated that it has received its highest number of applicants in years. Many of these people applied even before a vaccine was made available. This is despite concerns about COVID-19 scaring off students.
These and other schools provided valuable experience for students during the pandemic. They were able to do COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and worked at community vaccination clinics.
Nolan stated, “We’ve told the students, ‘This is a job opportunity that you’ll not see again.'”
Emma Champlin is a Fresno State nursing student in her first year. She said she, like many of her classmates, saw the pandemic a chance to acquire critical-care skills and then use them. She said that she was young and her immune system is strong so the thought of contracting the virus did not scare her.
The 21-year old said, “It’s time for us to step up and give it all.
Higher enrollment could ease the nursing shortage that existed before COVID-19. However, it has also brought with it its own problems. Many nursing programs are unable to expand due to the loss of experienced nurses who were trained to teach students.
Even though hospital leaders across the U.S. are reporting that thousands of nurses quit or have retired due to the outbreak, many of them feel exhausted and demoralized from the pressure of caring and treating the dying, the hostility of patients and their families and the frustration of knowing that many deaths could have been prevented by masks and vaccines.
Eric Kumor witnessed many of his colleagues in nursing from a COVID-19 Unit in Lansing (Michigan) transfer to other jobs when the third wave of the pandemic hit. In July, he followed them out of the door.
It was like a mass exodus. He said that everyone chose their own wellness and health over dealing with the next wave.
He stated that he hopes to return to health care one day, but for the moment is working at a barbecue joint where the worst thing that could happen is “burning an brisket.”
He said, “I’m still not done with nursing,”
Betty Jo Rocchio is the chief nursing officer at Mercy Health. Mercy Health runs clinics and hospitals in Missouri, Arkansas and Kansas.
Nursing education is also being affected by these departures. Preceptors and clinical instructors are the nurses who provide guidance to students.
According to Patricia Hurn (dean of the Michigan nursing school), the national number of nurses will shrink by 25% between 2025 and 2025 as more nurses leave the profession due to burnout or other reasons.
Mindy Schiebler is a Vancouver-based cardiac nurse. She taught students for three years and then quit in 2016. Although she said that she would love to continue teaching, it is not financially feasible. She mentioned that she knows of nursing professors who have multiple jobs and dip into their retirement savings.
She asked, “How long do you have to subsidize your own job?” “Nurses will earn twice what you make in just a few short years.”
Administrators expressed their desire to have more financial incentives, such as tax breaks for preceptors and instructors. Rocchio stated that it would be beneficial to have national licensure instead of state-by–state requirements. This will allow for greater flexibility in hiring and training health workers.
Champlin, a Fresno State student, stated that the stress can sometimes be overwhelming, even for students. It can be physically and mentally exhausting to wear cumbersome protective gear every time you go into someone’s room. Then, watch as a tube is inserted through the patient’s throat and the ventilator is attached.
She said, “I don’t know when it will stop.” Is this the new normal?” It’s not scary anymore, but it has worn off and we are all exhausted now.”
Hurn stated that the pandemic led to a shift in the school’s focus on mental health, which has resulted in the creation of programs like “Yoga on the Lawn.”
She said, “Nursing requires you to have the ability to be resilient and adapt to high-strain situations.”
Monte, whose grandmother survived the pandemic, stated that she believes it is receding and hopes for a long career, no matter what the obstacles.
She said, “They do have a nursing shortage right now. Which selfishly is good to me because I won’t have any trouble finding a job wherever I choose to go.” “I don’t feel burned out even if there is a national emergency. I believe I will continue to be committed to nursing.”