STORRS, Connecticut (AP) – Nurses in the US are burned out and quit by the COVID-19 crisis, but applications to nursing schools are on the rise, fueled by what educators say young people see the global emergency as an opportunity and an opportunity Challenge.
Among them is Brianna Monte, a 19-year-old University of Connecticut student in Mahopac, New York with COVID-19 and had cancer.
“They exchanged protective gear between each patient and ran like crazy to make sure all of their patients were taken care of,” she said. “I had that moment of clarity that led me to step straight into healthcare and join the frontline workers.”
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, enrollment in undergraduate, graduate and graduate nursing programs increased 5.6% year over year to just over 250,000 students in 2020.
Numbers for the current school year 2021-22 won’t be available until January, but administrators say interest has continued to rise.
The University of Michigan Nursing School reported that it received about 1,800 applications for 150 freshmen students this fall, compared to about 1,200 in 2019.
Marie Nolan, executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, said she had seen the largest number of applicants ever, many of whom apply before a vaccine was available despite her fears about COVID-19 Could put off students.
Students from this and other schools were able to gain valuable hands-on experience during the pandemic, run COVID-19 tests and contact tracing, and work in community vaccination clinics.
“We told the students, ‘This is a career opportunity you will never see again,'” said Nolan.
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 and then apply critical care skills. And she’s young and her immune system is fine, she said, “so the idea of getting the virus didn’t scare me.”
“It’s only time we step in and give everything and find out how we can help, because there has to be a new generation and we have to be,” said the 21-year-old.
The higher enrollment could help alleviate a lack of care that existed 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 train students, has left many nursing programs with no expandability.
The surge is taking place as hospital leaders across the U.S. report thousands of nurses quit or retired during the outbreak, many of them exhausted and demoralized from pressures to care for the dying, hostility from patients and families and the frustration of knowing that many deaths were preventable from masks and vaccinations.
Eric Kumor saw many of his nursing colleagues from a COVID-19 unit in Lansing, Michigan, switch or take on other jobs last spring when the third wave of the pandemic hit. In July he followed them out the door.
“It was like this mass exodus. Everyone chose for their own health and wellbeing rather than dealing with another wave, ”he said.
He said he plans to return to healthcare one day, but right now he works in a grill place where the worst that can happen is “burning a brisket”.
“I’m not done with the care yet,” he said.
Betty Jo Rocchio, chief nursing officer at Mercy Health, which operates hospitals and clinics in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, said their system has about 8,500 nurses but is losing about 160 every month.
The departures also take their toll on nursing education, which relies on clinical instructors and preceptors, the skilled, practical nurses who supervise students as they work.
Nursing faculty is expected to shrink 25% across the country by 2025 as nurses retire or retire due to burnout or other reasons, said Patricia Hurn, the dean of 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 like to continue teaching, but it is not financially feasible. She said she knows nursing professors who have multiple jobs or who draw into their retirement plans.
“How long can you subsidize your own job?” She asked. “Nurses will be making double what you make in a few years.”
The administrators said they would like to see more financial incentives like tax breaks for trainers and teachers. Rocchio said it would also help having national licensing instead of state requirements, which would give health systems more flexibility in training and recruiting.
Champlin, the Fresno state student who is currently conducting clinical trials in a COVID-19 ward, said the stress, even for the students, is sometimes overwhelming. It is physically and mentally tiring every time you walk into someone’s room, put on awkward personal protective equipment and then watch the frightened patient have a tube shoved down their throat and put on a ventilator.
“I don’t even know when it will stop,” she said. “Is that the new normal? I think the fear of it subsided by then, and now we’re all just exhausted. ”She admitted,“ That made me rethink my career choices at times. ”
Hurn said the pandemic had put a new focus on student mental health at her school, which has led to the creation of programs like Yoga on the Lawn.
“Nursing requires developing the skills to be resilient and adapt to high stress conditions,” she said.
Monte, whose grandmother survived, said she believes the pandemic is subsiding and hopes to have a long career regardless of the challenges.
“You have this lack of care right now, which is good for me selfishly because I won’t have any problems finding a job wherever I choose,” she said. “I feel like I won’t get burned out even if we have another national emergency. I have the feeling that I will continue to dedicate myself to nursing. “