From Bystander to Provider: Are We in the Middle of a Nursing Boom?

Nursing schools and accreditation programs across the country are being flooded with more applications than usual. Now that nurses and other front line workers are being hailed as heroes, many people are giving this industry a second look. 

Considering millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, many may be looking for a more stable line of work. Others considering a career in nursing say they are looking for a way to get involved and support their communities.

Find out why so many people are taking an interest in nursing.

Applications Through the Roof

The coronavirus pandemic seems to have led to a surge in interest in nursing programs. Academics and program administrators say they’ve never seen such a dramatic rise in applications.

Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, which offers a nursing accreditation program, saw 380 applications this year, a 90% increase from last year’s numbers. The hospital was considered the epicenter of the virus when the pandemic hit New Jersey hard back in March. The school usually admits between 70 to 80 students, but this year’s freshman class will feature 90 aspiring providers.

Michele Acito, executive vice president and chief nursing officer at Holy Name Medical Center, says three people have asked her how they can become nurses over the past week alone. She believes, “People saw what happened. They realized they had the call to be part of a solution.”

Acito says the pandemic has also turned conventional nursing on its head. People have seen nurses suit up and respond to the crisis in all sorts of ways, showing them just how versatile and meaningful this profession can be. “Anybody who was in the learning process during the pandemic quickly saw that not everything is routine,” she said. “You will never have the answers to everything. You have to be able to understand the underpinning of how to treat a patient — but also how to adapt.”

Jason Puch works in the school’s Simulation Learning Institute, where students practice responding to various medical emergencies in a simulated environment. After losing his uncle and grandmother to COVID-19, he finally decided to join the school’s nursing program.

“Other students also have family members that contracted COVID-19,” Puch said. “They have volunteered at other places, at hospitals. With what they’ve seen, they’re wanting to help.”

Sandra Russo, chair and director of the nursing program at Touro College in New York, has seen a similar spike in interest from the public. “This year, I have 20 students on a waiting list to get into my program, so the demand is much higher.” She believes the pandemic has led to a new appreciation and respect for nurses.

Cassandra Godzik, an assistant dean with the graduate nursing school at Regis College in Massachusetts, says application volume for these programs are 10% to 15% higher than normal.

Many program administrators have also seen an uptick in the number of applications from men. With a current unemployment rate of 8.4%, more men are looking for a career change than ever before. We may see more male nurses working on the front lines in the years to come.

For others, switching to a career in nursing isn’t just about making money and finding stable employment; it gives them a sense of purpose. 

According to a recent survey, 19% of those not currently working due to the pandemic are using this time to plan, search for and find a new career in a different industry. These changes are being driven by a desire to learn new skills or challenge themselves (51%), gain a better work-life balance (43%), or have increased job security (32%).

What About the Nursing Shortage?

This recent surge in applications could help bring more providers into the fold over the next few years, a possible solution to the mounting nursing shortage in the U.S.

As the baby boomers continue to retire, the nursing industry is considered one of the fastest growing job sectors in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the RN workforce is expected to grow from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, an increase of 438,100 or 15%. The Bureau also projects the need for an additional 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026 to fill newly created positions and replace retiring nurses.

However, the country may not have the resources to train the next generation of nurses. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the shortage of spots at U.S. nursing schools for the 2018-2019 school year was so severe that more than 75,000 qualified candidates were denied entry.

Some schools are trying to expand the number of slots available for each program, but taking on more students, especially during a pandemic, can be a challenge for many institutions. Even though students like Puch would prefer to learn in person, he’s excited about virtual classes this fall.

“I’m just looking forward to soaking up and learning as much as possible,” Puch says. Working and learning during the pandemic, he says, “It teaches me that there’s always going to be challenging times, but we can always arise and become better at our jobs.”

With everything that’s going on in the world, this may be one of the best times to encourage your patients, friends, and family to pursue a career in nursing. 

However, the competition is bound to heat up. If someone you know is interested in becoming a nurse, talk to them about the challenges and rewards of the profession. Encourage them to work hard on their application by writing a compelling essay, showcasing their people skills, and studying hard for the entrance exams.

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