RICHMOND, Va. -- Nurses around the U.S. are getting burned out by the COVID-19 crisis and quitting, yet applications to nursing schools are rising, driven by what educators say are young people who see the global emergency as an opportunity and a challenge.
Nationally, enrollment in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral nursing programs increased 5.6% in 2020 from the year before to just over 250,000 students, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The higher enrollment could help ease a nursing shortage that existed even before COVID-19.
Elijah Wilson said he returned to nursing school more than a decade after first trying when he realized his passion lay in helping people.
"There was an even more sense of urgency personally for me to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse during a pandemic," Wilson said.
For Jasmin Seay, who already has a psychology degree, it was always something she wanted to do and is now training to become a registered nurse.
"It kind of made me put some things into perspective, to just go for what I truly want for myself," Seay said.
Bryant and Stratton College's Associate Dean of Nursing Patty Cohen said the increase of students studying to become nurses showed the character of those signing up at this time.
"There is a lot of stress in nursing right now. But my students still want to do it," Cohen said.
The college, which has a nursing associate degree and diploma programs, experienced a lull at the start of the pandemic, but since things have reopened, applications have increased between five to ten percent over last year.
"Not just nursing, but medical administrative programs like medical assisting," Rayford Grady, Director of Admissions at Bryant & Stratton College, said.
Wilson said he was looking forward to entering the workforce and offered advice to anyone considering the jump to nursing.
"Pursue your dream," he said. "The sky's the limit."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.