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'Wanting to help': Ohio nursing schools seeing increase in applicants amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The Association of American Medical Colleges reports the number of students applying to medical school increased by 18% compared to 2019.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Ohio students are applying at record rates to become nurses. 

Nationally, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports the number of students applying to medical school for the 2021 academic year went up approximately 18% when compared to the same time in 2019.

According to preliminary data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s annual survey of more than 900 nursing schools, there was a 5.6% increase in the number of students enrolled in entry-level baccalaureate nursing programs in Fall 2020.

At Hondros College of Nursing, new and total student enrollment increased by about 45% from this time last year. 

"This past year has been a year of exponential enrollment for students into both of our programs. I'm thinking the reason behind that is the pandemic," said Carole Sullivan, Campus Dean at Hondros College of Nursing. "It means a lot to have students, [who] have this true interest and this true passion because it just speaks to the type of nurse they're going to be."

Faith Burke has worked as a medical assistant for 14 years. She decided to enroll in Hondros College of Nursing in June to further her career. 

"Being a medical assistant, when New York was reaching out ... they needed help, they needed nurses ... I couldn't go. I knew I wanted to help, but I couldn't go because of not being a nurse," Burke said. "A lot of people asked me when I first started, 'Are you afraid?' No, I'm not afraid. I never had that fear of going out there, wanting to help others in a time of need. This right here is a big time of need."

At The Ohio State University's College of Nursing, applications have increased by about 29% with 388 applications last year compared to 501 applications this year. 

"We love to see the applications and we have a significant nursing shortage that we would love to fill, but we are limited in terms of how many students we can accept," said Dr. Cindy Anderson, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Educational Innovation at The Ohio State University College of Nursing. "We are turning away qualified applicants and that's heartbreaking because we would love to take as many qualified applicants as we could."

Anderson said the OSU program accepts about 166 students per year. She said the shortage of nurses is paired with a shortage in nursing faculty. 

"That is one of the major limiting factors for many schools to be able to accept the applicants into nursing if the faculty aren't there to educate them," Anderson said. "Nationally, we are encouraging faculty to be doctrinally prepared. Of course, that requires nurses to come back to school ... that commitment to be able to do that to develop their schools as a practitioner, as a researcher, and also as an educator to be able to then educate students across the programs in nursing." 

Burke said she is eager to enter the workforce as a nurse. Until then, she's reminding people to be safe and not let their guard down. 

"Wash your hands, wear your mask, and keep doing it because one day, we're going to see that light," Burke said. "We are going to see that light of day and we will be able to get back to some type of normalcy."