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Nurses across America are burning through the COVID-19 crisis and quitting, yet applications are rising in nursing schools, which teachers say are young people who see the global emergency as an opportunity and a challenge.

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Among them is University of Connecticut attendant Brianna Monte, a 19-year-old from Mahopac, New York, who was considering majoring in education but decided to pursue nursing after seeing nurses caring for her 84-year-old grandmother, who was diagnosed last year. it was done. There was more cancer with COVID-19.

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“They were changing their protective gear in the middle of every patient, running like crazy trying to make sure all their patients were attended to,” she said. “I had that moment of clarity that made me want to jump right into health care and connect with frontline workers.”

Nationally, enrollment in undergraduate, masters and doctoral nursing programs increased by 5.6% in 2020 to just over 250,000 students compared to a year earlier, According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Figures for the current 2021-22 school year won’t be available until January, but administrators say they continue to see an increase in interest.

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The University of Michigan School of Nursing reported receiving nearly 1,800 applications for 150 freshman slots this fall, compared to about 1,200 in 2019.

Mary Nolan, executive vice dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, said it has seen its largest number of applicants to date, many of them applying before the vaccine was available, despite her concerns that COVID-19 -19 will scare the students. .

Students from those and other schools have been able to gain valuable practical experience during the pandemic, doing COVID-19 tests and working in contact tracing and community immunization clinics.

“We’ve told students, ‘This is a career opportunity you’ll never see again,'” Nolan said.

Emma Champlin, a first-year nursing student at Fresno State, said that like many of her classmates, she saw the pandemic as an opportunity to learn critical care skills and then apply them. And he’s young and his immune system is fine, she said, “so the thought of having the virus didn’t scare me.”

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“It’s time for us to step up and give it our all and figure out how we can help, because there has to be a new generation and it should be us,” the 21-year-old said.

Higher enrollment can help reduce the nursing shortage that existed before COVID-19. But it has come with its own problems: growth, along with the departure of many experienced nurses, whose job it is to help train students, has left many nursing programs without the ability to expand.

The increase comes even as hospital leaders around the US report that thousands of nurses have quit or retired during the outbreak, many of them dying, hostility from patients and families, and frustration with pressure to care. Tired and disappointed. Knowing that many deaths can be prevented through masks and vaccinations.

Eric Kumore saw several of his nursing colleagues from a COVID-19 unit in Lansing, Michigan, move or take on other jobs this past spring when the third wave of the pandemic began to hit. He followed them out the door in July.

“It was like this mass exodus. Everyone chose their own health and wellness to deal with another wave,” he said.

He said he plans to return to health care someday, but is working at a barbecue joint for now, where the worst thing that can happen is “burning a brisket.”

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“I’m not done with nursing yet,” he said.

Betty Joe Rocchio, chief nursing officer at Mercy Health, which runs hospitals and clinics in Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, said her system has about 8,500 nurses, but is losing about 160 each month.

Departures are also taking their toll on nursing education, which relies on clinical instructors and preachers, experienced, practical nurses who mentor students on the job.

Patricia Hearn, dean of the School of Nursing in Michigan, said nationwide nursing faculty is expected to shrink by 25% by 2025 as nurses retire or leave due to burnout or other reasons.

Mindy Schibler, a cardiac nurse from Vancouver, Washington, taught nursing students for three years before leaving her job in 2016. She said that she would still like to teach but it is not financially doable. She said she knows nursing professors who do multiple jobs or dip into their retirement savings.

“How long can you subsidize your job?” He asked. “Nurses will double what you do in just a few years out of the gate.”

Administrators said they would like to see more financial incentives such as tax exemptions for trainers and preachers. Rocchio said it would also help achieve national licensing rather than state-by-state requirements, giving health systems more flexibility in training and hiring.

Fresno State student Champlin, who is now conducting clinical studies in a COVID-19 ward, said the stress is sometimes overwhelming, even on students. It is physically and mentally exhausting to don cumbersome protective equipment every time you enter someone’s room and then a tube is inserted down the terrified patient’s neck and the person is attached to a ventilator.

“I don’t even know when it will stop,” she said. “Is this the new normal? I think the fear of it is over at this point, and now we’re all finished.” She confessed: “It made me rethink my career choice several times.”

Hearn said the pandemic has brought a new focus at his school on the mental health of students, leading to the creation of programs such as “yoga on the lawn.”

“For nursing, you have to develop the skills to be flexible, to adapt to high-stress situations,” she said.

Monte, whose grandmother survived, said she believes the pandemic is easing and hopes the challenges don’t matter.

“They have this nursing shortage right now, which is selfishly good for me, because I won’t have trouble finding a job, wherever I decide to go,” she said. “I think I won’t quit, even if we have another national emergency. I think I’ll still be committed to nursing.”

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Associated Press writer John Seaver in Toledo, Ohio contributed to this story.