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'I'm not afraid of it': COVID-19 pandemic encourages nursing school enrollment

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nursing student-healthcare worker1.png
Posted at 5:44 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 17:55:13-05

TAMPA, Fla. — Enrollment at nursing schools across Tampa Bay is increasing despite some experts worrying the COVID-19 outbreak would scare people away from healthcare professions.

Just last month, Sydney Checheli started nursing school at St. Petersburg College. She says it’s a calling she’s had for a while but it’s fueled even more by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not afraid of it,” Checheli said. “I think some people are and I’m not one of those people. In fact, I kind of see it as a challenge that I want to be a part of.”

Fellow St. Petersburg College student Angela Gjoligu is also counting down the days until she becomes a full-time nurse.

“When the pandemic started especially when it got really bad in New York City, I was like I wish I could go and help,” she explained.

Across the country, enrollment in nursing programs increased 6% last year, according to an annual survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Here in Tampa Bay, leaders at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg College and Galen College of Nursing tell ABC Action News they’re astounded by enrollment.

Tracey Taylor, a Senior Associate Dean at the USF College of Nursing, says it’s great to see.

“It’s been really an unexpected boon,” she said.

Louisana Louis, the Dean of SPC’s College of Nursing says she’s not surprised that up and coming nurses are stepping up to help.

“I think the pandemic opened the eyes of many that when there’s a crisis, nurses are always there,” she elaborated.

Glen Cornwall, the dean of Tampa Bay’s Galen College of Nursing says as people see the need in the community, they’re enrolling in greater numbers.

“With this pandemic, it’s that extra urge to say this is the time," he said.

The time couldn’t be better. Florida and the nation are facing an ongoing nursing shortage. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates we’ll need more than 200,000 new nurses every year until 2026 to fill openings.

Education leaders expect COVID-19 to continue to be a driving factor for enrollment for years to come. It may be the one good thing to emerge from a pandemic that’s killed more than 480,000 Americans.

“People are stepping up in ways that we never would have imagined,” Taylor added.

“It’s an exciting time to be a nurse. Many of us went into nursing school because we wanted to help,” Louis chimed in.

Thanks to COVID-19, healthcare workers are also being recognized for their selfless and heroic dedication, which has added a positive outlook for those seeking careers in nursing.

Through 2026, there is a projected 21% job growth for nurses in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

With the increase of covid-19 testing and the high demand for healthcare workers even prior to the pandemic, employers are in even greater need of trained medical assistants at outpatient clinics and urgent care centers.