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Local nursing programs see spike in applications as COVID-19 battle inspires prospective students

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — Many local nursing programs are seeing a spike in applications. Administrators say that's because prospective students want to help their communities fight the coronavirus.

Almost one year ago, hospitals closed to nursing students due to COVID-19, forcing a familiar routine.

"Online learning, online clinicals, virtual case studies, virtual simulations," Ellen Njolstad-Oksnevad, Rock Valley College's Dean of Nursing, explains.

But despite a less hands-on approach, Njoldstad-Oksnevad says she's seen a big jump in applications. Rockford University's Nursing Chair Kim McCullough agrees and says RU's program is at full capacity with 135 students.

"Nursing is at the forefront," McCullough says.

These administrators say that's because, for the past year, current and prospective students have gotten a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like being a nurse, especially on the frontlines.

"I think there's been a lot of positive coverage about the amazing work that they do," Njoldstad-Oksnevad says. "You see the signs 'Heroes work here,' you hear the stories from the frontlines, and it's exciting to be part of something so historical and I think people want to make a difference."

It's those stories and images that McCullough agrees are enticing, and even life-changing, for students.

"They're really experiencing things most new grads don't experience," McCullough says.

Just recently, McCullough says some RU nursing students helped with COVID testing and vaccinations as well as contact tracing.

"It's a little bit more fast-paced," McCullough says than what the normal curriculum would be if we weren't in a pandemic.

And it's that type of training that administrators say makes this group of students more prepared for the world their about to go into.

"One student told me, you know, I feel a sense of belonging, and like we're a family and we have each other's back," McCullough says. "A lot of things have had to be dealt with and I think they've really learned what teamwork means."

It's a golden lesson nursing students are learning in one of America's darkest times.

McCullough adds, there is still a need for nurses so, job security is another benefit of going into the field.

Richard Bodee

Richard Bodee is a reporter at WREX. He joined the 13 WREX team in June 2019 after graduating from DePaul University with a Master’s degree in broadcast journalism.

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