The recent increase in interest for nursing programs couldn’t come at a better time as a pandemic drives the growing demand for more medical personnel.

Ravyn Miller, a third-semester nursing student at Missouri Western State University, said she chose the field due to her desire to help people. When the pandemic hit, forcing schools and businesses to close, Miller was right in the middle of her second semester. She said it was difficult when hospitals had to stop allowing students in for clinicals, but the learning still was able to continue.

“I don’t think it could have been such an easy transition without our faculty and the opportunities to use Zoom and Panopto and different technology to help with our studies,” Miller said.

According to the American Nurses Association, more registered nurse jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics projects 11 million additional nurses will be needed to avoid a further shortage.

“I think that is a trend we’ve been seeing and we’re going to continue to see how that exactly plays in with the pandemic, I don’t know at this point. There are so many unknowns at the moment,” Jacklyn Gentry, chair of the nursing department at Missouri Western, said.

Schools will not be able to see until next year if the pandemic has increased interest in enrollment for nursing programs that could be similar to the bump seen in those wanting to join professions like law enforcement, firefighting and the military after 9/11. However, local universities have seen increased numbers of people wanting to join the nursing profession in the past couple of years, according to Gentry and Ashtyn Wilson, practical nursing program coordinator at North Central Missouri College.

“We have almost always received qualified applicants above and beyond what we can accept. For fall 2020, as a result of the Excel grant and our academic-practice partnership with Mosaic, we increased our enrollment by 10. So this fall we took 60 students versus the 50,” Gentry said. “That 60 will continue into future semesters and the same trend has continued in which we had more applicants than we had space for.”

Missouri Western celebrated an expansion to its nursing program this week that brought a state-of-the-art skills lab that allows for more training in simulation.

Another local nursing program at North Central Missouri College recently ranked number one for its LPN program among 660 programs across the region, according to an online nursing resource, Nursingprocess.org, which is based primarily on excellence in the National Council Licensure Examination passing rates.

“It’s really exciting for us. It’s taken a lot of hard work, and we’re very proud of that,” Wilson said. “I think that’s a wonderful opportunity to get an idea of what it looks like to be a nurse.”

Gentry said classes at Missouri Western look a little different in regards to the pandemic in how they are conducted. They have split up students on an alternating schedule to have half learning online one week and then in person the next.

“We are really striving to educate our students on what is currently happening in health care and to evolve and change as needed,” Gentry said.

Gentry said staff have now implemented teaching how to administer COVID-19 tests as well as practicing with all the PPE equipment.

Even with having to adapt to the multiple changes, Miller said she does not feel her skills and learning opportunities have been hindered. She said even outside of the university, nurses at the hospitals have been working to give as many opportunities to students and encourage them through a difficult time of learning.

“There’s always going to be bumps in the road, but you have to follow your dreams,” Miller said. “Honestly, you can make those dreams come true even in a pandemic because they need us.”

Maykayla Hancock can be reached at makayla.hancock@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @NPNowHancock.