The silver lining

In 2020, the herculean efforts of healthcare professionals didn’t go unnoticed. While doctors and nurses grappled with the coronavirus, the world watched. Despite initial concerns the virus might discourage people from applying for medical programs, it had the opposite effect, according to Susan Bakewell-Sachs. Bakewell-Sachs serves as board chair for the American Association of Colleges of Nursing and vice president for nursing affairs at Oregon Health & Science University. She says “What we are hearing generally is that schools are meeting their enrollment targets and that the demand for nursing education remains very strong.” Other schools in the United States also experienced this sharp uptick in applications. Nursing schools have reported rises of up to 25% in applicants compared to other years, a trend which has been referred to as the “Fauci Effect” -- people applying to study healthcare based on the inspiring example of medical workers and public health figures such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

In the United Kingdom, there was a 32% rise in the number of applicants for nursing programs. Data published by the University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) shows 60,130 people have applied to a nursing course for autumn 2021 – an increase of 32% on 2020. Prospective students feel inspired by the courageous actions of doctors and nurses, so began applying. Florence Reeve applied to a pediatric nursing program, saying, “I think before the pandemic, people viewed nursing as quite a simple job, that [there] wasn't much to it and it was quite easy and everyone could do it. But during the pandemic, it has really shown everyone in the world how much nurses are needed."

More diverse pools of candidates:

In addition to the traditional college-aged student applying for nursing programs, UCAS reports an upward trend of applicants from more diverse pools in the United Kingdom. Applicants over the age of 21 have risen 24%. Additionally, “The largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group has come from black and mixed race students, both up 15% to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively.” Applicants of Asian descent increased by 10%.

There’s also been a rise in international students seeking to join nursing programs, with a 17% increase in applicants from outside the EU. Applicants from China increased 21% and applicants from India went up 25%.

Sweden and Norway

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an 8.7% increase in nursing applicants in Norway, a trend which has pleased the head of the Norwegian Nurses Organisation, Lill Sverresdatter Larsen. With more than 150,000 students applying for spots in nursing schools, Larsen said, “We need nurses now more than ever, and there is a national and international shortage of nurses.”

In Sweden, “Where coronavirus deaths are more than 10 times that of Norway, applications to higher education programmes show the same, but stronger, trend,” according to Science Norway. Despite stricter requirements for nursing programs, which caused applications to fall last year, students are still applying in droves.

Canada

Canada has also seen the benefits of this unanticipated side effect of COVID. While the country has not seen as large numbers increasing for undergraduate programs, some master's programs have seen significant increases in applications. For example, Dr. Dawn Stacey, a full-time nurse and professor at the University of Ottawa, says, “In the masters of nursing program, we have a 69 percent increase in applications, and in the masters combined with nurse practitioners program we have seen a 117 percent increase in applications.”

Graduate student Kristina May hopes her nursing education will help her attain a future leadership role. Of the increase in interest, May said, “I think that it may be a reflection that nurses want change. Nurses want to contribute; they want to become nurses to make a difference. And we have the skills and knowledge to do that."

Other colleges have also seen an increase in student interest in their nursing programs, with Algonquin College reporting an increase in enrollment since the start of the pandemic. Inspired by his mother’s tireless efforts working at a children’s hospital during the SARs outbreak, student Chris Hammar started a nursing program just after the pandemic hit.

Even though nursing was a respected profession prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, now people are seeing its value more than ever. Daria Romaniuk, Associate Professor and Associate Director at Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University, commented, “The recognition of what nurses do has gone up, so I can see how that might influence potential students.”

Australia

Down under, schools are seeing a shift away from arts degrees, and towards medical programs instead. Across the country, demands for nursing programs have risen, while other programs have seen a sharp decline in enrollment.

A more competitive application process

Even before the pandemic, the application process for nursing programs was extremely competitive. Students often found themselves waitlisted or denied from their prospective programs. A study by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing found, “The shortage of spots at U.S. nursing schools for the 2018-2019 school year was so severe that more than 75,000 qualified candidates were denied entry.” As a result, the process for applications might be even more difficult for students seeking entry now. Students interested in applying to nursing school should make sure they have strong grades in their classes and entry exams, a compelling admissions essay, and strong letters of recommendation from employers or professors.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has left a lot of damage in its wake, it’s also inspired many to make significant changes in their lives. Students who choose nursing are following a noble profession that is sure to make a difference in countless lives, and they will be in the company of others wishing to make an impact as well.