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Colorado nursing school applications rise amid pandemic

There may be various reasons for the increase, but it is a good sign for an industry that needs a larger workforce.

DENVER, Colorado — As demand for nurses increases, applications for Colorado nursing programs are increasing as well.

The Denver College of Nursing said they’ve seen a significant increase, but they can’t share exact numbers.

Metropolitan State University of Denver saw an 11% increase in applicants from Fall 2019 to Fall 2020, the school said.

The University of Colorado College of Nursing saw a 4% increase during the pandemic, according to school officials.

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“I think it's hard to really correlate that necessarily with the COVID-19 pandemic, just because of our application cycle,” said Tammy Spencer, dean at University of Colorado’s College of Nursing undergraduate program.

Spencer said it would be easier to tell if the pandemic plays a role in increasing or decreasing CU nursing student applications in a few years as new college students go through pre-requisite classes and apply.

“We're starting to see the interest,” Spencer said. “[Prospective students saying] ‘gosh these nurses and healthcare providers really inspire me. How can I become a nurse?’ So, I think over the next year or two, I think that's when we're going to see this cohort of nursing students who have been inspired by what they're seeing right now.”

MSU Denver’s chair of the nursing program, Theresa Buxton, said she believes their increase in applicants is partially due to the stories of heroism that have been broadcasted on various media platforms.

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Buxton said regardless, it is a good sign for an industry that needs a larger workforce.

“The need for nursing is growing rapidly due to the increased demand for more nurses overall and the fatigue frontline nurses are experiencing taking care of increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients,” Buxton said. “This pace of COVID-19 escalation can’t keep up with the number of health professionals including nurses who become ill with the virus or in some cases become severely impacted or die as a result.”

Many students on track to enter nursing programs have already been on the front lines of the pandemic.

“It was crazy back in March,” Molly York said. She is still pursuing her nursing degree with CU after working as a certified nursing assistant at UCHealth’s University of Colorado Hospital. “We went from an orthopedic unit to the COVID unit... it took a lot of teamwork and a lot of communication.”

Spencer said she believes this kind of training, during an especially trying time, will create uniquely resilient graduating classes in the coming years.

“I think as healthcare becomes more and more complex, as people are sicker and sicker in a hospital acute care setting, as more and more innovations in our healthcare system come to light, it takes a nurse to be able to weather that, to be able to be strengthened by that, and still have the passion it takes to hold somebody's hand to walk with them through a very difficult time,” she said. “I think you learn that through resiliency.”