By Crystal Sands
The COVID pandemic has done much to emphasize to Americans just how important our frontline workers are to our society. Our grocery store workers have made it possible for us to get food, even during times of crisis. Our delivery drivers and mail carriers have ensured we received important goods and medicines when we couldn’t leave our homes. And our health care workers have fought to save the lives of so many Americans infected with the virus.
During the first wave of the pandemic, nurses made the national news for their valiant efforts in keeping us safe, despite shortages of personal protective equipment in many areas. In subsequent waves, nurses again made headlines as they worked to educate the public about the dangers of COVID-19. Many Americans are now thinking more about the important roles nurses play in our healthcare system and in our culture, and there is some concern that the trials of the pandemic may prohibit future nurses from joining nursing programs.
But, according to national data, Maine is one state that has adjusted well to potential nursing shortages. Although there may be nursing shortages in many states in the United States, according to national data, by 2030, Maine is on track to fill any potential gaps.
Dr. Colleen Koob, Dean of the School of Nursing at Beal University in Bangor, says their nursing programs at Beal have not seen a “decline or spike during these interesting times.” Instead, Koob says, “Our program has been seeing a steady number of applicants each application session.” Koob explains that Beal accepts nursing students three times per year, in September, January and May. “We just accepted 45 students into our May start this week, as a matter of fact.”
One local nursing student, Steph Norman, is finishing up her sophomore year in Husson University’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. She says she decided at a fairly early age that she wanted to be a nurse after her experiences with healthcare workers after her younger brother was diagnosed with epilepsy. “My family was going to the hospital frequently for appointments, and sometimes to urgent care.” Although she had originally thought she might major in environmental science when she went to college, she decided to become a nurse. “Being around medical staff that often made me realize nursing was the profession I wanted to be in because of the care nurses provided to my brother.”
Norman started the BSN program at Husson before the pandemic but says COVID-19 has not made her change her mind about becoming a nurse, despite the challenges nurses have faced over the last year. Norman says, “I feel more motivated now than ever to join nurses in helping to heal and protect patients impacted by the pandemic.”
Of course, the pandemic has brought some trials to nursing education, but Maine programs have adjusted. Dr. Koob from Beal University says learning had to go online during the first months of the pandemic, but the university has been able to bring back safe in-person learning since last summer. Steph Norman says that the program at Husson has responded well to the pandemic as well. “My professors have done a great job in turning in-person classes to hybrid classes, so we can stay safe and still have hands-on learning experiences,” she says.
It seems as if offering direct support for nurses who are already working in the fields has also been good for nursing students. Dr. Koob says some of their nursing student cohorts have held fundraisers to “purchase meals for staff at local hospitals and first responders during the high points of the pandemic.”
Here in Maine, despite the struggles nurses have faced during the last year, there is great support for and a continued interest in one of the most important professions in the world.
See this Section as it appeared in print here