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Interest in nursing soars during coronavirus pandemic across Texas, may address all-time nursing shortage

"Everybody is eager to graduate and get out there and help. We consider nursing a calling," said Dr. Linda Plank at Baylor's School of Nursing in Dallas.

DALLAS — The shortage of nurses in the U.S. is not exactly a new phenomenon. As hospitals expand and medical technology advances, the need for qualified nurses grow. 

The pandemic may have also exploited that shortage while also piquing the interests of prospective nurses. 

"Everybody is eager to graduate and get out there and help. We consider nursing a calling," said Dr. Linda Plank, interim dean at Baylor University's Louise Herrington School of Nursing. 

The nursing shortage in Texas is real. Trends maintained by Texas Health and Human Services estimate the state will be short 20,000 to 50,000 nurses between now and year 2030. But the pandemic has helped the increase in nursing school applicants.  

Between its Dallas and Waco campuses, Baylor's School of Nursing has more than 1,100 students in the undergraduate and graduate programs. 

Plank told WFAA that just two years ago the graduate program had about 50 students every semester, and now they are set up to serve more than 400 students next semester.

"Almost every school is having more people apply than we can handle right now," said Plank.

Dr. Jessica Peck is a clinical professor at Baylor and also a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Houston area. She said while interest is high among students, there is still a massive shortage of nursing faculty. 

Experts have opined that thousands of students are turned away by schools simply because there isn't enough faculty to teach them.

Peck told WFAA that the topic of COVID-19 comes up almost every day in her classes. She currently teaches 120 students from all across the globe. COVID-19 even hit right at home for Peck. She, her husband and their four children had the virus in August.  

"Being a patient as a nurse is a really humbling feeling, it makes you give better care," said Peck.

Both Peck and Plank told WFAA that there aren't enough conversations happening about the burnout among hospital staff. 

Peck said people see us as heroes but "we're not superheroes." She said no one is invincible to the virus, and physical and social fatigue are real things happening in hospitals across the country. 

"When you work in an environment where you see a lot of patients die... that's a very difficult thing to do for a long period of time," said Peck.

"I'd be very interested to see if the profession lost nurses because of the COVID pandemic," said Plank.

Despite the warning of fatigue, the interest in nursing among students remains high. At the Dallas campus another crop of students just had their socially-distant pinning and recognition ceremonies. WFAA was told most all have already landed jobs because the need for nurses is that great.