New Jersey nursing school enrollments are up but can’t keep up with nurse vacancies

As more nurses leave the medical field because they are burned out from the pandemic, a new generation is getting ready to fill their shoes. But experts say a new graduating class is not enough.
“When I went into the hospital, everything that I was learning from the last 2 ½ years I saw from my own eyes and I was like, ‘Wow, this is what I’m going to do,’” says Rutgers nursing student Lana Hamedeh.
Hamedeh says that the pandemic hasn’t scared her away from a career in nursing. She says that it has actually pushed her to work harder. And this mindset is encouraging more people to do the same.
“Last year at the height of the pandemic, applications of the school of nursing for undergrad – people wanting to become nurses – was up 25%,” says Linda Flynn, dean of Rutgers University School of Nursing. “And this year it’s up another 12% from that.”
But even with the increased interest, Flynn says that it can’t fill the void left by many nurses retiring or leaving the field.
“The amount of illness and, unfortunately, loss of life that the nurses have witnessed over the last year and a half, it has been substantial. More than what most nurses see in a lifetime,” says Flynn.
Flynn says that COVID-19 has changed how they teach nurses, incorporating more resiliency training and mental health education into the curriculum.
"They definitely tell us to prioritize your mental health and make sure you're taking time between studying and then once we’re nurses, taking time to just be sure that we're doing things that we love to do and getting enough rest,” says nursing student Hana Mahmood. “Talking to loved ones about things and just making sure that we keep our mental health in check.”
Flynn says that fresh nurses are much-needed in the coming years.
“New Jersey is running a vacancy rate of about 11% and so that’s about 11,000 nurses, and New Jersey as a state produces about 3,000 new graduates a year,” says Flynn. “So, when you add the retirements that are expected over the next eight to 10 years to that, we’re not catching up.”
Stockton University is also looking to fill the need for nurses. The school announced on Tuesday that it is expanding the accelerated BSN program in Manahawkin by adding a spring cohort for the first time. This program begins in January.