New Bay Area nursing programs hope to fill void as veteran nurses face COVID-19 burnout

The nursing field struggles to get enough staff, and some veteran nurses and doctors are leaving due to burnout from the pandemic, but new nursing programs in the Bay Area hope to reverse the trend with new recruits.

Nurses are among the healthcare heroes of the pandemic, dealing with constant trauma, stress and care. Those challenges did not deter new recruits Emma Hayhurst and Emily Edwards.

"It made me more interested in the nursing program because of how much I realized the nurses did," said Hayhurst, a freshman student-athlete.

They are part of the first class of students in Saint Leo University’s new nursing program that started this year. The courses begin as veteran nurses face burnout, and COVID-19 makes an existing staffing problem worse.

"We had wondered if the pandemic might have a negative impact on student enrollments in the nursing program, and that has not been the case," said Saint Leo’s Kathy Van Eerden, the dean of College of Health Professions.


Van Eerden said her new students have the heart for the work. 

"For me, I definitely I love the personal touch of a nurse. Usually, when you go to a hospital, you don't really see the doctors come in that often. The nurse is always there…I love that like interaction," explained Edwards. "You get to be with the people and actually physically speak to them rather than just give a diagnosis and you're out really quick. So I definitely like the more personal touch of it more than anything."

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Hayhurst brings some experiences with her after working at a nursing home during COVID. She said she saw first-hand how bad the need is.

"There are so many people that need someone to lighten up their day and come in their room and talk to them and spend time with them because they were isolated for so long," said Hayhurst. "The nursing home I worked at was so short-staffed and that's why I actually reached out because I want to find one around here just to help out the community and pick up shifts."

St. Leo nursing students

Edwards said she studied infectious diseases in high school and that sparked her interest. She knows burnout is a reality, but she said that doesn’t affect her focus.

"I'm actually taking a choosing wellness class right now. And we're focusing a lot on the stress and how to handle that. So if I have a background in that, it'll help me later in life when the stress does pile on us, especially in being a nurse," said Edwards.

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The pandemic gives nursing students a unique view, and new students said that motivates them.

"I'm hoping by the time we do get out of school and I'm in it, we have more of a grip on how to handle these things. So for the future, we'll have like a better starting point rather than the panic that we were first in at the beginning," shared Edwards.

It will be a few more years before the students start working full-time in nursing, but they said they will be ready to hit the ground running with a new perspective.

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