KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- COVID’s impact on nursing is taking a positive turn.

You’ve heard about burned-out nurses quitting, but the pandemic is also inspiring more recent high school graduates to become nurses.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports a 5.6% increase in enrollment for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in the midst of the crisis.

UMKC’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences has seen an even greater level of interest.

The school’s interim dean said they saw a 10% increase in applications from 2019 to 2020. Then, for the 2021 school year, it went up another 10%.

The students enrolled at UMKC for a BSN are going into the profession with eyes wide open. Hiba Atra did a rotation at a hospital in a COVID ward. What she saw didn’t discourage her; it inspired her.

“When I saw COVID and I saw the struggle and I saw the people just yearning for some support and some foundation, I just-- I felt that push to just keep moving forward,” said Atra.

One of her adjunct instructors, Colten Sharp-Ebert, exemplifies the exodus side of the equation. He shifted his focus to education after getting slammed in his job at a local ICU.

“Emotionally, it was exhausting,” described Sharp-Ebert. “You go home every day and you just, you don't even know what happened during the day. You're just, like, treading water.”

The images from the early stages of the pandemic in New York looked like a warzone; bodies piled into refrigerated trucks and coffins into mass graves. But, it also highlighted the value of nurses and created the concept of health care heroes.

Joy Roberts, the interim dean for UMKC’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, said she’s seen not only more candidates but more qualified ones.

“A lot of times, they never even thought about it -- never even thought about going into nursing -- until it was suddenly forced in the public eye because of the pandemic,” Roberts said.

The teaching staff say it’s a welcome development for existing nurses who’ve already been through so much.

“Ultimately, that'll be what helps relieve the burnout is because we'll have enough staff,” said Sharp-Ebert.

“For as long as they've worked and as hard as they've worked, they need a new generation,” said Atra.

The increase in applicants is specific to programs for bachelor’s degrees and up.

We got numbers from Metropolitan Community College and found out they got half as many applicants for spring 2021 as they did for spring 2019.

The stress on nurses has also been the subject of a newly published study done at UMKC.

Karen Landay, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Bloch School of Management, conducted the research in December and January to determine if there was a correlation between the level and type of passion for the job and the level of stress.

She expected to find that those with an obsessive passion for the job would be more likely to experience stress. She was surprised to find the opposite was true.

“We found that all types of passion actually decreased stress and ultimately decreased burnout. So, passion served almost as a method of protection if you will,” Landay revealed. “In this unique pandemic context, perhaps that’s the reason, in this case, it actually did not harm these nurses. It was actually beneficial to them.”

She intends to revisit the issue at a later date to see if the timing played a role and to expand the research to include first responders.

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