Local colleges see major interest in nursing as healthcare systems face shortages

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) – Healthcare systems are in need of nurses as many continue to leave the field, but local college officials have said there has been no shortage of interest in nursing school.

Positions are open, but there is no one to fill them is what healthcare systems across the country are experiencing as a nursing shortage persists.

“The pandemic seems to have escalated some of the decisions to retire earlier. There’s also fatigue that’s playing a role in nurses choosing to leave,” said Sandie Soldwisch, president of OSF Colleges of Health Sciences.

Although some are leaving the profession, Soldwisch said interest in joining the field is growing.

Typically, Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing enrolls 65-70 students in the fall. In 2021 that number is 92.

“The pandemic seems to have sparked a tremendous interest in the nursing field,” Soldwisch said.

At Illinois Wesleyan University, there are about 400 applicants for nursing each year, but 48 new students were accepted into the nursing program this fall, a number that stays fairly consistent due to available resources.

“We require doctor prepared nurse faculty. We have a faculty shortage in addition to the nursing shortage,” said Dr. Vickie Folse, director of the School of Nursing at Illinois Wesleyan University.

For those that do enter the program, Folse said focusing on student needs now can help prevent burnout later.

“We’re attentive to meeting their self-care needs, both their physical and mental health needs, so they have something to give back to patients,” Folse said.

At Saint Francis, Soldwisch said the college has added topics like pandemics to their curriculum, giving students a glimpse of what it’s like to treat someone with a pandemic-level infection.

“Our students are comfortable now working with those conditions,” she said.

Both colleges also said student retention in nursing school has been a success.

Saint Francis has a retention rate of about 94 percent, and at Wesleyan, Folse says it’s rare that all students don’t graduate.

The American Nurses Association estimates by 2022 there will be 100,000 registered nurse openings each year.

Locally, UnityPoint Health officials said they have 150 open nursing positions.

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