Amar Woods knew he didn’t want to wait years to begin helping patients. That’s why Lincoln Tech’s one-year Licensed Practical Nursing program was so appealing when he started in the fall of 2019.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic reached New Jersey, and Woods — and other aspiring nursing students — realized their future was now.
“When COVID-19 happened, the whole country kind of thought this would blow over in a week or two,” he said. “When it didn’t, nursing students were thinking, ‘OK, now what?’”
Students at Lincoln Tech soon got information on how they could get involved. The good news: Students there and elsewhere were eager to do so. The pandemic had not turned their interest away.
Nursing student enrollment is actually increasing, said Scott Shaw, the CEO of Lincoln Tech.
“You can’t turn on the TV without hearing something about health care in one form or another, and I think that’s driven a lot more interest and attention into some of the health care careers we offer,” he said.
Shaw said enrollment at Lincoln Tech’s three New Jersey campuses that offer nursing, Paramus, Iselin and Moorestown, is projected to be 13% higher in 2020 than in 2019. In addition, during April and May alone, in the middle of the pandemic, inquiries about nursing were up 18% from the prior year.
The County College of Morris also is seeing an increased interest in nursing.
The number of students in its 2020 Summer Session program, as well as the number of classes they are taking, are both up from a year ago.
CCM President Tony Iacono said he expects the standout numbers in the nursing program to continue growing.
“Our hypothesis is that people are inspired not just by this terrible crisis, but by the men and women on the front lines who are caring for others,” he said.
Such an outlook would be pleasing to Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
She said enrollments in nursing programs — which were going up before COVID-19 — are continuing to do so.
During one of the state’s recent daily briefings, she said she hoped the increase could be attributed to the appeal of being able to help in a crisis.
“I think you want to be part of this, and you want to be a hero,” she said. “The (number of) student nurses that are coming out to help volunteer to go into long-term care is remarkable. It’s something you want to be part of.”
Woods, who has completed three-quarters of the coursework at Lincoln Tech, agreed.
“To do nursing, you have to change your mindset,” he said. “I remember one teacher told us, ‘You’re going to come in and you’re going to be a different person by the time you leave.’ And that really is true.”
Woods has not been able to join his classmates on the front lines of the fight, but he has been putting his newly created skills to use: He is caring for his grandmother — and does not want to risk bringing the virus to her.
“In a lot of ways, she’s like my personal patient,” he said.
Woods said the LPN program can definitely be a stepping-stone for other nursing programs such as a BSN or RN.
Woods said that, after the year it takes to become a LPN, students are ready and eager to help patients. During a crisis like COVID-19, something as reachable as a one-year program has inspired more students to look into health care careers, he said.