UW School of Nursing School application numbers soar as pandemic sparks new interest in profession

One of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is a surge of new interest in the nursing profession. Nursing schools across the country are seeing a big jump in applications from those inspired by health care workers on the frontline.

Shevone Shimabuku watched nurses across the country sacrificing their lives while serving those impacted by coronavirus. She said she realized now was the time to fulfill her life’s calling.

"A new perspective on the nursing career. Nurses are being recognized for the amount of passion and dedication required to be successful in this role. And I think for me I kind of always wanted to be a nurse," said Shimabuku.

When Shimabuku’s father was diagnosed with stage four cancer in 2016, she immediately stepped up to care for him.

"Taking him to doctor’s appointments and treatments was really something to see and I got to witness first hand," said Shimabuku. "Coming from Maui, they had to fly to Oahu for a lot of the treatments because they just didn’t have a doctor specialized in that type of care."

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He died two years after his diagnosis, but Shimabuku said her passion for healthcare stayed with her.

"I realized that I can really make an impact by pursuing this career," said Shimabuku.

She moved to Seattle in late February from her home in Maui, Hawaii after being accepted into the University of Washington School of Nursing – one of the most competitive programs in the nation. Anne Hirsch is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Nursing. She said throughout the ongoing pandemic, they have received more applications for nursing school than the space available.

"I think the pandemic has laid bare some of the disparities and equities in our healthcare system and many of our students say to us, ‘I want to help with that. I want to make a difference.’ And so, we are seeing very, very qualified applicants come forward and say this is the time for me to be a nurse," said Hirsch.

Hirsch explained their Bachelor of Science Nursing Program is seeing a 60 percent increase in applications. There were 590 applicants in 2020, and 793 in 2021. To keep up with the continued influx, Hirsch said the program updated its review process.

"What we have done to make sure that every applicant gets a holistic, very thorough review of their application is increase the number of faculty and staff who are reviewing those applications. That’s been a very heavy lift," said Hirsch.

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The heavy-lift will help supply the healthcare system with some of the most equipped nurses around. Take Shimabuku for example—she doesn’t start nursing school until the fall, but is working as a certified dialysis technician to get acclimated to her new community and life of service.

"It really encourages me to explore and develop a career I can be passionate about," said Shimabuku.

Students are still taking classes online in the ongoing pandemic. Lab sessions, however, are now in person while maintaining safe distance. Some students are also back in clinical settings following state safety measures.


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