Pandemic changes way nursing students prepare for workforce

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PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — As more COVID-19 patients fill hospital rooms, nurses are in high demand and Fortis Institute in Pensacola is preparing its graduates for what’s to come including the emotional toll it takes on healthcare workers.

Fortis saw incoming applications double during the pandemic which took many school leaders by surprise. Every 12 weeks they are graduating students and sending them to work in the healthcare field.

“They are my heroes,” said Dr. Lisa Carwie, Dean of Nursing at Fortis Institute in Pensacola.

2020 was the year of the nurse and that may continue as we see more surges in COVID-19 cases and the number of people hospitalized.   

“We had numbers of our graduates that dropped everything and went to New York and went to New Orleans and went to these epicenters that were just overrun with COVID patients and I couldn’t be any prouder of them,” Dr. Carwie said.

Dr. Carwie said it’s been challenging during the pandemic and it’s changed the way nursing students are learning.

“They are getting probably a little bit more intensive education on controlling infection and wearing PPE,” she said. “We want to make sure when they get out into the workforce they are thoroughly ready.”

According to the Florida Hospital Association, 60 percent of hospitals may face a critical staffing shortage in the next seven days.

“I think it’s just really important to remind people how hard the healthcare workers are working,” said Kathaleen Cole, President of Fortis in Pensacola.

Cole said their students get experience in local hospitals and they’re in contact with the hiring staff so that they can get to work as soon as they pass their exams and graduate.  

“They’re able to complete school and then flip over to working as a registered nurse or practical nurse faster than if they were just going out and applying as soon as they graduated,” Cole said.

One of the biggest challenges for them has been getting into the facilities to get hands-on experience especially when elective surgeries are cancelled and visitor policies change. This week, Baptist Health and Ascension has restricted visitors but they haven’t cancelled elective surgeries like they did in 2020.

The program at Fortis started a little over 10 years ago. They have about 250 students in the Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program and they’re adding students every 12 weeks to the new Practical Nursing (PN) program.

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