NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. — Hospitals nationwide are struggling with a shortage of nurses, but there is good news when it comes to the number of students getting into the field.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, enrollment was up last fall, despite the pandemic. AACN said it increased by 5.6% in entry-level baccalaureate programs, 4.1% in master's programs and 8.9% in Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.

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Amanda Soklaski, 22, said becoming a nurse has been her life's dream for years.

"I've just always wanted to help people, so I thought this was the best way for me to do this," she said.

Right now, Soklaski is a medical assistant student at Pasco-Hernando State College, but she plans to apply for their nursing program next fall. She said she's well aware of the added pressures COVID has brought to the job, but that hasn't made her question this career path.

"No, absolutely not," Soklaski said. "From day one, I've always wanted to do nursing, and COVID really hasn't changed my thought on doing it. If anything, it just made me want to do it even more."

PHSC Dean of Nursing and Health Programs Billie Gabbard said the college's offerings, including Licensed Practical Nursing and associate degree programs, saw some ups and downs when it came to student numbers.

"Initially, and we're talking all nursing programs, we saw a slight dip just because of, 'COVID's here, and what do we do?' But we are seeing that reversal, and the trend is we're moving forward," said Gabbard.

According to AACN, one area it saw a decrease in was RN to baccalaureate, or BSN programs.

"The baccalaureate degree is considered the first degree in professional academic nursing. So, that's where we're starting from," said Dr. Daryle Wane, PHSC's BSN program director.

AACN numbers show those programs saw a 2.6% decrease in the amount of students enrolled nationwide. PHSC also saw fewer students in its BSN offering during the pandemic, but enrollment doubled from last spring to the current fall semester. That's brought the school back to pre-pandemic levels. 

"Enrollment is a little bit variable, considering our student population is right in the midst of working in COVID units and in the hospital. So, their working time is anywhere from 40-60 hours a week, and yet they're still going to school," said Wane.

Gabbard said PHSC wants to continue to grow enrollment in its programs. Open enrollment for the BSN program is happening now through Nov. 10.