Pandemic inspires future nurses with record numbers accepted on university courses

Survey finds nearly 70% of young people applied to pursue nursing career inspired by pandemic

UCAS survey of people who applied to nursing degree courses in England in 2021 found nearly 70% said pandemic a key factor to embark in nurse training

There has been a record number of university applications for nurse degree courses this year
Picture: iStock

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired more people to pursue a career in nursing with a record number of young people applying to study nursing in 2021, according to a new report.

A Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) survey of 2,690 people who applied to nursing degree courses in England in 2021 found 69% said the pandemic was a key element in their decision to embark on nurse training.

Nearly 99% of survey participants confident they made right career choice

Around one in ten said COVID-19 was the most important factor in choosing nursing, while about one quarter said current healthcare professionals were the biggest influence.

Nearly all – 99% – of survey participants were confident they had made the right career choice.

The survey findings feature in a report by UCAS and Health Education England (HEE) looking at why record numbers are applying to study nursing.

UCAS data shows the number of 18-year-olds opting to study nursing shot up by 38% since 2019, with 7,105 making it their first choice course in 2021, and 6,510 securing places.

This comes amid a rise in applications from people of all ages, with a record-breaking 28,815 people putting nursing as their first choice in 2021.

Nursing one in a handful of subjects to attract high proportion of people from disadvantaged areas

The report suggests the pandemic has raised the profile of nursing with the We Are the NHS recruitment campaign, new grants to support training and more funding for practice placements also contributing to the boom in popularity.

It shows nursing is one of only a handful of subjects to attract a higher proportion of young people from the most disadvantaged areas of the UK, most likely because of the range of flexible training options, such as the new blended learning nursing degree.

UCAS has also seen increased interest in nursing apprenticeships, which allow people to combine work with study.

Proposals to capitalise on profession’s popularity include increasing training places

HEE chief nurse and deputy chief nursing officer for England Mark Radford said insights from the report would inform efforts to build a nursing workforce that is ‘highly skilled, critically thinking, and with the right values’.

The report proposes several measures to capitalise on nursing’s growth in popularity, including increasing training places.

RCN director for England Patricia Marquis said the surge in nursing students was welcome, but does not address the immediate staffing crisis facing the NHS.

‘Record numbers of applications does not equate to record numbers of nurses entering the workforce, as many of these students won’t qualify until 2024 and beyond,’ she said.

The Scottish and Welsh governments recently announced they would be increasing the number of nurse training places in 2022-23.

How to build the buzz around nursing

  • Increase the number places on degrees, apprenticeship and nurse associate courses
  • Do more to promote new vocational and technical routes into nursing
  • Encourage more men into nursing by showcasing male nurse role models
  • Provide more opportunities for people interested in nursing to familiarise themselves with clinical settings, such as virtual and physical visits

Source: Next Steps: Who are the Future Nurses?

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