Despite pandemic, San Antonio nursing schools see record applications

Deans of UT Health SA and UIW nursing programs call students compassionate, dedicated

SAN ANTONIO – With COVID-19 causing so much burnout and illness in the health care field, the question arose -- will fewer students choose to go into nursing? Conversations with the deans of two major nursing schools in San Antonio revealed something both encouraging and inspiring.

Austin Chapa graduated from Churchill High School in 2017, knowing he wanted to be a nurse like his mother.

The pandemic hit in the middle of his studies but seeing employee burnout and illness hasn’t scared him away.

“It comes down to really making a difference in people’s lives. It’s really important. It’s really fulfilling,” Chapa said.

It turns out there are many compassionate, driven people out there like Chapa.

KSAT checked in with the University of the Incarnate Word and UT Health San Antonio nursing schools to compare applications before and after the pandemic.

UT Health San Antonio’s applications have more than doubled, from 258 applications in Spring 2020 to 596 in Fall 2021.

UIW is seeing so many applications, and they’ve begun enrolling more students.

“In January, in the last two weeks, we started a brand new class of 93, and that includes 25 students in our new accelerated program for people who have previous degrees. A year ago, we were probably only admitting 62,” said Holly Cassells, the dean of UIW School of Nursing and Health Professions.

Cassells said if she could find enough faculty, she’d increase it more.

“We have faculty retiring. We have faculty moving and transitioning, a lot of it impacted by COVID,” she said.

Part of the capacity also lies in the required training process for nursing students.

“Finding clinical placements for nurses to practice. Over this past year, it’s been very hard because initially, we didn’t put students on units where there are COVID patients. Now we’ve gotten way beyond that. Students take care of all patients now,” Cassells said.

Cynthia O’Neal, the associate dean of Undergraduate Studies at the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing, said the same thing.

“Our students do go into clinical settings and engage with patients in hospital settings and community settings. And because of the pandemic, those opportunities have been restricted in some ways,” O’Neal said.

She said that’s why the program capacity of around 330 students a year has held steady. The nursing school accepts between 110 and 120 students every fall and every spring, and then 90-100 students in the summer.

O’Neal said she couldn’t pinpoint why applications have doubled because when the pandemic hit, they suspended the requirement for an entrance exam due to accessibility. Still, she believes the biggest reason is they’re following their hearts.

“We do have some really compelling stories of students who have lost parents or grandparents during the pandemic,” O’Neal said.

“It’s really amazing that people are willing to accept that challenge and pursue their goals and careers despite how fast things can change,” Chapa said.

Both deans believe the positivity of these young nurses can create hope for a society in much need of healing.

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About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.