College of the Florida Keys nursing students practice clinical skills on campus last year. AMBER ERNST-LEONARD/Contributed

The College of the Florida Keys recently accepted its largest-ever nursing class, crediting the pandemic for much of the new and renewed interest in nursing as a vocation.

“Nurses are heroes and their jobs are pandemic- and recession-proof,” said Carla Fry, the college’s director of nursing.

 “Of course, we also credit our solid reputation, with a better-than-average pass rate for a registered nursing license, and program expansions that now include a bachelor’s degree,” added Amber Ernst-Leonard, spokeswoman for the college.

The school’s nursing department interviewed 147 applicants and accepted 97 for its largest class so far. There are 53 nursing students in Key West and 44 in the Upper Keys, and for many, this is their first foray into college, Ernst-Leonard said.

“Those students won’t start their actual nursing courses until spring, but they are indeed accepted in the major,” Fry said. “We typically start with 30 to 40 nursing applicants and accepted students. With 146 applicants in the nursing program this semester, the fall class is richly diverse and highly qualified.”

Classes, labs and clinicals will be virtual for the fall in the interest of safety and out of respect for the school’s clinical partners, who are exhausted after working long hours in these troubling times, Fry said.

Carla Fry, Ph.D., is the director of nursing at The College of the Florida Keys and a Fulbright scholar. COLLEGE OF THE FLORIDA KEYS/Contributed

“I have many years of experience running virtual programming and the faculty are well-prepared,” she said. “We will use enhanced, interactive digital technology to simulate the patient/provider interaction and develop critical thinking. Though students will be conducting skills and clinical experiences from home, they will be dressed in their scrubs and attending video conferences before and after each lesson with their instructors. Demonstration of clinical competence and skills mastery will be attained through use of virtual case studies.”

Students also will video themselves performing various essential tactile skills. 

“We are going to incorporate patient actors for the first time as well, particularly for students to practice collecting health histories,” Fry said. “New nursing students will be assigned a peer mentor as well as a college adviser so they have a touchstone and feel supported. Personal connections and social interaction are extremely important, and we must prepare our next generation of nurses for the challenges that lie ahead. Nurses are innovators by nature. They have to be. So adapting to a rapidly changing environment is not foreign to any of us.  Our talented, experienced nursing faculty are poised and ready for an amazing fall semester.”

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