BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As COVID-19 patients continue to overload Alabama hospitals, they are also having to deal with a shortage of nurses. In an effort to combat the shortage, UAB’s School of Nursing is actively recruiting and preparing future nurses to help fill in the gap.

UAB officials say their nursing school enrollment is up by 7%. Last year, the program had 476 students training to be new nurses. This year, the program had 479 students.

On the flip side, the nationwide nursing shortage is presenting more hands-on opportunities for nursing students inside UAB’s hospital.

“They’ve seen and participated in real life, you know community health and frontline bedside nursing and the ICU’s and dealing with all of this that we have been dealing with,” said Summer Powers, assistant nursing professor at UAB.

Powers said lessons have adapted to the pandemic to help prepare students for the frontlines.

“We’ve had to be really creative, but nursing is not something you can do from afar. So, we’ve made adjustments for social distance and following guidelines but safely allowing our students to work through simulations and continuing clinical experiences because they are going to be taking care of patients no matter what is going on with the pandemic,” she said.

As students gain hours of clinical experience, it’s not going unnoticed. Medical centers are actively recruiting nurses and setting them up with jobs right after graduation.

“That’s good because we can build a relationship with them, and their future employer and they can start getting involved with their culture at the hospital and getting involved with orientation so it’s really starting right when they get here to foster that professional development,” said Powers.

UAB says they will continue to reach out to alumni, high schools and community colleges to help recruit future nurses so they are prepared to enter the workforce.