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Few Nursing School Spots Available, Despite Nursing Shortage


George Mason University's School of Nursing doesn't have enough room for its pre-nursing students even though there is a demand for this profession.

FAIRFAX, VA — During the pandemic, the workers on the frontline were doctors and nurses. This outbreak caused shortages in these professions across the nation and still has its effects today. ​


Some though, want to fill the need and help in the fight against COVID-19. College students, in particular, are eager to jump into the frontlines to help people. ​


There is a backfire though, the increase in interest due to the pandemic makes it challenging for nursing schools as they do not have enough spots. They cannot meet the demand.​


George Mason University’s School of Nursing, program is highly competitive. The Traditional program has over 400 applications and admits about 100 students, about 75% of students are not accepted.​


In 2018, Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association published the graph below, on how many applicants v. accepted v. enrolled. The numbers and percentages get smaller and smaller through each step. ​​​​​​​​​​

Mason’s Nursing program does not have statistics for the public, but students who may be qualified for the program may not get admitted due to the limited spots. ​


When first-year students pick their major “Pre-Nursing” they sign up for two years of their lives to complete all prerequisite courses while also volunteering, interning, working, and getting certificates to put them above the competition. ​


Once those two years are over, they apply to the actual nursing school. If admitted, they finish the rest of their two years doing hands-on learning and eventually earn their bachelor's.


If they are not accepted, the two years of hard work must be put on hold and must wait until the following year to apply again. Both of these outcomes are called the “Second Gate” process within the Traditional Program.​


It is recommended to have backup plans. College of Health and Human Services student advisor, Raven Green tries to help students plan accordingly and encourages them to even apply to other programs. 

Two students, in particular, were hopeful and anxious about their decision. They applied for the Traditional Program in December and days before the decision explained their nervousness. Decisions came out the week of Spring Break.


“It’s definitely, like high anxiety, for sure,” said Dibora Habte.

“I don’t have the results, I am scared,” said Victoria Rapano.


Habte has always been interested in the medical field ever since she was a child. She wants to work specifically in maternity because of the health disparities in women.


Rapano is also interested in health disparities, but for underprivileged communities because she grew up in the Philippines and saw firsthand the need for medical supplies and caregivers. Her mother is also a nurse. 


The need for nurses is still necessary today. According to a St. Augustine for Health Sciences from 2021 says “registered nursing was the fifth-most in-demand job in the American workforce, according to LinkedIn.”

Green has many moments with students regarding the nursing program, but one, in particular, was with a student who had straight A’s but was, unfortunately, rejected. 


“They were devastated by not being able to be in that program. That meeting was more about them just venting, crying, and being frustrating and having someone show some compassion to them.”

Cheryl Oetjen, Chair of the School of Nursing, says they don’t have enough clinical spots, faculty, or funding and that is why the spots for the nursing program are limited. 


Habte, a few days after the interview was accepted into the program. Rapano, however, was sadly waitlisted.

“So, unlikely, that there is going to be much of a waitlist that will get into the program, from our traditional,” said Oetjen.

This is because the students that apply have been waiting two years for this opportunity and usually, students accept their offer. That is unfortunate for the waitlisted students, as their chance slips away because they are simply not enough spots for them.


“It is extremely tough for our students just because they’ve spent probably two years working towards a nursing degree, only to find out they didn’t get it, and it is hard to see students struggle through that.”

To combat this problem of space Jennifer Sawyer, Associate Director of Undergraduate Recruitment & Admissions says the program is trying to slowly remove the “Second Gate” process and introduce a “Direct Admission”. This would have students applying right out of high school. Their goal is to notify the students who are interested whether or not they are admitted sooner rather than later.

Sawyer also mentioned a problem some students have with "Second Gate" is that if students are not accepted the majority of their courses don't transfer to another major. So, if high school graduates know if they are eligible or not, will help them choose a different career path before their credits are wasted.


The two processes, "Second Gate" and "Direct Admission" are operating in this application cycle which has increased acceptance, but once the Second gate is finished and gone for good, the competitiveness and space will still be a problem. 

But for students who are accepted, like Habte, are ready to meet the demand and become a nurse.


Photo and Video credit: Mason and CHHS Communications

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