Are nurses the new rock stars? It sure seems like it. Nursing programs are seeing a sky-high number of applications; Google reported that “how to become a nurse” was a top search term of 2020. Nursing’s always been a popular career, but now it’s red hot. This seems almost counterintuitive, given the reports of stressed-out healthcare workers that dominate pandemic news. So what’s prompting the rise in nursing applicants?

Old-fashioned altruism is one reason, of course. Nurses have always been motivated by the fervent drive to help others and the heroism we’ve seen during the pandemic is inspiring. Others have likely noticed the high demand. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) named Registered Nurses as a fast-growing occupations and projected the number of RNs would increase from 2.9 million to 3.4 million by 2026. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely be under control when new graduates enter the medical workforce, but aging baby boomers will provide a fresh wave of patients requiring care. Finally, the pandemic has highlighted racial and economic disparities in healthcare, moving many people to help dismantle these barriers.

But are those the only reasons for the rise in nursing interest? Many people believe the Fauci Effect is a big factor – as in, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, leader of the Coronavirus Task Force, and all-around hero during the COVID-19 crisis.

Partnering Compassion with Career Potential

In the spring of 2020, Dr. Fauci’s nightly appearances on the news cast him as the wise and reassuring pandemic guide for millions of Americans. His unflappable calm appealed to people dealing with medical anxiety and confronting their own mortality. Those who worried about their parents and grandparents in the hospital realized the importance of compassionate care. Lockdown also gave them time to think about their life’s purpose and their chosen career; in a year of dismal unemployment rates, Dr. Fauci and public health officials reminded them that nursing can open up multiple career paths like teaching, research, and clinical leadership.

So yes, Dr. Fauci probably did inspire many to answer the call of nursing. However, there are a few other factors that are particularly appealing to the next generation of clinicians.

Understanding the Rise in Nursing Popularity

A major inspiration for some nurses: career protection. Unlike many professions, nurses won’t be rendered obsolete by automation. In their State of the World’s Nursing Report 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) examined how technology will shape the future of nursing. They predicted that nurses’ human empathy and clinical skill sets will keep them indispensable even as other professionals are replaced by automation. That’s important to someone with three or four decades ahead of them in the workforce. In fact, technology may benefit nurses via robots that can disinfect a room, transport laboratory specimens, and complete other tedious tasks – allowing nurses to spend more time with their patients.

Another reason nursing appeals to people looking for an interesting career: the option of travel nursing. Provider staffing agencies not only offer attractive pay rates, but travel nurses can explore beautiful areas of the country and expand their skill sets by working with a variety of teams and clinicians. Many are gratified by the chance to practice hands-on care in urgent medical situations, something that isn’t always available in a standard full-time position. 

Ultimately, it’s hard to think of another career that offers high demand, a lucrative paycheck, travel opportunities, a versatile future and the ability to change patients’ lives. So if we had to guess whether it’s the Fauci Effect or the profession itself inspiring so many would-be nurses, we’d say both. But here’s what really inspires us. In a dire pandemic, where providers report burnout, PTSD and arduous shifts, people aren’t running away – they’re running toward the opportunity to help.