MADISON (WKOW) -- As hospitals face shortages in health care workers, schools that train nurses are adapting to prepare students for work in the pandemic.
Conner Mickelson never expected to be learning to become a nurse at such a critical time.
"It's been what we've been building towards for our entire lives," he said. "Just being able to go and help people and being able to do that in the middle of a pandemic is almost an honor, in a sense."
He's in his final semester at Edgewood College's Henry Predolin School of Nursing. The school's nearly 300 students have had to shift their learning styles significantly during the pandemic.
"Because the hospitals are taking a smaller number of students on the unit at a time because of space and social distancing, we've been able to adapt and develop more virtual experiences," said interim dean Colleen Gullickson.
Edgewood College combines virtual learning with some in-person work to train the future nurses, using a simulation center and practicing telehealth patient services.
"It's challenged the students to be able to assess health and wellness and illness in a different way, when you can't see the patient face-to-face," Gullickson told 27 News.
The students also have had some new opportunities to get hands-on experience during the pandemic. They've been called on to help public health departments across southern Wisconsin with contact tracing and flu shot clinics.
Edgewood College and Madison College have both seen more interest in the nursing programs this year, despite seeing how stressful the job can be during the pandemic.
"I think almost seeing some of the challenges in the healthcare system is actually producing more interest, more drive, more desire to be able to get into the profession and make a difference and help," said Kerri Kliminski, nursing program director and faculty member at Madison College.
Madison College has used similar virtual and in-person learning services for its roughly 400 students. Plus, the team has put together kits of gear students can take home to practice procedures.
"This really has forced us to engage in teaching and learning practices that we maybe wouldn't have done on our own," she said.
With fewer hospital spaces open for students during the pandemic, the school also has developed new partnerships with clinics, providing a more diverse learning experience.
Conner Mickelson says his pandemic learning experience at Edgewood College has been essential, as he prepares to become an essential worker after graduating in January.
"My plans are going to work in a hospital, potentially working in a COVID unit," he told 27 News. "We'll see what the future has in store, but it'll be a wonderful experience regardless."
The schools say, with the desperate need for workers at hospitals, many students already have job offers before graduation.