SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on medical professionals around the world, including right here in KELOLAND.

But the promise of long hours and high stress has not stopped hundreds of students from enrolling in the nursing program at Augustana University, including its accelerated nursing program, which has students on the fast-track to becoming frontline workers.

The Accelerated Nursing Program at Augustana University is designed for students who have already earned a college degree, allowing them to complete the program in 16 months.

“We are working really hard to get them ready to be on the front line. We are working with our clinical partners Avera and Sanford and many community agencies to make sure our students get the experience that they need,” Augustana Assistant Professor of Nursing Pam Barthle said.

Students earn that experience through active learning in the classroom.

“We run them through the scenario, they work as a group to problem solve, to bounce ideas off of each other, and really nursing is such a team sport that we encourage that,” Barthle said.

This Pediatric Nursing class is using a simulation mannequin, providing a hands-on experience.

“It’s set up to simulate a real experience for the student so that they’re able to make their clinical decisions in a safe environment,” Barthle said.

Today’s simulation features an eight-year-old with asthma.

“These things can really throw all kinds of stuff at us. It’s about as real to life as I think you can make it without being real life and that’s really how you learn,” Augustana nursing student Lori Anderson said.

COVID-19 has turned the medical profession on its head over the past 12 months, but these students are confident in their decision to attend nursing school.

“This pandemic has just reaffirmed me in choosing this path, it’s actually kind of motivated me,” Anderson said.

“I have a lot of role models and people that I look up to that do this job as well and they’re telling me even though it’s hard right now they wouldn’t change what they do,” Augustana nursing student Chase Ditmanson said.

The nursing program hasn’t changed its curriculum since the start of the pandemic, but has altered its content.

“More focused on PPE, we’re obviously cognizant of social distancing, wearing masks, and really helping nurses understand the environment that they’re going to be walking into because it’s much different even what they were walking into a year ago,” Barthle said.

The 2019-20 Augustana Student Association Teacher of the Year, Pam Barthle encourages students to look beyond the written material.

“You may know a certain amount of facts about something, but if you’re not asking the right questions at the right time, I feel as if we’re learning how to prioritize our care and I think that’s really important,” Ditmanson said.

“You need to know the content, but then you need to know how to use that in the moment and apply it to the situation you’re seeing,” Anderson said.

They’re also learning to lean on their fellow students.

“I think that’s one of the good things about this being such an intense program is you really are forced to have to rely on your classmates, which I think is good preparation for being a nurse. You can never know it all, there’s just no possible way. You have to be comfortable asking for help,” Anderson said.

“What I’ve also learned in the hospital is that you’re never going to be by yourself and that’s a good thing. If it was solely on you, you might make a lot of mistakes, but you should be ok with reaching out for help,” Ditmanson said.

Barthle says the most important lesson in preparing students for the high-stress field of nursing might be self-care.

“To get enough sleep, to get enough good nutrition, to help them find ways to relax in healthy ways, and that’s what’s going to help them maintain longevity in this profession,” Barthle said.

After starting in August, these accelerated nursing students will graduate in December, and are eager to put their skills to test in the real world.

“We tell them to take good care of themselves and to really embrace the profession because it has a lot to offer, even in a pandemic although it’s more difficult now, there are so many opportunities for nurses to really take advantage of those opportunities and we prepare them well for that,” Barthle said.

As they inch closer to graduation, these postgraduates have some advice for the next wave of nursing students.

“Take care of yourself, for sure. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anybody else,” Ditmanson said.

“One day at a time, lots of deep breaths, and it’s just so important to keep thinking positive,” Anderson said.

The accelerated nursing students will intern this summer, graduate in December, and take their licensure exam in January, 2022, before officially joining the workforce.