SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — According to the American Nurses Foundation, during the pandemic, 51 percent of nurses reported feelings of being overwhelmed. 48 percent felt anxious, and 48 percent reported feeling irritable.

At the Augustana University Nursing program in Sioux Falls, most of these students have seen the pandemic firsthand. Not only do they spend time in classrooms like this…

“What did you think needs to be tailored or accommodated to fit your patient?” asked the instructor.

But most are learning at the hospitals. It’s part of their training called clinicals. They’re the hands-on, hospital-site, portion of nursing school.

Junior Jessica Kratz is learning at Sanford while Junior Abbie Lannen is at Avera.

“Because of the pandemic we’ve seen a lot of really sick patients and they’ve come in huge numbers and hospitals have been super full recently and so for nurses, all nursing staff and even nursing students when we go into that clinical setting, we see that we have a large patient load and so that’s not just only physically taxing but it’s also very emotionally taxing,” said Kratz.

Both say even with the challenges, the pandemic has not changed their minds about a career in nursing.

“We see where nursing is right now, we’re so short the pandemic is hard on everybody and is it worth it and I think at the end of the day we all did say yes it was worth it because we didn’t get in it for the pay, we didn’t get in it for the recognition we got in it because there was something in us that said I want to give back I want to help others,” said Lannen.

Augustana has been teaching nurses for around 80 years. Lynn White, a nurse herself, is the program director.

“I think some nurses are leaving the profession because of the stress of the pandemic, quite honestly though, we were looking at a nursing shortage before COVID because we were already looking at an aging workforce and increased health care needs and higher acuity of patients in hospitals,” said White.

While more nurses are needed, White believes South Dakota may be better off than other parts of the country when it comes to attracting new nurses.

“We have such strong nursing programs in the area and what makes South Dakota unique is not only the nursing program but our strong clinical agencies,” said White.

Those clinical agencies, Sanford and Avera, benefit because once a student starts learning in their system, they are more likely to stay.

Abbie says no matter which nursing school, no matter which hospital, everyone in nursing is going through something for the first time.

“The pandemic showed us a new side of health care and it’s like we’ve never really dealt with a pandemic in our generation, so this is all new to us, so we were like let’s just roll with the punches and see where it takes us,” said Lannen.

Jessica says the pandemic has exposed more people to exactly what nurses do. And that may discourage some but encourage others.

Maybe people who didn’t understand what nursing was before they might see it and realize it’s not for them. But I also think that sometimes when people see that there is a need that they want to fill that role and so it might actually increase the amount of people who decide to go into nursing,” said Kratz.

Hospitals all over the country hope Jessica is right.

According to the Federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics, South Dakota and Iowa nurses make between 29 and 30 dollars an hour. Nurses in Minnesota make almost ten dollars an hour more.