TORONTO -- The key role frontline staff are playing in the COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge in the number of students looking to pursue a career in nursing.

The Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) says that in January, the total number of nursing applications submitted reached 22,533. That’s a 17.5 per cent increase over the year before. 

“I think that a lot of people are seeing how tangibly nurses are contributing to the health of their communities, loved ones, and thinking that they want to contribute as well,” said Lesley Mak, Assistant Dean & Registrar at Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at University of Toronto.

Daria Romaniuk, Associate Professor and Associate Director at Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing at Ryerson University, agrees and says that the pandemic has underscored the crucial role nurses play for prospective students.

“The recognition of what nurses do has gone up, so I can see how that might influence potential students,” she said.

Romaniuk has taught first-year nursing students for nearly 20 years and she says students are eager and open to new ideas.

Khyasia George is studying to become a labour and delivery nurse. The 18-year-old and her classmates are halfway through their first year of nursing at Ryerson University.

“I’ll straight up say this was not the easiest transition from high school,” said classmate Camille Augustyn.

Several first-year nursing students in Toronto told CTV News that they almost deferred their admission by a year because of the pandemic and the added difficulty of online learning.

First-year nursing student Isabella Pardy decided to take on the challenge, anyway.

“Being able to adapt my learning style and learn nursing remotely, it’s a test to my adaptability,” she said.

“The reason I kept going and kept pursuing it is because I was inspired by all the nurses,” said classmate Rido Creer - who moved to Toronto from Regina.

For 18-year-old George, any uncertainties she may have had about her career path have gone away.

“Seeing the front line workers and everything, it shows me that this is what I want to do and it’s a respectable career.”