ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – By 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 1.1 million new registered nurses will be needed to avoid a nursing shortage.

National news headlines over the last year have looked at how the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many nurses to leave the profession.

At Carilion in Roanoke, the Director of Talent Acquisition, Sonya Charlow, said they’ve seen that happen among their own staff.

“We’ve experienced that with nurses, or clinical professionals, leaving to care for their family and kids being out of school so having to homeschool, things of that nature,” Charlow said.

But as far as the number of nurses retiring during the pandemic, Senior Director of Inpatient Surgical Services Lindsay Collins found many local nurses felt duty-bound to see their community through this difficult time.

“When push came to shove, our nurses stepped up and they were there and they took amazing care of patients when times got tough,” she said.

So why the so called “decline” in nursing?

“I don’t think of it necessarily as a decline in nurses,” Charlow explained. “There’s actually just a lot more opportunities.”

As technology and medical science has boomed over the last few decades, the role of the nurse has evolved from simply traditional bedside nursing.

“They’re able to work in the IT department,” Charlow said. “They’re able to work as care coordinators or going on to become nurse practitioners or physician assistants.”

“The opportunities are endless,” Collins added. “And so I would agree with Sonya; I don’t necessarily believe it’s a shortage. It’s that the profession is growing so rapidly and expanding and there are so many opportunities, there’s just not enough people to fill all those roles.”

By 2029, healthcare as a whole is expected to grow 7%, according to Charlow.

By 2030, more than a million nurses in the U.S. are expected to retire.

And nursing students aren’t able to graduate at a rate fast enough to close the gap.

“Because of that it makes it feel like a decline in nurses,” Charlow said.

But there is some good news in Virginia.

In the Commonwealth, there will be as many as 22,700 extra nurses by 2030, ranking Virginia among the top states for nursing professionals.

And Collins, who often speaks to middle and high school students, finds the interest in nursing is not waning.

“I always ask, what’s their why? And I hear the same reasons,” she said. “It’s certainly not for pay. It’s certainly not because it’s the most glamorous career. It’s because they want to help people, and that to me is really reassuring; that we have a pipeline of people who genuinely care about human beings and want to play a small part in healthcare and in helping people.”

While many hospitals have seen a decline in nurses, Carilion has maintained its numbers, even hiring 500 new nurses in the last year.

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