The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and exposed America’s increasing shortage of healthcare professionals. Prior to the pandemic, Future Ready Iowa reported that the healthcare sector would lead Iowa’s largest skills gap and job growth by 2025. This has been compounded by healthcare worker burnout and resignation in response to the pandemic. 

However, recent data indicates a new surge of interest in nursing, medical, and other health-related career programs. This fall, Mercy College of Health Sciences experienced a 13% growth in applications for its healthcare-related programs. With the addition of Mercy College PLUS, an online extension of Mercy College, the College has 840 students on campus and 116 MercyPLUS students online, totaling 956 students enrolled at the College this fall — a 12% increase from last fall.

“It has been rewarding to see individuals responding to our communities' needs to serve others. The high interest we have had in all of our academic programs is crucial to our communities,” stated Nancy Kertz, PhD, APRN, Mercy College Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost. “Our team at Mercy College continues to answer the call when it comes to preparing and transforming students into quality healthcare professionals. We developed innovative educational offerings before the pandemic and will continue to do so long after its conclusion.”

The aging baby boomer generation burst has not only led to a larger number of aging patients, but also means that a large portion of the nursing workforce is heading toward retirement. Between 2000 and 2018, the average age of employed registered nurses (RNs) increased from 42.7 to 47.9 years old, and nearly half (47.5%) of all RNs are now over the age of 50. (U.S. Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Workforce, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. (2019) 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses Brief Summary of Results.

“My background is nursing, so I know what it takes to become a nurse,” stated Deb Willyard, Ed.D, MSN, RN, Mercy College Dean of Nursing. “Now, more than ever, we need nurses in our communities. As a healthcare specialty college, our hands-on learning models are intentionally engaging and lead to positive student outcomes. Between skills labs and clinical experiences, our students graduate  prepared to enter the workforce and answer the call.”

To learn more about Mercy College’s healthcare-focused academic programs, visit

About Mercy College of Health Sciences
Mercy College of Health Sciences is the only private Catholic college in central Iowa and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). Located in downtown Des Moines, Mercy College prepares graduates for service and leadership in the healthcare community with a wide range of bachelor, associate, and certificate programs. Mercy College’s liberal arts and sciences education develops compassionate caregivers and leaders. Visit or call (515) 643-3180 to learn more.