ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen health care systems overwhelmed and at times understaffed. To help out, soon-to-be nurses who are still in school have stepped up to aid the system they plan on devoting their careers to. Those students are jumping right into working while they are pursuing their degrees.

Many of them say if it weren’t for the pandemic, they probably wouldn’t have joined the force as early as they have.

From overflowing ICUs to PPE shortages, to even staffing shortages, the healthcare system as a whole has been through the wringer. But thanks to the willingness of nursing students across the country, help hasn’t been far away.

Chair of SUNY Brockport’s nursing program, Kathleen Peterson says a large majority of students are currently working as Patient Care Technicians in local hospitals.

“Having nursing students available as patient care technicians, because they’re going to be going in the field is very helpful for our nurses in the area,” Peterson said. “When you are short-staffed on the floors, another pair of hands to lift to turn, to take a set of vital signs to take blood is so incredible and because they are nursing students, they also get to do more than patient care technicians would with nurses bringing them under their wing and showing them more techniques.”

Ashley Miller is a senior nursing student at Brockport and has been a patient care tech at Highland Hospital since October.

“A pandemic does not come around very often. And being able to be part of the healthcare system at that time and see how vastly different it can be is amazing,” Miller said.

She said being able to get hands-on experience while helping struggling hospital systems is nothing short of rewarding.

“I started during a pandemic so I don’t really know what it was like before. But definitely looking at it, you see a lot of the changes other than the shortage of healthcare staff here and there. But it’s just really nice to be able to help patients during a time like this,” Miller said. “I did get scared a little bit, but it also has made me realize l how much I do want to go into nursing and how this is actually what I want to do. I want to help people. Things get tough, but we have to be there for the patients.”

While the help is working, hospitals across the state are still struggling with nursing shortages. However, new incentives are aiming to help encourage the next generation of providers. Some of those incentives include scholarship programs such as “Nurses for Our Future” which will cover tuition for 1,000 students pursuing a degree in nursing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Albany, Buffalo, and Rochester regions are the three areas in the state with at least 9,000 registered nurses, meaning more are always encouraged.