Morgan Ruggiero started off the year 2020 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and injured meniscus. The damage was severe enough that even though the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing, doctors urged her to move forward with surgery in May 2020.

As she mentally prepared herself, she expected to at least have the comfort of her family beside her in the hospital, but strict COVID-19 policies at the time meant she ended up being dropped off at the front door of the hospital and experiencing the surgery and immediate recovery alone.

“I was without my family the whole time and it was scary,” Ruggiero says, “but one nurse never left my side.”

That comfort of a stranger ended up providing the guidance she was searching for. The sophomore business major already was considering a change in her degree track, but she hadn’t yet determined to what.

National Nurses Day is observed May 6 and kicks off National Nurses Week, which runs through May 12.

“After going through that experience in the hospital, I knew this is definitely what I want to do,” she says. “I never felt alone with her and that’s what I want to give back when I become a nurse.”

Ruggiero wasted no time in making the change. She dedicated the next three semesters to completing eight prerequisite courses she needed to apply to the UCF College of Nursing, where she learned last month that she’s been accepted to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program and will begin classes at the UCF Cocoa campus in August.

Ruggiero is not alone in having a change of heart. COVID-19 has shed light on the work of nurses and other frontline healthcare workers, and has inspired a surge of people to consider the profession for themselves.

The UCF College of Nursing has seen that effect firsthand, with an unprecedented amount of applications this year. For its traditional BSN program, the college saw about 150 more applications than usual, a 26 percent increase over last year.

Jessica Simmons, assistant dean of students at the College of Nursing, says the increase is from a combination of transfer students and students like Ruggiero who already were at UCF pursuing a different major prior to the pandemic. Almost a quarter of the UCF students who applied were in a major other than nursing when they arrived at UCF as freshmen in 2019-20.

Jesika Van Welie, a sophomore, is one of them. She entered UCF as a health sciences major with aspirations for physical therapy, but after watching friends catch COVID and endure the symptoms, she knew nursing was the right health-related career for her.

“A friend caught COVID and had it pretty bad with a high fever, cough, difficulty breathing and she couldn’t sleep. It made me scared for her and I just wanted to be able to help,” she says.

Van Welie will begin nursing classes on the main campus in August.

The UCF College of Nursing hosts classes on the Orlando, UCF Cocoa and UCF Daytona campuses. It graduates the most pre-license BSN students of any public university in Florida, adding significantly to the workforce every year.

To cap off National Nurses Week, the college is hosting a virtual gala on May 15 to celebrate its 40th anniversary and honor alumni who have made significant contributions to the nursing profession. Learn more about the celebration and history of the college.