NEWARK, N.Y. — Throughout the pandemic, they have been recognized as the heroes of the front lines. But there is a shortage of nurses in New York, and state health officials say it’s only expected to get worse. A program in Newark is using state-of-the-art technology to teach the next generation of nurses, and help fill the void.

In a makeshift hospital room at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, Erma Beckwith is learning critical skills. Life-saving skills, which she plans to turn into a nursing career.

“I’m one of the younger people in the program and it’s competitive,” said Beckwith, who is 18. “I’m here and I’m proud I got this opportunity at such a young age.”

The health professions lab at the school provides training for a variety of health careers. Beckwith is administering compressions on a life-like mannequin, devices that are critical to the Adult Practical Nursing program at Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES.

“Most of our training is the soft skills, the communication, the assessments,” said Amy Archey, coordinator of health services. “But students can come in here and actually touch and feel things are almost real life.”

The simulation mannequins make it that way, as student Cherry Almedino found out.

“Do you feel like you have a hard time breathing when you’re laying down,” she asked a child mannequin, which through technology responded, “Yes.”

The mannequins give a number of responses, from crying to heavy breathing and other responses a real-life patient may have. Nursing, in 2022, has come a long way. So has training.

“I feel comfortable walking into a hospital or nursing home and helping out patients,” said Almedino. “My school got me very prepared. I’m prepared for a critical situation.”

All of this is especially important now. The pandemic, illness, job stress and vaccination requirements have created a nursing shortage that needs to be filled. New York state health officials predict the shortage of nurses in the state could grow to 39,000 by 2030.

“They get to see firsthand what it's like to work with nurses who stayed in the profession, who overcame the challenges of COVID and who want to be a part of just the most amazing profession,” said Archey.

These students represent the next generation of nurses. As Beckwith is finding out, there are a ton of opportunities.

“It’s really important to me,” she said. “I am going on a completely different journey than a lot of my family and that's a good thing because it sets me apart from the way I was raised to everything that I can do, and it gives me hope.”