'There's No Room To Grow': Nursing Student Talks Leaving W.Va.
There are fewer West Virginians than there were a decade ago.
Since 2010, West Virginia’s population has decreased by 3.2% or almost 60,000 people, according to 2020 census data released last month.
To put that in context, it’s the same as if a giant, town-sized pothole swallowed up both Morgantown and Parkersburg.
West Virginia is also one of the oldest states in the nation, has one of the lowest birth rates and the highest death rate.
There’s a growing cohort of college-bound West Virginians who get a degree and get out. They’re moving away to find a future somewhere else while leaving family and friends behind.
But, there are also people staying who see West Virginia as a place to settle down and start a family.
The decision is not easy, but it is one that confronts many soon-to-be and recent graduates in the state.
This article is the first in our series “Plugging the Brain Drain” with stories of how young West Virginians are deciding whether or not to leave the state.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting spoke with NaBryia Palmer, a nursing student in Cabell County and Charleston native.
NaBryia Palmer My take on it is, I love my state, I love my mountain mama, I really do. It's where all my family is, everyone I know is here. But, I just honestly feel there's no room to grow. I want to be able to see more and do more. And I feel West Virginia just doesn't have anything to offer in that sense. I have just the rest of this semester, and then one more year in school left. And I don't know, I don't think I'm gonna stay here. I really want to move.
WVPB: Once you have your degree and you'll have graduated, how are you thinking through that whole decision of where do I move?
Palmer: As soon as it gets close to graduation, I'm going to look at places hiring in potential states that I want to move to, see what they have to offer, look at pay, living conditions, and stuff like that. I like to travel alone sometimes. And so when I go out of state, and I visit different areas, I'm just like, “Oh, this would be nice. Oh, here in West Virginia, we don't have that.” We don't have a lot in West Virginia. And it's always really good to go to states and see what they have to offer.
WVPB: What types of things have you seen traveling that you go, “oh, I've never seen this back home.”
Palmer: I'm a big food person. So, when it comes to restaurants and stuff, I get really excited when there's a new restaurant I've never seen, I've never tried because there's not one near my area. And so that gets pretty exciting. I also like to do a lot of shopping. So I'm really impatient, too. With living in West Virginia, we don't have a lot of stores and as we speak, a lot of stores and stuff in the mall are closing. So we have less and less options. I'm constantly having to shop online and wait for it to come in. When, in other areas and other states, they have a broad variety of shopping malls and stores. And I just feel we're just missing out on a lot of things.
WVPB: How do you balance, both you're thinking about leaving and all your family is here in the state?
Palmer: Well, I've always been a pretty independent person. And my family knows that. So, of course, I love being around my family, I love seeing them. But they know that I do also like to be able to do things on my own. Because you know, I'm an adult, I like to be able to have my own. So with that, say I do move. I plan to always come back for holidays. I'm really big on holidays and spending time with family. And then to certain vacations, just be able to come back and see them whenever I really just want to.
WVPB: Does finding job opportunities play into that decision at all?
Palmer: Kind of yes and no. Since nurses are in demand, I feel like it won't really be that hard, especially with COVID. I don't think it'd be extremely difficult to find a nursing job that I would like.
WVPB: What do you think you'll be thinking about when you get to that moment where you're deciding whether or not to go someplace else or to look for a job in West Virginia?
Palmer: I don't know. I'm real set on moving - like I'm real set on moving. I have, just I've honestly been looking at places even though I still have a while to graduate. I've been looking at places out of state and seeing affordability and neighborhoods and stuff like that.
WVPB: How detailed has it gotten, looking at neighborhoods?
Palmer: I've actually gotten to the process of looking at places that are for rent and where they're located, how close they are to certain hospitals, commute, grocery stores, all that. I've gotten really into it, I'm real set on moving. I haven't done that for a lot of states. I've only mostly done that for Texas. And I say that and I think it's so funny because I've only been to Texas once, but I just enjoyed it so much.
WVPB: Does your family care or not want you to leave or want you to leave?
Palmer: They don't want me to leave in the sense of, I'm going to be away. We're a really close family. We are always used to being with each other. I think it's funny. My mom, my cousin, my brother and my granny, they all live on the same hill, on the same block. So it's like we've always been really close, always been. 'Oh I'm about to walk up to Granny's house or about to go see my brother,' because it's just literally a two-second walk up the hill. And so me being even here in Huntington away from Charleston is still really different because we're always used to being there. So when I do move out of state, it's going to be pretty drastic for our family since we're not able to just take a quick little drive and see each other. It's going to be some planning. So that's going to take some getting used to for sure.
This story is the first in our series “Plugging the Brain Drain” with stories of how young West Virginians are deciding whether or not to leave the state.