Geoff Layer, the vice chancellor at the University of Wolverhampton, said the pandemic should be a watershed moment for the NHS.
He said the crisis was an opportunity to encourage more people into the profession at a time when there has been an outpouring of national appreciation.
Mr Layer said the Government could do something "real" by supporting nursing and other health students financially.
A new bursary of £5,000 was announced for nurses before the coronavirus pandemic in an effort to bolster numbers, which had dropped after a fuller system of payment was scrapped.
But students, who spend much of their course effectively working on wards or in the community, still face a large debt, with around £9,000 a year in fees and living costs on top.
The University of Wolverhampton, which has campuses in Wolverhampton, Telford and Walsall, has thousands of students training to become nurses, paramedics and other health workers, with many going onto the frontline to help in the battle against Covid-19.
Mr Layer today called for more to be done, including the writing off of NHS student debts once they go into the profession as recognition of their importance to society.
He said: "Now is the time for Government to really drive, and promote, working in these key professions and what we're saying is you need to drive it, you need to value it, not just on a Thursday night clapping in the street but in some real way.
"And the real way is about giving them a bursary, because what your nurse does, and your ambulance service person does, is they go and work in the hospital.
"They go and work on the ward, they go and work on the ambulance, they don't get paid but they are fulfilling a function in the NHS.
"They're caring for patients, and they're not paid. We need to give them a bursary. Government used to give them a bursary, but as part of austerity took it away.
"The other thing we need to do. If they have gone into the right profession, if they are a nurse and they have gone into the NHS for, say, five years just write off their tuition fees. Just say, you don't have to pay because we as a society value what you're doing.
"And that will boost demand, with the bursary as well, and it fills the vacancies. We all know the age profile of the NHS. Those vacancies, there's going to be more of them, so we need to do something about it.
"We're at a moment in time where everyone recognises, the whole of Government recognises, 'save the NHS'. You will also save it by investing into professions going into the future."