If you’ve spent any time in a hospital, medical clinic or physician’s office, you know the vital role nurses play in delivering medical care. That’s why a shortage of nurses can negatively affect patients, from the overall “customer experience” to the actual medical outcome.
Beaufort County is currently experiencing a severe nursing deficit, but a group of local individuals is working to reverse that trend. Bob Elliott and Dr. William Fuller, along with other leaders, have established the South Carolina Nurse Retention Scholarship (SCNRS) at the Community Foundation.
“South Carolina is designated a health professional shortage area,” Elliott said, “and Beaufort County has one of the most insufficient nurse-to-patient ratios in the state.”
Why should we be concerned? Elliott lists a number of worrisome reasons.
• Nursing shortages mean higher healthcare costs with a lower quality of patient care. Competition for nurses, created by insufficient staffing, leads to a demand for higher wages, signing bonuses and overtime.
• Businesses and our local economy may pay a price. Inadequate healthcare may thwart efforts to lure new businesses to the area, and existing businesses may have difficulty attracting and retaining employees.
• Nursing shortages mean the availability and quality of healthcare declines.
• Overworked nurses burn out, retire early and simply leave the profession, exacerbating the problem.
• Nurses with the opportunity to make more money outside of Beaufort County may leave, intensifying an already growing shortage.
SCNRS hopes to counteract these problems. Although “scholarship” is in the name, a reverse scholarship doesn’t work like a typical scholarship. It’s more like a talent retention program. SCNRS awards money to nurses post-graduation, if they opt to stay in our area and work.
“We have 40 BSN nurses graduating from USCB every year,” Elliott says, “yet only 30% will remain in Beaufort and Jasper County to work.” The scholarship encourages these recent graduates to stay in the area by awarding them $6,000 per year for four years. Of course, the awardees have specific guidelines they must follow in order to qualify. You can find scholarships eligibility information on the SCNRS website at scnurseretention.org/apply.
The success of the program has been rapid. Though just recently established, SCNRS awarded its first four scholarships earlier this fall. Recipients are: Lauren Londono, BSN, Beaufort Memorial Hospital; Krystal Maldonado, BSN, Hilton Head Regional Healthcare; Maria Novoa, BSN, Hilton Head Hospital; Erika Thalacker, Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, Chelsea Pediatric Clinic.
Elliott is excited about their success, but understands that this ongoing problem won’t be solved immediately. There are more candidates than current funding can support. He said he hopes that others in the community will support the program financially: “Together we can make a difference in the quality of healthcare in our local communities.”
Scott Wierman is the president and CEO of Community Foundation of the Lowcountry.