A looming public health crisis is the shortage of nurses who are a critical part of our healthcare. South Carolina and the Lowcountry are caught in the crosshairs of this crisis.
Dr. William Fuller and Bob Elliott have taken on this challenge by founding the South Carolina Nurse Retention Scholarship (SCNRS). “If we want to positively affect the quality of care here, we need to get on our horses and get ahead of this shortage,” Fuller said.
Elliott’s interest in this problem started as an outgrowth of his involvement in the annual Hospital Auxiliary golf tournament. “I have a passion for golf and for our community. Most of the money raised goes toward nursing scholarships, but data wasn’t available to track how many nurses actually stay here after graduation,” he said. “Our goal is to incentivize students to remain in the area.”
“We did our research and discovered a tremendous nursing shortage in South Carolina,” Fuller said. “South Carolina has the poorest ratio of nurses to the population at 7.9 per 1,000, while the national average is 12.5. Beaufort County will only get worse because of our growing aging population.”
The concept is to work with the University of South Carolina Beaufort nursing program to offer scholarships to new graduates who have earned Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. A BSN is an educational level that allows graduates to not only provide patient care, but to teach as well, according to Elliott.
“The scholarship is given at the back end – after graduation – in order to retain nurses in Beaufort County,” Fuller said. “If the student stays and works in Beaufort County, we will give $24,000 over four years.”
“Student debt averages $22,000,” Elliott said. “And affordable housing is an issue here. Plus there is a disparity in salaries between South Carolina and Georgia of about $6,000 per year. So hopefully this money will help keep nurses from just driving across the border.”
Fuller said the program is only eight months old, and four scholarships have already been awarded. “Our goal is to fund 10 scholarships per year which means we will need to raise $250,000 a year,” he said.
A charitable fund has been established through the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry (CFL) to provide funds to eligible candidates. Recipients will be selected based on merit and demonstrated financial need, with special consideration given to marginalized or underserved populations. CFL also provided the initial funds to build the program’s infrastructure and launch the program in Beaufort County.
“A robust healthcare system is important to our quality of life,” Elliott said. “Nurses are retiring, leaving their jobs due to stress, medical issues and relocation. And Covid has exacerbated the whole thing.
“Nurses are the beating heart of our healthcare system,” Elliott said. “Our goal is to keep our best and brightest here, at home. We need more qualified nurses in Beaufort County.”
For more information about the scholarship, volunteer opportunities or how to donate, visit scnurseretention.org.
Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.