Education, community vital to easing shortage of nurses
It is no secret among my friends, clients and colleagues that I have a peculiarly inquiring mind and a relentless focus on accuracy and accountability — professional side effects from 40-plus years as a CPA and business adviser in the community.
But my analytical nature is not what has compelled me to donate my time and skills to the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition (SNAC). It was the vulnerability I felt waking up in a hospital room and searching for the reassuring eyes of my nurse that has motivated me to stand up for a profession so vital to our individual and community health.
That there is a shortage of nurses in the United States should not surprise anyone. Deficits in our nursing workforce have impacted our nation in varying degrees for decades.
But today’s crisis is uniquely serious: Researchers predict this one will more than double any previous nurse shortage we have experienced since the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s. It is being fueled by a perfect storm — a population that is not only growing but growing older, with an increasing incidence of chronic disease, an aging nursing workforce and limited capacity of nursing schools to replace those who are retiring.
While nurses with all levels of training are needed to provide a continuum of care to our communities, the need for baccalaureateprepared nurses in our region, and the doctorateprepared nursing faculty to train them, is most acute.
As an accountant, I measured and assessed the financial health of countless organizations and provided insights that influenced business decisions and direction. Failure to plan and prepare could result in huge financial risks for an organization.
Similarly, we rely on nurses to assess our physical and mental health and provide critical interventions and care that safeguard our health.
As is the case with most professions, accounting has become more technically complex over the years. It used to be that aspiring accountants could earn a four-year bachelor’s degree and take a test to become a licensed CPA. Today, most states require accountants to complete five years of college and often a master’s degree in accounting before they can be licensed.
That’s one of the reasons I am so passionate about SNAC’s mission: I know how important higher education is to critical decision-making.
Despite decades of evidence that demonstrates that hospitals with a higher proportion of nurses with bachelor degrees have lower mortality rates, the persistent nursing shortage is preventing this trusted profession from reaching its full potential.
While the rate of working registered nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) in Florida has increased in recent years (reaching 41% in 2017), nearly half (48%) are filling the demands of today’s employers through more accessible, two-year associate degrees.
Fortunately, there are advocacy groups like SNAC working to increase the proportion of BSN-prepared nurses across our nation. I am proud to serve as co-founder of SNAC with Jan Mauck, former chief nurse officer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and work with our grassroots coalition of nursing leaders from area hospitals, hospice and nursing schools.
Bolstering SNAC’s efforts are community leaders, grant agencies and supporters who have generously backed initiatives helping more nurses earn BSN degrees. I want to give a special shoutout to our fiscal sponsor, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and to The Patterson Foundation, which provides strategic and tactical expertise.
With their support, SNAC has:
• Awarded $264,000 in nursing scholarships to 72 local recipients since 2016. Many have already graduated or are slated to graduate in the next two years with BSN degrees and plan to work in the Suncoast region. Seven scholarships were dedicated to nurses pursuing doctoral degrees with plans to become nursing professors at local nursing schools.
• Counseled over 1,100 students/nurses and referred 820 to nursing programs. At least 255 are accepted/ enrolled or have graduated from an accredited nursing school program.
• Supported the development and expansion of academic programs that provide direct and accelerated pathways for pre-licensure BSN nursing students at Florida Southwestern State College, Keiser University, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
Increased education and advanced training give nurses critical-thinking skills to guide process improvements and reduce medical errors, as well as leadership skills to act as positive change agents in teaching, consulting, research and administrative roles.
There are many ways the community can help. Visit us at snac4fl.org to learn more. Charles Baumann is cofounder of the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition, a regional arm of the Florida Action Coalition, comprising hospital, nursing school and community leaders committed to building a more highly educated nursing workforce.