Nurse Retention Scholarship at Beaufort Co., SC
Krystal Maldonado has lived her entire life in Beaufort County. When she received a four-year nursing scholarship to stay in the area, she said, it felt like her community was giving back to her.
“I had never heard of a retention scholarship; I thought it was interesting,” Maldonado said. “I knew I was going to stay in Beaufort County to work as a nurse here, so getting the scholarship was more of a reward for what I already do every day.”
The SC Nurse Retention Scholarship was the brainchild of local vet William Fuller and businessman Bob Elliot. The program has received funding from the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry to support nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree to help address the national shortage of healthcare professionals.
“I’m not sure the audience really understands,” Elliot said. “They see it when they wait for four hours in the ER and then they start to get it maybe.”
Elliot said he was only working on a small part of the problem and had spoken with local politicians to try to get funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. He’s not happy with the money raised for the four candidates so far, and won’t be until he finds a long-term solution. The program will be expanded this year to include associate degree nurses because the county needs “nurses at all levels,” he said. He wants to be able to provide funding for 30 to 40 nurses to make a bigger impact on a problem that will only get worse, he said.
“COVID is just one factor in this systemic shortage,” he said. “Retention is only part of the solution. We need more teachers…and affordable housing.
For Maldonado, the money will help him continue his studies and take care of his 8-year-old daughter. She wants to go back to school, get a master’s degree, and become a nurse practitioner.
Scholarship recipient Maria Novoa lived in Nicaragua until age 6 and lived in Bluffton for most of her life, according to a press release from the scholarship program. She recently graduated from the University of South Carolina at Beaufort, where she served as vice president of the Zeta Tau Alpha organization, was a member of the Gamma Beta Phu honor society, and earned three other scholarships. , including the LIFE Fellowship and the Hospital Auxiliary Fellowship. She now works as a registered nurse at Hilton Head Hospital.
Erika Thalacker, another recipient, said she was inspired to join the profession by her two uncles who were also nurses. She is a pediatric nurse at Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.
For scholarship recipient Lauren Londono, who is working to complete her residency at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, interacting with patients and serving as an active duty cleaning technician in the US Navy are what made her want to pursue health care. She fell in love with it.
South Carolina, according to University of South Carolina Beaufort Associate Professor of Nursing Kimberly Dudas, has been designated a health worker shortage area, and Beaufort County has one of the highest nurse-to-patient ratios the poorest in the state. The majority of Beaufort County is medically underserved, according to data maps from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control. With the numbers dwindling, the possibility of medical professional burnout is a risk. This, Londono said, can even drive nurses out of the field entirely.
“The idea of helping others is romanticized and once you get there, there are a lot of challenges on a personal level… but also professionally,” Londono said.
The fellows, to some extent, saw the shortage affecting patient care, wait times and daily functions, they said. Maldonado said the understaffing on the units affects the entire hospital, and Thalacker said she sees the fallout from the shortage “all the time.” It can be especially harmful for patients at his clinic, Thalacker said, many of whom don’t have insurance and can’t afford to go elsewhere.
“We’re the only thing they have, so we have to be there for them too,” she said.
As the program grows, its founders hope to contribute more. They just need the funds, Elliot said.
“We need nurses everywhere and we need them now,” he said.