Community first

A new scholarship combats the nursing shortage in Beaufort County.

By Hannah Massen

The South Carolina Nurse Retention Scholarship, administered by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, is actively looking for committee members and assistance in fundraising. Learn more at scnurseretention.org

The Covid pandemic proved a lot of things, including how much we need nurses. But Beaufort County is on the verge of another healthcare crisis: a critical nursing shortage.

By 2030, the number of registered nurses needed in the United States is estimated to skyrocket 28.4 percent from 2.8 million to 3.6 million. South Carolina currently has the lowest nurse-to-population ratio of any other state at 7.9 nurses per 1,000 population. The entire state of South Carolina is designated as a Health Professional Shortage area (HPSA), and Beaufort County has one of the poorest nurse-to-patient ratios in the state.

These predictions don’t bode well for the health of Beaufort County residents, but co-founders Dr. Will Fuller and Bob Elliott are looking to change them with a one-of-a-kind scholarship fund.

The South Carolina Nurse Retention Scholarship (SCNRS), which is administered by the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, is the only scholarship in existence dedicated to not just attracting but retaining local nurses. The scholarship awards recent BSN graduates with up to $24,000 over a four-year period, so long as they’re employed in primary health care in Beaufort County.

“The retention of nurses in the Lowcountry is one key to keeping a healthy number of nurses available for the medical community,” Dr. Fuller said. “An adequate number of nurses affects the quality of medical care for me and all of the citizens of our immediate community.”

Fuller has had a 40-year career in veterinary medicine, and has called Bluffton home for the last 16 years.

After retiring from a 38-year business career, Elliott put his love of giving back to work by joining the Hilton Head Hospital Auxiliary golf fundraiser committee. The event raises money for the hospital’s auxiliary programs, including scholarships for nursing students attending the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry. Although this program helps nursing students enter the profession, Elliott realized there was little incentive for local BSN grads to stay in the area.

“It has been rewarding to work with Dr. Fuller and members of our committee in the creation of this unique and groundbreaking program that addresses the severe shortage of nurses we face in the Lowcountry,” Elliott said.

The SCNRS wasn’t founded a moment too soon. According to Dr. Kimberly Dudas, associate professor of nursing at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the impact of the current nursing shortage is twofold.

“One, people with chronic health conditions are living longer and need high-quality healthcare services, and two, the Lowcountry region is experiencing rapid population growth and is among the fastest-growing regions in the state,” Dr. Dudas said. “When one considers current needs and predictions that South Carolina is predicted to have the fourth-worst nursing shortage in the United States by 2030, the [South Carolina Nurse Retention Scholarship] is critical to meet current and future need for bachelor-prepared registered nurses.”

The official SCNRS application period will be announced later, but Elliott expects the application will open May 6 to coincide with Na- tional Nurse Appreciation Week. Final selection will be made in July 2022 and recipients will be notified that September.

While the application will be awarded to candidates based on merit, dedication to the nursing profession, and financial need, special consideration will be given to minority applicants to address the persistent lack of diversity among American healthcare providers.

Elliott hopes to see enough interest from applicants and donors to eventually expand the program.

“In the future, I will work to make the program sustainable in Beaufort County, with the goal of broadening the scope within the state of South Carolina,” Elliott said.

From left: Bob Elliott, his dog Bunker and Dr. Will Fuller.

Key takeaways

Bob Elliott and Dr. Will Fuller’s best advice for future funders:

1. Think about the pros and cons of forming your own charitable foundation versus being under the umbrella of an established foundation, such as the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. 

2. Form and nurture relationships with as many people as possible. It takes “people power” to be successful. Be sure to include those who will directly benefit from your foundation. 

3. Recognize that fundraising is critical to your organization’s success, and it’s one of the most difficult roles to fill on a committee. Learn how to ask for money.

Similar Posts