Oringially published by The Post & Courier, publishing credit to Rick Nelson
Written by Jeannette O. Andrews, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, Dean and Helen Gurley Wolford Professor of Nursing
Class of 2022 commencement ceremonies at the University of South Carolina are upon us. It is a fitting time to reflect on students’ hard work both inside and outside the classroom, as they have not only persevered to earn their degrees but also served our communities through a pandemic.
As the UofSC College of Nursing celebrates our graduates this week, we also recognize that nursing has entered a new era.
Registered nurses are crucial to our health care system, but we are in short supply — especially in South Carolina. Among the reasons are an aging population, expansive roles for nurses and high turnover made worse by pandemic burnout.
South Carolina can expect a 24% nursing staff shortage over the next few years, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the federal Bureau of Health Workforce, the state has the lowest nurse-to-population ratio in the United States — 7.89 nurses per 1,000 people, compared with a national average of 12.06.
In addition, the nature of nursing has changed. Twenty years ago, 75% to 80% of nurses worked in hospitals. Now, only about half do. Today, nurses work in community centers, primary care and home health settings and in telehealth and mobile care.
While South Carolina faces challenges, the College of Nursing is rising to meet them. Our curriculum has evolved to meet the changing nature of nursing. We are graduating students who are well-prepared to meet our state’s health care needs. And we are enrolling more students, helping to meet the state’s need for more nurses.
Learning from UofSC faculty recognized nationally and internationally for innovative research, our students become agile nurses who can thrive in a wide range of patient care settings. Our students are in the top 1% in the United States for their pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examinations for Registered Nurses. We have 100% board pass rates for family nurse practitioners and adult gerontological acute care nurse practitioners. The college has the nation’s best graduate nursing online program overall and also ranks No. 1 for veterans, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report. Since 2015, the college has increased prelicensure nursing student enrollment by 33%.
This academic year, we’re graduating 270 new nurses with bachelor’s degrees at our Columbia and Lancaster campuses. About 70% of them will stay in South Carolina, helping to meet the state’s needs and fulfill our mission is to provide skilled nurses for South Carolina.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided a tragic backdrop for a renewed focus on the essential role that nurses fill in our health care system. It’s a stressful job, and nurses are leaving the bedside in record numbers. As nursing educators, we must care for the caregivers. By working with partners like Prisma Health, Lexington Medical Center and MUofSC Midlands, we’re taking steps to increase resiliency, positive coping mechanisms and mental wellness.
Nurses enter the profession because we are givers who want to help individuals optimize their health. We are dedicated to the public good. But we haven’t done a good job of taking care of ourselves. If we can change this, we can advocate for improved staffing models and compensation, address the burnout nurses experience, improve effective coping strategies to manage the stresses of the job and help retain more nurses in our crucial field.
There is much more work to do. The College of Nursing is working with our health partners and state government to set up new programs to attract and train nurses for transformative health care. We greatly appreciate the $20 million in funding pledged recently to South Carolina public colleges and schools of nursing by the governor’s office to help with the nursing shortage, which will go to faculty salaries across the state and to doctoral scholarships for those who want to become faculty.
Service is and should be at the heart of our state’s flagship university. Our nursing students and soon-to-be graduates exemplify this spirit of service. They are an essential part of solving the nursing shortage we face in South Carolina and elsewhere in the country.
Meeting future workforce needs requires strategic planning, partnerships and intentionality. There are vital initiatives going on at UofSC to address the future nursing workforce in South Carolina. With more than 11,000 alumni, our partners and our stellar faculty and staff, we will continue to lead the way in improving health outcomes and equity for all citizens of South Carolina.
The current and future generation of nurses will help us get there.
Jeannette O. Andrews, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, is dean of the University of South Carolina College of Nursing.