To single moms like Sharon Hesher and Chaundra Carroll, a nursing degree represents a certain type of American dream: A steady, respectable income in the name of doing good.
Yet the reality of the field — for some nurses, anyway — is something different. A survey of 149 Florida hospitals showed a turnover rate of registered nurses at 15 percent. When asked why nurses were leaving, respondents most commonly said they were taking jobs outside the field, retiring and leaving because of dissatisfaction, according to a Florida Hospital Association report issued in March.
So there’s a steady flow of job openings for nurses. And a steady drumbeat from employers that nursing education needs to produce more — and better-educated — graduates.
Daytona State College responded to the call earlier this year, announcing plans to roll out an RN-to-BSN program in which two-year degree holders working as registered nurses could take courses online to earn a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing.
That excited Hesher and Carroll, who have heard talk that more and more, hospitals are looking for nurses with four-year degrees — and that one day, that might be the minimum qualification.
"It’s in the works," said Hesher, a 29-year-old Daytona Beach mother of two, who was looking forward to the convenience of Daytona State’s proposed program — which would have been offered completely online. "Having to work full-time, doing my course study online is a great benefit."
The University of Central Florida offers a similar program in Daytona Beach, as does Bethune-Cookman University. But gaining admission into the increasingly selective UCF is not guaranteed, while Cookman’s program is only partly online — and costs about five times as much as Daytona State’s tuition.
NURSING DEGREE ON HOLD
Because of concerns expressed publicly by Bethune-Cookman officials, Daytona State in September put its plans to offer the nursing degree on hold. Trustees and the presidents of the two schools met last week to discuss a possible collaborative approach, but in nearly two months little progress has been made.
Two main hurdles exist for expanding seats in the area’s nursing programs: Lack of qualified faculty to teach and a lack of sites where students can do clinical training.
"Those are the issues that are of concern," Bethune-Cookman President Trudie Kibbe Reed said during the meeting last Monday. "I know you would not want to harm one program to help another."
The Cookman RN-to-BSN program, which started a decade ago, graduates between three and 10 students each year, school officials said.
Dr. Steve Miles, a Daytona State trustee, argued that the demand for four-year nursing degrees will far outnumber local schools’ capacity.
"That’s why I think there’s tremendous opportunity for both programs to work," he said.
Miles, who also believes the BSN is the future qualification of the hospital nurse, suggested Bethune-Cookman might be missing an opportunity to serve the community — and itself — by not moving into graduate nursing programs. Higher education needs more people with master’s degrees and doctorates to teach nursing, he said.
"You can turn it on," he told Reed. "We can’t."
State colleges are not yet authorized to offer graduate programs.
‘WE HAVE TO . . . COLLABORATE’
However, Cookman officials continued to talk up possible partnerships with Daytona State, suggesting that the health care community is ready to support scholarships to lower the cost, and promoting the idea that private colleges reduce the burden on taxpayers.
"When we look at a (state) budget shortfall of $7 billion, we have got to work out of the box and collaborate," said former State Rep. Joyce Cusack, a retired nurse who attended Daytona State’s program and now serves on Bethune-Cookman’s Board of Trustees. "We have to realize we have to share faculty and clinical experiences."
Carroll, 35, of Port Orange is the single mother of a teenager, working as a certified nursing assistant after her career in the cruise-ship industry went south. She, like Hesher, plans to graduate from Daytona State with her two-year nursing degree in December, and is looking ahead to working as a registered nurse continuing to pursue a bachelor’s degree. "I heard them saying it will be an online program," Carroll said. "For a single mother, that would be a good advantage. Going through Daytona State, the cost would be significantly lower than a private college. Those are two major factors for me."
A classmate of Hesher and Carroll’s, Kathyann Carmona, said her mother graduated from a nursing program at then-Daytona Beach Community College in 1973, and feels connected to the school. Carmona, 52, of DeLand said the familiarity of Daytona State and its instructors would encourage more students to continue into the four-year program.
"The nice thing about Daytona State, not just for me but the other students, is we know our teachers," she said. "We know what to expect."
She is spearheading an effort to make students’ views known to the Daytona State board, which meets next on Nov. 19. There is no indication yet whether the trustees will take up the RN-to-BSN issue.