Five Questions

By Hannah Wallace October 31, 2004

With a 15.8 percent vacancy rate in the nursing field from Tampa to Naples (one of the highest in the country), Dr. Bonnie Hesselberg might be doing some of the most important work in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Hesselberg is the dean for nursing and health professions at Manatee Community College, which, in addition to nursing, offers courses in dental hygiene, occupational therapy assistant, physical therapist assistant and radiography. The nursing program alone has 283 students enrolled, a 40-percent increase over last year. A 30-year veteran of nursing, Hesselberg has been an educator for 18 years. Prior to coming to MCC a year ago, she oversaw 11 allied health programs at Hillsborough Community College.

1) There's a shortage of nurses nationally and locally. How are you responding to the challenge?

With the help of area hospitals and agencies. The public hospitals, such as Manatee Memorial and Sarasota Memorial, have provided scholarships, and recently Sarasota Memorial donated money for informatics training. (Nursing informatics is defined by Sarasota Memorial as an integration of nursing science, computer science and information science to manage and communicate data, information and knowledge in nursing practice.) The various private hospitals have come together and donated funds to support a couple of faculty and student positions, and also for equipment.

2) What are the hottest new careers within the health industry?

Some of the hottest are in biotechnology. We're giving people new hearts, new livers and new knees. And informatics. There's so much information on computers-electronic patient records- the security of that system is very, very important.

3) Who is your typical student, and where do they find employment after graduation?

Our typical student is probably a female between 19 and 30. The average age is 27 or 28. In our nursing program, in the last class, 18 percent were male, and 26 percent were minorities. So at MCC, we're doing better (at diversity) than many schools. After graduation, the majority of our grads stay right here locally. One hundred percent have jobs here if they want.

4) What are the trends in health care salaries?

We certainly have seen an increase and it's nice to see; the shortage has helped. But health care is very expensive and RNs are one of the biggest costs of personnel. The average starting salary is $38,000 to $40,000. That's pretty much the same for all the professions we offer here. If you consider that after two years of education, you can graduate as a professional licensed by the state and make $40,000 a year, the cost of education is relatively low. And so many hospitals and agencies provide funding for students.

5) What are the predictions for future health care needs?

There's going to be a long-term shortage, especially for nurses. We need to bring more ethnically diverse populations and minorities into the fields. The challenge is to educate the number of nurses we need with the funds available. There also is not enough faculty to go around. To teach at this level, you need a minimum of a master's degree, and a doctorate is preferred. Only 10 percent of nurses nationally have degrees at that level. Also, the increase in geriatric population-we're all getting older, living longer, and there's no population growth in nursing to support it. It's going to be another big challenge. 

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