Greater Gainesville is lucky to have world-renowned healthcare. Ranking higher than the national average in the medical/healthcare index of quality of life indicators, Gainesville is home to eight award-winning hospitals with services that range from pediatrics to geriatrics.
As the heart is vital to the human body, nurses are vital to the Gainesville health community. Luckily, Santa Fe College’s nursing program attracts classes of talented candidates each year and collaborates with local hospitals to train the students.
Dr. Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe College, said he believes the local hospitals would close without the Santa Fe Nursing Program, which started in 1968.
Irene Alexaitis, University of Florida Health Shands Hospital vice president for nursing and patient services, said that without the Santa Fe nursing program, UF Health would have a nursing shortage. UF Health Shands hires over 200 nurses each year.
“We need our local nursing schools in order to provide that or else we wouldn’t have the workforce,” Alexaitis said.
According to Rita Revak-Lutz, chair of Santa Fe College Nursing Programs, “The role of a nurse is much larger than most people realize. People view that nurses are just carrying out physician orders when they’re actually a very integral part of an interdisciplinary team. Nurses … are the ones who have contact with the patients 24/7 … They’re an integral member of the team caring for the patient. They’re typically the ones who are with the patients most of the time, so they have the most information to contribute regarding that patient, their assessment and their care.”
In the healthcare community, nurses are vital for success. In the community at large, the nurses are vital for hope.
Nursing student Erick Gomez unwraps a pair of sanitary gloves.
“The impact that nursing has had on our area … is about sustaining life and sustaining the quality of life,” Sasser said.
Just as local hospitals rely on Santa Fe, the college also relies on the hospitals. UF Health Shands, North Florida Regional Medical Center (NFRMC) and the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center provide clinicals for the college’s nursing students. Through the on-site experience, the nursing program prepares its students to staff the hospitals after they graduate.
“We are dependent on each other for providing the best healthcare in Florida and in our region,” Sasser said.
Natalie Ransom, chief nursing officer at NFRMC, said, “Everybody plays a big role, but nurses are vital. They are vital to healthcare; they are vital to hospitals. Without nurses, healthcare wouldn’t be where it is … Without Santa Fe, the Gainesville community would definitely be struggling for healthcare for sure.”
Revak-Lutz pointed out that the total potential workforce in Alachua and Bradford counties is 5,834 nurses, but the current number is 5,157.
“Without those nurses coming in (from Santa Fe), that would be an even larger gap between how many nurses there are and how many nurses we need,” she said. “If we aren’t producing these nurses who tend to stay in our community, our health systems would be really adversely affected.”
Gainesville has one of the top healthcare communities in the nation. With so many hospitals and services, the need for staff is expected to increase.
Revak-Lutz commented, “If you look at the numbers for Florida and our aging population, there’s going to be a much greater gap between nurses needed and the actual nurses as we go along in the future.”
Alexaitis of UF Health Shands said, “The majority of our staff is hired from Santa Fe. They have a large program, and a lot of the students that go there stay locally … They are really grounded in the community, and they are always interested in what the organizations and hospitals in the community need. They’re willing to work with us to develop programs or expand programs where we need hospital workers.”
Ransom added that at NFRMC, a meaningful part of new nurses are Santa Fe graduates.
“Gainesville is growing (and) unfortunately, many people are getting sicker — Santa Fe does a good job aligning with the Gainesville need and the nursing need,” she said.
Many of Santa Fe’s staff are on the board at NFRMC, which allows the hospital to communicate its staffing and training needs to the nursing program.
Santa Fe also has an advisory committee for the nursing program, which is made up of professionals from Shands, the Malcom Randall Center and NFRMC.
“They guide the curriculum — they tell the faculty and the leadership team in our nursing program what is needed,” Sasser said. “Then, it’s our responsibility to find faculty that have the credentials and then design a curriculum to meet the needs of the local area.”
While nurses are critical to day-to-day hospital functions, they are also vital to patient hope and healing.
Santa Fe’s nursing program prepares nurses to have the empathy and compassion necessary to care deeply for patients. The program requires many hours of clinicals, which allow the students to get hands-on experience with patients before entering the workforce.
Santa Fe student practices taking blood pressure.
According to Revak-Lutz, the state of Florida requires all nursing students to spend 50 percent of their credits in the clinical area.
Ransom said, “Santa Fe prepares nurses to be there every step of the way… Santa Fe is preparing those graduates with the technical skills to be able to do nursing but also preparing them with the compassion that they need to be able to take care of our community. Santa Fe prepares them to hold (patients’) hands, to be with them side-by-side.”
Alexaitis believes the nurses “take an interest in the people in a psychological way and make sure those needs are met because those needs are really important for healing.”
Sasser sees this compassion when he visits local hospitals.
“People tell me … when they encounter a Santa Fe nurse, not only are they well prepared but they are empathetic and sympathetic about the conditions. When you’re sick, you want someone that has the right effect to treat you respectfully — authentic.”
As the human heart pumps blood to the organs to keep the body functioning, the Santa Fe nursing program provides nurses to the local hospitals to keep the healthcare community pumping.