As part of its seven-campus system throughout Volusia and Flagler counties, Daytona State College has a broad reach throughout eastern Florida’s coastal communities. Its northernmost campus, located in Palm Coast, serves an area that has seen exponential growth since its incorporation a little more than 20 years ago and was designated by the United States Census Bureau as the country’s fastest growing metropolitan area in 2011. Since then, the population has continued to grow and Daytona State’s Flagler/Palm Coast Campus is keeping pace as it strives to help meet the healthcare needs of a city that’s now home to nearly 100,000 residents.
No longer the small town it was in 1999, Palm Coast has been facing a shortage of healthcare workers for several years. To meet current and future needs (another hospital is scheduled to open in 2022), Daytona State’s nationally recognized nursing program at its Flagler/Palm Coast Campus has expanded significantly. The College has already increased the capacity from 30 seats to 120, and state-of-the-art facility renovations are nearly complete.
“Flagler County, specifically the Palm Coast area, is growing in popularity as a residential community and with that comes the need for healthcare facilities,” said Amy Szoka, Chair of Daytona State’s School of Nursing. “The expansion of our nursing program at the FPC Campus will give students in this region a place to obtain an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and go to work in a local facility.”
“All four semesters will be taught there, including all of the simulation, lab, and clinical rotations,” said Colin Chesley, Associate Vice President of DSC’s College of Health & Public Services. “It’s expected that our students will be able to live and go to school close to home, and ultimately graduate and work locally.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupations expected to see the most job growth this decade are nurse practitioners and home health/personal care aides. Nurse practitioners hold the number one position by a wide margin too, with projections calling for a 52 percent increase by 2029. Considering America’s aging population and longer life expectancy, few would find that surprising, but what may come as a shock are the number of qualified applicants nursing schools are being forced to reject or place on waiting lists. This is of particular concern for a community such as Palm Coast where approximately 36 percent of the residents are 60 and over.
Nationwide, it’s estimated an additional 221,900 nurses will be needed by 2029, a large number by itself, but when retirements and workforce exits are also considered, it’s anticipated there will be more than 175,000 openings per year. However, in 2019, nursing schools turned away 80,407 would-be students from their baccalaureate and graduate programs. Lack of space, lack of clinical sites, budget shortfalls or a shortage of faculty were all among the culprits.
Szoka said the DSC nursing program typically receives 225-300 applicants during each application cycle, but last May, during the height of COVID, more than 500 applied. While not all would have qualified, it showed people recognized the need for a pandemic-proof career, one that would also have a positive impact on lives.
“We need to put more nurses at the bedside and our expansion will allow that to happen,” said Szoka.
Daytona State’s expansion addresses many of the issues schools cited as reasons they’ve been turning away nursing students, and the College is hoping its commitment to grow the program at the Flagler/Palm Coast Campus will strengthen a home-grown pipeline that will distribute dozens of new nurses across the region each year. The College also entered into an agreement with the University of North Florida to support UNF’s new MedNex initiative, a university-based comprehensive medical nexus planned for Palm Coast. Once operational, MedNex will be a first-of-its-kind training hub consolidating healthcare disciplines, technology development, research and analytics at one location.
Chesley says this creates an ideal situation for those who pursue their education at Flagler/Palm Coast and wish to continue into Daytona State’s BSN program, which is offered entirely online and can be completed in as little as 14 months.
“Flagler County students can complete our BSN program and will soon have access to graduate opportunities through our partnership with UNF MedNex. They’ll have the opportunity to transition into UNF’s Master of Science in Nursing, and some will receive scholarship opportunities, too.”
While this round of expansion has focused on the ADN, Chesley indicates the College hopes to offer other complete nursing programs at Flagler/Palm Coast in the future. He singled out the accelerated RN Transition program, which is designed for LPNs, paramedics and respiratory therapists who want to transition into nursing.
“Nurses are the backbone of any healthcare organization, and we’ll be in an even better position to help meet those needs in Flagler County.”