The United States is, in many ways, a land of plenty.

But demographics, technology and societal changes are threatening to create shortages — not in, say, food products or consumer goods, but in people willing, able and trained to perform vital jobs that often save or shape lives.

A front-page article in Sunday’s Herald-Tribune by Barbara Peters Smith highlighted the challenges and consequences of a looming shortage of nurses, especially those with the skills and education to provide care that requires ever-increasing knowledge — in addition to the compassion that patients want and deserve.

The challenges and consequences of an impending nursing shortage are being experienced nationwide, but particularly in our region, which has one of the oldest per-capita populations in the United States.

Fortunately, private-sector groups such as the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition, and public institutions, including the State College of Florida and the University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, are working feverishly to get ahead of the curve.

SNAC has hired a “navigator” who is committed to helping nurses and would-be nurses advance their education and training efficiently and based on their needs; this kind of assistance is vital, especially for prospective students who are already busy and working.

One of SNAC’s priorities is to increase the number of nurses with advanced degrees, based on evidence that the additional learning translates into better care. To that end, the coalition has offered scholarships, and SCF and USF have worked to streamline the pursuit of bachelor’s degrees.

These are admirable efforts, but insufficient statewide.

Florida’s funding of community colleges and local universities, in particular, must be enhanced and the processes for training and educating health care practitioners re-examined.

And, yes, at some point, Florida and other states should re-examine the practicality of expecting students in high-demand jobs to assume large loans and other debts in order to prepare for the state’s future. (By the way, these professionals pay taxes on good incomes.)

The same can be said of other professions and jobs where shortages loom: physicians and physician assistants; teachers; law enforcement officers.

It is crucial for private investors to leverage existing assets. Already, donors are supporting the Florida State University College of Medicine in Sarasota. Having a training ground in our region increases the likelihood that graduates will remain here and practice medicine. But more private and public support is warranted locally and throughout the state.

Due to a convergence of factors — including the retirement of Baby Boomers, a devaluing of the teaching profession and pay — a shortage of motivated, high-quality teachers is already impacting schools. Cognizant of this crisis, the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation has launched an initiative to ask and answer this question: Why is it so difficult for public schools to retain good teachers?

In its first phase, the foundation received 789 survey responses from teachers in the Sarasota County School District. More work will come after the replies are analyzed.

Whether the shortage involves teachers or nurses, or plumbers, for that matter, it is vital to seek advice from the practitioners — before coming to “solutions.”

— Sarasota Herald-Tribune

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