This is an interesting story: | Listen, eat -- and help fund scholarships for nursing students

Bluegrass music and the heavenly aroma stirred up by the Broken Arrow BBQ Team will blend Saturday at Honey Horn.

The food and fellowship in the new pole barn at Hilton Head Island's largest park should be a fitting backdrop for a fun event with a serious goal: Raising money for nursing scholarships.

Local hosts and sponsors are contributing everything from tablecloths to hot sauce in hopes of improving the quality of life in South Carolina.
South Carolina has a nursing shortage, as do most states. Proceeds from the barbecue will help create an endowed scholarship fund at the Medical University of South Carolina's College of Nursing in Charleston. It's one of America's oldest nursing schools, and it's trying to raise $125,000 for student scholarships to mark its 125th anniversary.

Among its graduates over the years was the mother of Jean Fraser, wife of Joe Fraser, the elder statesman in the family that developed Sea Pines and turned Hilton Head into a household name. As a child, Jean and her brother tagged along on their mother's rounds as a public health nurse deep into the sandy byways of the Lowcountry. They later established a scholarship in their mother's name, and he donated money for a lab. Jean has been on a nursing school advisory board for many years.

Meanwhile, our state can do more to help nurses.

Gail Stuart, the MUSC nursing college dean, says we face a systemic problem that can be fixed. She sees the nursing shortage as rooted in a shortage of professors to teach nursing students.

Nursing schools in South Carolina are turning away students because they don't have enough teachers. Those schools need to increase faculty salaries to keep them. Otherwise, they can walk across the street and work in a hospital for $30,000 a year more. Who could blame them?

The nursing shortage is expected to get worse because today's nursing workforce is aging and we're not graduating enough new nurses -- even as local schools like the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry try to ramp up their nursing programs.
The good news is that we do not have a shortage of students who want to be nurses. And Stuart says the applicants she sees are getting sharper and sharper every year. Yet her college has to turn down hundreds each year because there aren't enough slots available for them.

It's not a matter of rushing out and building a bigger building, although Stuart says her college needs facilities. The state requires that student-to-teacher ratios have to be 8-to-1, so there are no cheap, easy shortcuts.

Nursing offers the well- paying, stable, year-round, knowledge-based jobs with benefits that every town, county and state in the nation is clamoring for.

Yet when the state legislature passed the 2007 Critical Need Nursing Initiative Act, the governor vetoed it. And after both the House and Senate overrode the veto, the $11 million price tag was slashed to $1 million in recurring funding. This year, the legislature again passed the bill and again overrode a veto, but again came up short on the funding. The legislature gave it an extra $1 million in a one-time allocation from unclaimed lottery money. But again, the initiative was left woefully short
of being able to get the job done.

About 40 states are tackling this same issue, many of them like Mississippi -- doing a lot better job of it than we are.

But here we sit pining for better jobs, apparently deluding ourselves that IBM is going to pull up stakes and move to one of our hamlets. All the while, we have a fixable system in place that could improve the economy, improve health care and improve lives.

The pipeline, as Stuart calls it, is already in place. All we've got to do is prime the pump.

The private sector -- represented by foundations and the S.C. Hospital Association and its members -- is working hard to do that.

And so are our friends and neighbors who will resin up the bow and put the pigs on the pits this Saturday.

The state should also do more.

Anyone from around this area care to comment on how things went?