TAMPA, Fla. — Nurses are vital to the health care industry, but experts say there continues to be a personnel shortage across Florida.

In an effort to reverse this trend, the state is now dishing out extra funds to help boost nursing education programs to quickly get more people working in the field.

What You Need To Know

  •  Gov. Ron DeSantis announced nearly $80 million in funding for nursing programs statewide

  •  More than two dozen schools will receive the money

  •  Experts say retirement, travel nurse positions and burnout from the pandemic are all leading to the shortage

Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced nearly $80 million in funding for public postsecondary nursing education, which will be distributed to more than two dozen schools across the state, including Hillsborough Community College.

That's where Kerry Ritrievi is back in the classroom after 35 years. A barber with no science background, Ritrievi said he wanted to challenge himself while also filling a critical need.

“The need is there — I like to help people so that was another, you know, big factor in me giving this a shot," he said. "To make it this far, I’m very happy, but I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Hillsborough Community College's associate dean of nursing, Marcellyne Penny, said there's currently an 11% vacancy across the Tampa Bay area. Using the extra money from the state, Penny hopes to expand the program to allow up to 70 additional students to enroll per semester.

She said it's all part of an effort to get more nurses to bedsides as quickly as possible.

“Getting nurses out into the community, getting nurses into the acute settings — those are all essential to decreasing our mortality rates, decreasing our morbidity rates, helping our community thrive," Penny said.

Penny pointed to retirement, travel nurse positions and burnout from the pandemic as the main factors contributing to the state's nursing shortage.

"A lot of hospitals had no choice but to go to mandatory overtime in order to meet the needs here in this community — that leads to burnout," she sad. "There’s just no two ways around it. You can only work so many extra shifts before you start getting tired. It catches up with you."

But Penny said she's hopeful the industry will bounce back and that the school is still seeing students, like Ritrievi, who want to become nurses.

“It is a lot of work, so you’re going to have to really put the time and effort into succeeding," he said. "But so far, for me it’s been really rewarding and worth every late night or early morning.”

St. Petersburg College, Polk State College and Pasco-Hernando State College will also benefit from the additional funding.