EXCEPTIONAL PERK: Nursing Scholarships at Health First Support Bedside Care, Career Advancement
By Space Coast Daily // August 14, 2023
Health First invests in talent
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – As the Space Coast’s only not-for-profit health system, Health First has a mandate to raise the level of care for everyone – and access to that care. That kind of excellence requires a local talent pool.
Health First invests in talent. When Health First leaders invite applicants at every rank to “Come grow with us,” it backs that pledge up with professional development and support.
Recently, nearly three dozen Health First associates were notified that their applications for 2023 Nursing Scholarships were approved. One was Vanessa Rodriguez, a Certified Medical Assistant working at the ENT and Audiology office at Health First’s Gateway Medical Plaza.
“I have worked in the medical field in several different states – Health First has been one of the few that has openly helped with continuing education,” she said.
Rodriguez is completing the schooling necessary to become a Registered Nurse (RN) at Eastern Florida State College.
“As soon as I made the decision to complete my Nursing degree there was absolutely no hesitation from my Manager and the Providers I worked for when it came to adjusting my schedule.”
At a time of nationwide shortages in clinical staffing levels, Health First is standing out from the pack by focusing on career development, beginning with pre-RN caregivers.
“This is the first organization I have worked for that truly wants to see their employees thrive and offers them several tools to do so,” Rodriguez said.
Samantha Kelly is a Registered Nurse at Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center earning her bachelor degree to become an ICU specialty nurse.
She called the scholarship opportunity “an exceptional perk to employment” and said her aim is to inspire others “to work together to promote preventative care that decreases the need for more advanced care in the future.”
“We should never forget that we could be the patients in our own hospitals, so we must treat our patients as we would wish to be treated. Being intentional in healthcare means seeing the ‘we’ in wellness that Health First promotes.”
Some of the nursing scholarship winners are experienced nurses pursing advanced degrees that would position them to be Providers. One is Gabrielle Bucknor.
“What I love about Health First is that I have endless opportunities to grow,” she said.
Bucknor was a teenager and mother when she started at Holmes Regional as a Certified Nursing Assistant. Today, she’s a mother to three in a post-graduate degree program to become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner.
“I was just a teenage mother trying something new, wanting to be more….Who knew that I would fall in love with caring for others, taking care of people, in healthcare and medicine,” she shared with the scholarship Selection Committee.
“My biggest aspiration as a medical professional and in life is to be a woman who moves with intention, to be a light in the world, and make an impact – even if it’s the smallest impact – within Health First.”
The Health First Foundation began awarding scholarships in 2015 and has done so every year since, working with its Health First partners in Human Resources and Nursing Leadership.
In total, the Foundation has awarded 298 [last year 263] scholarships totaling nearly $800,000 [last year “more than $700,000”].
“We are a two-income household, but I had to take a pay cut to start my nursing journey,” Rodriguez, a mother of three, said.
“Having scholarship opportunities specific to your career advancement through your employer is not common. I feel extremely lucky to work for an organization that not only has high patient care standards, but also encourages employees to further their education – and provides opportunities for them to do so.”
Careers Start Here
The scholarships are just one way Health First supports the continuing education of its staff. The company offers tuition reimbursement up to $5,000 annually to all full-time associates pursuing advanced degrees in nursing, and $3,000 for Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees. (Part-time associates are allotted half these amounts.)
“As care providers and patient advocates, nurses are invaluable to Health First and to the community we are honored to serve. Education is a pivotal component of nursing, and as we prepare more associates to become nurses or advance, community support is critical,” said Cheyana Fischer, Chief Nursing Officer, Health First.
“Our scholarships are just one reason why Health First is climbing the Forbes’ list of Best Large Employers, but these scholarships come directly from the community, so it’s a cycle of commitment.”
Patient Care Begins With People
The Health First Nursing Excellence Fund is the fountainhead of the 2023 round of nursing scholarships, and it starts with gifts to the Health First Foundation, including endowments and multi-year pledges to support these scholarships. Special recognition goes out to the following:
■ The Mike Means Larry Garrison Endowment for Nursing Excellence
■ The Igo Endowment Fund
■ The Allen and Sandra Henry Endowment for Nursing Excellence
■ Brevard Indo-American Medical and Dental Association (BIMDA)
■ The Maxx W. Kessel Foundation, and
■ Our own Health First Associates through the Associate Month of Giving
“The Nursing Excellence Fund provides nursing scholarships to Health First associates seeking to advance their knowledge and skills to provide the best care for our community,” said Chris Kern, Vice President of the Health First Foundation and Community Benefit, who helps administer the scholarship awards.
The scholarships are funded by Health First’s own providers and associates during Associate Month of Giving in February, as well as by generous community members and grateful patients who send one-time donations, establish named endowments, or leave gifts in their wills, Kern added.
“Health First and the community we serve both support the commitment to exceptional patient care through education,” she said. “So, when we say, ‘Wellness starts with we,’ this is what we mean.”
Nursing Scholarship Recipients
■ Health First’s Palm Bay Hospital: Jessica Forde, Dakota Floyd, Kasey Poirier,
■ Health First’s Holmes Regional Medical Center: Nick Smythe, Whitney Adkins, Samantha Kelly, Emily Light, Debora Atanga, Amber McCann, Danielle Martinez,
Catherine Spears, Camisha Senior, Brooke Andrezze, Andrea DeLucia, Brad Blackmore, Corrah Windmiller, Gabrielle Bucknor
■ Health First’s Viera Hospital: Kara Maldonado, Allysyn Brust, Derek Shawgo, Brittany Robertson
■ Health First’s Cape Canaveral Hospital: Leann Field, Katherine Abdal-Kade, Reagan Begole, Heather Wittman
■ Health First Medical Group: Natalie Chan, Vanessa Rodriguez, Rosemary Richer, Kassandra Hay, Jessica Frederick, Crystal LaLonde
■ Hospice of Health First: Pearl Gaudi, Emanez Celony
■ Health First Home Care: Elizabeth Jakobson
■ Health First Health Plans: Melissa Jackson
To support Health First’s Nursing Scholarship program and consider making a gift to the Health First Foundation to sustain Nursing Scholarships, visit HF.org/Give, or call Chris Kern at 321-434-7353. n
Interested in a career at Health First, visit Careers.HF.org.