Before I forget . . BeachBunny, did you ever know Jessica Morgan? She was a Respiratory Therapist at GCMC from about 1996 to 1999, or so. Thought maybe you'd run into her at one time or another.
Andrea . . I've been living in Panama City for about 12 years (retired USAF) and just finished nursing school at Gulf Coast CC. Been working part-time at Bay Medical (Pulmonary-Stepdown) for about a year. Have promised my boss my first year so I'll remain with that great group of people.
First off, I'd like to set the record straight on a few things here that may have changed the past couple of years. The cost of living here has changed quite a bit. While I agree, Panama City Beach (PCB) can be a great place to live (beach proximity, clubs, etc---depending on your interests), the cost of real estate has skyrocketed the past few years. To give you an idea, the cost of beach front property (measured by the foot) has increased from $16/ft two years ago to almost $60/ft today. We entertained purchasing a non-beachfront condo a couple of years ago for $175K and today the same sized unit, etc is about $350K. A cinder-block shack built in the 1950s, 1400 sq ft a couple of blocks from the beach will start around $175K and that's a deal. Most homes on PCB a few miles from the beach in developed housing areas exceed $200K. Haven't checked apartment rentals, but know they've increased accordingly. Panama City, otoh, has alot of good apartment rentals if that's what you need.
One other possible problem living on PCB and working in PC hospitals is the traffic that can occur during "rush hour" especially over the Hathaway Bridge. They've recently built two new bridges to replace the old narrow bridge, but the construction for overpasses and intersections on both sides has interrupted traffic repeatedly at the worst times, and will continue to do so for several more years as Florida's in their great lack of foresight only funded the PCB end of the bridge with passovers, etc. The eastern end by the college is a major 3 way intersection with an active railroad crossing interrupting traffic.
One of the beauties of this area in the past was the fact you could live inexpensively and your salary reflected that fact: panhandle salaries are among the lowest in Florida while nursing salaries were pretty good for this area. While companies/hospitals have increased salaries a little bit over the years, the cost of living here is comparable to the NE (I'm from NJ) when you include property tax millage rates, 8% sales tax, utilities, etc. Oh . . .and the gas prices here are as bad as they are anywhere. Average in Panama City is around $2.05 and on Panama City Beach you can add a dime to that. Restaurants are still a good deal with the influx of hundreds of illegal immigrant labor, etc keeping costs down.
That being said, I love it here. I live in Callaway (about 7 miles east of Panama City and about 15 miles from PCB). My three kids finished Gulf Coast CC and moved on to other Fl universities. Saved me $$$ in tuition and all of them are doing very well. Housing affordability is higher than years past but not as bad as PCB and a few other areas. I'm an avid/addicted windsurfer and because I'm retired military, have access to the beaches of Tyndall AFB a couple of miles away so this side of town fits my needs. Housing areas are clean, crime is very low, and people are generally friendly and outgoing.
As for school, GCCC has an outstanding program. All of the instructors have tons of experience (a few have over 35 years each in nursing) and you'll do clinicals in both Bay Medical and Gulf Coast Med Ctr. You'll also do rotations through a few nursing homes and PC's third hospital, Healthsouth Rehab. Great experiences.
Let me know if you have any other questions as I'd be happy to help you out. If I don't hear from you, best of luck.