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Publications » Essay Winners 2010

2010 NSNA/Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek Essay Contest Grand Prize Winner

Creative Solutions to the Nursing Faculty Shortage
By Carrie Thompson

Carrie Thompson (right), of Roane State Community College, Harriman, TN, pictured with NSNA® Imprint Editor and Image of Nursing chair, Alison Faust, won the Essay Contest Grand Prize, presented at NSNA's 58th Annual Convention, April 7-11, 2010, in Orlando, FL. Students were asked to respond to the question “During this drastic shortage of nurse educators, what is the importance of increasing promotion of such a career, and how can it be done?” Ms. Thompson won a $500 gift cheque, complimentary registration to the Convention and the winning essay published online at www.nurse.com and www.nsna.org
 
Imagine a hospital room where a patient is injured after falling out of bed. He is calling for help, but the hallway outside his room is empty of nurses to answer his cries. This scenario could someday become a possibility if nursing schools do not have enough faculty to educate new nurses to relieve the nursing shortage. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing conducted a nationwide survey during the 2006-2007 school year and found that 71% of the nursing schools that responded cited a faculty shortage as the primary reason for limiting enrollment in their programs (Ganley, 2009). The shortage also leads to a heavier workload for the remaining faculty members, which can eventually lead to burnout (Evans, 2009). Nurses surveyed name several reasons for deciding not to teach. As the baby boomer generation grows older, promotions to attract nurse educators becomes even more urgent. 

Many nurses qualified to teach say leaving the health care setting would not be in their best interest. The most important reason many nurses decide not to teach is salary. Leaving the hospital setting would mean a pay cut for a nurse, who often has children, a mortgage, and debt from school loans. The AACN reported in 2009 that a nurse practitioner earned approximately $12,500 more per year than a master’s-level nursing instructor (Trossman, 2009). Nurses cite another reason in that teachers have to take their work home. For example, instructors work overtime grading papers, fielding after-hours phone calls from students, and spending time in the hospital to maintain practice hours. Nurses, however, do not bring anything home after the long workday (Barna, 2006). Another barrier is time. Many schools encourage nurses to spend at least five years in the clinical setting before they can work towards the advanced degree needed to be an educator. Additionally, retaining nursing instructors can be problematic. Just because one excels in the clinical setting, does not predict that person would make an effective teacher (Trossman, 2009). The nursing faculty shortage is a result of all of these factors combined, and the long-term result contributes to the nursing shortage crisis found today. 

Nursing schools nationwide are investigating ways to attract, hire and retain more faculty members so they will be able to accept more applicants into their programs. To assist in this endeavor, the AACN suggests using non-nursing faculty to teach nursing classes (Evans, 2009). For example, one does not need an RN license or experience to teach a business or education class that may be part of a nursing curriculum. The AACN even suggests a non-nursing faculty member could even teach a pathophysiology or a pharmacology class. Along with easing the burden on the nursing department, this solution would be cost-effective and promote interdisciplinary teamwork among the school’s different departments (Evans, 2009). 

Other nursing programs are starting faculty recruitment with their own graduate students. Pace University received a grant from the US Department of Labor in 2005 to implement a plan to solve the nursing faculty shortage. Officials at Pace allowed master’s-level nurses to work as part-time or full-time clinical instructors while their facility of employment received either educational credits or assistance with staff development in return. Nurses working as full-time clinical instructors are still paid a nurse’s salary by the hospital, not the university (Trossman, 2009). Another program Pace offers is a fast track to a master’s degree if the nurse serves as a clinical instructor in exchange. Nurses can also teach undergraduate classes at Pace while earning their EdD or PhD. In return, the nurse must work for Pace for three years, and then he or she will be eligible for tenure (Trossman, 2009). In 2002, the state of Massachusetts began allowing bachelor’s-level nurses with at least five years of clinical experience to teach in the clinical setting. Massachusetts also allows anyone with a master’s degree in a non-nursing field and nurses enrolled in master’s programs to serve as clinical instructors. Each, however, must work under the supervision of a master’s-prepared faculty member (LaRocco, 2006). 

Schools across the country have solutions for nurses who name cost as a reason for not leaving the health care setting for the classroom. The state of Vermont offers a loan repayment program for nurses who decide to teach. According to an article published in the Vermont Business Magazine, nurse educators can deduct as much as $10,000 annually from student loan debt. To date, the program is extremely successful (Barna, 2006). In California, the Betty Irene Moore Nursing Initiative at Dominican University offers a similar program that forgives loans. This program is designed specifically for students in the geriatric-CNS program, and in return, graduates must teach nursing part time for at least five years in the San Francisco Bay Area (Ganley, 2009). 

In the search to find creative solutions to solving the nursing faculty shortage crisis, many schools forget the importance of “selling” the institution. A school in an often unnoticed rural area can be just as attractive as a school in an exciting big city. Job postings for an open faculty position need to emphasize the quality of life a nursing instructor can enjoy if he or she accepts a job in a smaller, more remote city (Barna, 2006). For example, nursing schools in Vermont often use the good air, water and small-town safe environment as a selling point, especially for instructors who have children to raise. Educators with the Vermont State College system say the salaries they offer are not as competitive as other nursing schools, but the quality of life is such a draw, the school does not currently have a faculty shortage. (Barna, 2006). 

Another selling point is the work environment. Effective management and leadership are important for anyone when applying for a job, no matter the business. The Vermont Business Magazine quoted one nurse stating she commutes an hour and a half each day, past two other nursing schools, to her college of nursing because of the excellent work environment (Barna, 2006). When posting job openings for nursing instructors, even the most minute aspects of the institution can attract new instructors. 

Finally, the plea for more nursing educators is now being heard in Washington, DC. United States lawmakers are drafting legislation to assist nursing schools nationwide to hire more faculty. The American Nurses Association and the AACN are among supporters of the Nurse Education Expansion and Development Act, which would provide capitation grants to schools to increase both faculty and students. Another bill, “The Nurses’ Higher Education and Loan Repayment Act” helps reimburse nursing students seeking advanced degrees. Students chosen to participate in the program must teach for four years in an accredited school of nursing (Trossman, 2009). 

As the baby-boomer generation grows older, and nurses from that generation reach retirement age, the demand for nurses will be higher than ever. However, as long as nursing schools battle a faculty shortage, potential nurses will continue to be turned away. Current faculty members will also continue to suffer burnout because of the heavier workload. Solutions like loan reimbursement, exchange programs, and even minor things, like drafting attractive job postings, can help to increase the faculty numbers. Nursing schools are even lobbying lawmakers at the federal level, as evidenced by new pieces of legislation supported by the ANA and the AACN. Nurses are often viewed as community leaders, and during the busy day of helping patients, nurses also need to remember the importance of leadership in the classroom for future generations of this noble and rewarding profession.