Monday, March 23, 2009

Nursing Educators: The "Other" Nursing Shortage

The following article deals with one of this blogs most serious issues; the nursing educator shortage. While the PHEF has shed light on this issue, much more attention needs to be paid to this crisis by the healthcare profession. Unfortunately, if you are in pretty much any other state but Pennsylvania, you may not have any organizations that provide financial aid for current nurses to become nurse educators.

The following article was written by Robert Beatson for the San Francisco Chronicle.

For many years now, much has been documented and reported about the national shortage of qualified clinical nurses in the United States. But what about the "other" nursing shortage? That is, the nursing educators responsible for training the caregivers of tomorrow.

Across the country, the nursing educator shortage is a serious issue that will continue through at least the next decade. The shortage of nurses with advanced degrees choosing teaching careers at nursing colleges, universities or teaching hospitals is due to a number of reasons: budgetary constraints, an aging faculty population and increasing competition from a wide variety of clinical sources. But for nurses who decide to take the classroom path, the career opportunities are abundant and the options for obtaining proper teaching qualifications are becoming increasingly flexible.

Bracing for the future

According to Joanne Pohl, associate dean of nursing at the University of Michigan, more and more nurse faculty members are nearing retirement in the next 10 years, and there's a strong possibility that there will be an inadequate amount of replacements to train future nurses unless something is done to combat the trend. What's more, the growing shortage of nursing educators also threatens to adversely affect the clinical side of nursing, slowing down the rate of students graduating from nursing programs.

"Out of 50 tenure-track faculty at the University of Michigan, 40 percent are 60 years of age or older and approaching retirement," said Pohl late last year. "These are the faculty preparing the next generation of faculty."

Recruiting nurse educators for the classroom is proving to be a challenge as well. Among the most critical issues faced by schools of nursing regarding recruitment and retention are a limited pool of qualified applicants, less than competitive salaries and high faculty workload.

Reinforcements on the way?

These downward trends will continue to confront the nursing education profession now and at least for the next several years, but at least one positive can be taken away - the time has never been better to pursue a career in nurse education.

Hundreds of nursing colleges, university nursing programs and teaching hospitals across the country are seeking to fill educator positions. And with help from national recruiting efforts and increasing government funding, efforts to attract qualified applicants and fill these positions are becoming much more creative, organized and widespread. Many of today's nursing educator programs, for example, are recognizing the importance of providing more flexible schedules, tuition assistance and innovative practicum/academic curricula to facilitate the needs of today's budding nurse educator.

Professional nursing organizations are championing the cause as well. For example, Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow (NHT), a coalition of 42 nursing and health care organizations working to attract people to the nursing profession, recently launched a national outreach campaign to increase the number of nurse educators nationwide.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the national organization for nursing education programs, representing more than 560 schools of nursing at universities and four-year colleges, is involved in numerous initiatives to secure federal funding for faculty development programs, collecting data on faculty vacancy rates, identifying strategies to address the shortage and garnering media attention on this important issue.

Ultimately, the nursing shortage issue will be resolved when "legislators, policy makers and the public understand" the critical, interdependent relationship between nurse educators and nurse clinicians, said AACN president Kathleen Long, Ph.D.

Educational requirements, salaries vary widely

Nurse educators who seek employment in an academic environment must possess, at the very least, a master's degree and preferably a doctorate if they expect to advance to higher, tenured academic ranks such as associate professor and professor.

Along those lines, a growing number of master's degree and post-graduate certificate programs are available to prepare nurses specifically for advanced educator positions.

Often offered online, these programs are designed to prepare advanced practice nurses to teach, develop curricula, counsel students and more. In addition, NHT cites dozens of "baccalaureate-to-Ph.D. programs" that consist of intensive clinical experiences and attempt to move students through graduate level studies at an accelerated pace.

Nationwide, a number of other innovative approaches to the nurse educator shortage are taking place:

- Schools partner with hospitals to cross-team teaching and clinical roles.

- Fast-track programs advance the most gifted undergraduate nursing students.

- In states like Kansas and Missouri, where the demand for nursing educators is especially high, nursing colleges and universities are adding more innovative, flexible programs to accommodate easier transitions into the profession. One school of nursing in Kansas City has even added junior faculty positions.

- Nurse educator certificates now exist that allow graduate nursing students the opportunity to specialize as both educators and clinicians.

- Many federal and private funding sources are available to help students who are pursuing graduate nursing education. The Nurse Reinvestment Act, for example, includes a student loan repayment program for nurses who agree to serve in faculty roles after graduation. Similar programs also are available through the National Health Service Corps and the Bureau of Health Professions.

- Compensation wise, NHT reports that nurse educators in academic settings can expect to encounter wide salary ranges owing to rank, education (master's degree vs. doctorate) and type of institution (university vs. small liberal arts college). In 2002, full-time nurse educators with nine-month appointments earned salaries ranging anywhere from $25,000 to $185,000. Those in leadership and administrative roles - nursing deans for example - typically earn more than $100,000. In 2002-03, associate deans with doctorates earned between $93,000 and $111,000, whereas assistant deans averaged between $71,000 and $93,000. In summary, the national nursing educator shortage is a reality facing today's nursing profession. Yet it's a challenge that eventually can be met through accelerated recruitment efforts across the country, increased funding from the government and other sources and collaborative academic and clinical programs designed to accommodate today's dynamic nursing profession. In the meantime, nursing education continues to serve as an attractive, achievable, well-paying and rewarding career option for nursing professionals who possess the right skill sets as well as the desire to make a positive impact on tomorrow's nurses.

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