The shortage of nurse educators in the United States is a critical problem that impacts the nursing shortage directly, as well as, in the long run, patient safety. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, in 2016 more than 64,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs due to a 7.9% national nurse faculty vacancy.
Nurse Educators: Definition and Responsibilities
A nurse educator is a registered nurse (RN) who holds an advanced degree and has completed advanced clinical training. They teach in a classroom setting, a clinical setting, and sometimes, a combination of both. Nurse educators teach at colleges and universities, hospital-based schools of nursing, technical colleges, hospitals, and online nursing programs.
Nurse educators are responsible for, among other duties:
- Designing and implementing course curriculum incorporating evidence based practice
- Documenting the outcomes of the educational process
- Coaching, mentoring, and advising students
- Implementing course curriculum to ensure proper skills are being taught
- Monitoring and testing students’ progress to gauge their development
- Promoting ongoing professional development
Causes of the Faculty Shortage
The numbers don’t lie: there is a documented shortage of nursing faculty. However, the reasons for the shortage are less clear. Some of the most cited reasons are listed below.
- Lack of interest: Nursing students pursue careers in nursing, not in education. With the increase in standards for education, with a master’s degree now seen as the minimum, an academic career may look even more challenging.
- The emphasis on clinical practice: The nursing profession encourages long periods of clinical experience, which may delay entrance into faculty programs.
- Fluctuating demand: Demand for nurse educators has gone up and down over the years, following the trend in demand for nurses.
- Salaries: Academic salaries are not as competitive as they should be, especially at public educational institutions.
- High cost of education: Between tuition, forgone income during education, and salary differences, nurse educators face quite a financial burden.
- Dissatisfaction with faculty career: Unhappy employees will look elsewhere for work, and faculty are no exception.
- Inadequate funding: Even where the demand for additional faculty is recognized, procuring additional funds for salaries may be an obstacle.
Current Approaches to Reducing the Faculty Shortage
Initial steps to address the shortage of nurse educators include:
- Stimulating interest in the faculty role
- Providing financial assistance for education
- Combining academic disciplines with clinical experience
- Making academic training more accessible
- Increasing salary and faculty support
- Obtaining more funding for additional faculty positions
- Supporting programs to improve current faculty productivity
- Supporting research training
- Studying the needs of nurse educators