Nursing Faculty Shortage: Why is The Pipeline Dry?At the present time, nursing programs are turning away thousands of qualified applicants at each admission cycle. According to American Association of Colleges of Nursing report on 2014-2015 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, U.S. nursing schools turned away 68,938 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate programs in 2014 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.

Shortage of Faculty

This inability to produce the needed number of new nurses creates a nursing practice shortage in some parts of the country. The demand is fueled by the aging of our population, increase need for caregivers based on the expansion of benefits from Obamacare, and a move to community based care.

In this article, the faculty shortage will be examined and some of the key reasons for the problem will be considered. Finally, recommendations for drawing expert nurses into faculty roles will be suggested.

Although distance education in nursing has expanded the entry to BSN degree completion programs, MSN programs and the proliferation of doctoral programs, we continue to feel the pinch to recruit qualified faculty to educate current and future nurses at all levels of practice.

As the Dean of Nursing in a BSN program serving two campuses in Wisconsin, I feel the pain of staffing crunches each term-particularly as our student population rises. Our goal is to recruit, orient, and develop a team of highly experienced nurses across all lines of specialty practice in nursing.

Right now, our faculty serves a student population of over 300 students with 19 full time faculty, nine adjunct faculty in clinical roles, and two administrative leaders including myself as the Dean/Director of the program and an Assistant Director. Our recruiting efforts are also challenging as the program is on a 12-month calendar, faculty teach, at two campuses that are 50 miles apart. Nursing education is not for sissies. I do however face a sometimes uphill battle to recruit and retain experienced faculty in a competitive market.

What Deters Nurses From Teaching Roles?

My answer to this question comes from over 15 years as a dean/director of nursing programs across the US. My thoughts on the subject were confirmed when I posed the question to nurse educators on my blog.

  • Financial. There is a big disparity in earnings between practice settings and educational institutions. Despite a work schedule that is primarily “day shift” with time off on weekends, holidays and term breaks, faculty salaries are typically less than their hospital colleagues with similar levels of experience. Recent data indicates that the annual salary for faculty averages at 59k per year (MSN or higher degree needed) while staff nurses' average salary is at 79K per year.
    Additionally, faculty do not have the option to work overtime, staff holiday programs, or earn overtime. The role of faculty is complex and involves lectures, clinical laboratory practice, simulations and regular clinical experiences with students. In addition to student-facing time, faculty spend hours grading papers, tests, and care plans. At some institutions, faculty are also assigned as academic advisors to groups of students. Many advanced practice nurses who have taken out loans to pay for their educations are reluctant to graduate and take a job that likely pays less than they earned as staff nurses.
  • The politics of the academic world. New faculty may be asked to teach courses that are not aligned with their specialty roles or take on duties that they are not eager to fill. Those in a tenure system are challenged to teach, participate in faculty governance and conduct research or produce publications in order to be promoted or advance in the system.
  • Little to no support for professional development and continuing education. This lack of support contrasts starkly with health systems that are willing to cover the cost of professional development for nurses in many instances.


Solutions to the Shortage

Engaging their advanced practice nurses and clinical specialists to teach in adjunct clinical roles. This becomes a win-win situation where the hospital is gaining revenue and the advanced nurses are gaining teaching experience.

In another emerging model, universities and nursing programs are co-managing inpatient units that are used for teaching and clinical experiences. In addition, joint appointments for advanced practice clinical specialists and DNP nurses allow the professional to teach while continuing their practice role.

At the institution where I work, we are actively recruiting qualified nurses from our clinical facilities to work part time on their days off or on weekends to manage a clinical group or do lectures in their specialty areas.

Another solution is to provide MSN and DNP/PhD faculty with a form of tuition reimbursement or loan repayment in exchange for a faculty contract.

So faculty are comparably underpaid, overworked and often unappreciated. I have admiration for my colleagues and co-workers who are willing and able to commit their professional lives in the the service of future nurses. It is a rigorous role but one that secures the viability and availability of the nursing workforce.