Nursing Faculty Shortage: Why is The Pipeline Dry?

Nursing school is experiencing higher demand than ever before. Hundreds of thousands of candidates apply for some sort of nursing education each year in an effort to become qualified and certified nurses. However, each year, over 65,000 applicants are turned away from entering good programs. This isn’t because they aren’t qualified but rather because there simply aren’t enough teachers, classrooms, or clinical sites to suit the growing demand. Many well-known nursing schools are suffering from a massive shortage of faculty members to teach incoming students. With so few educators available, there will continue to be a shortage of nurses as well. But what are the reasons no one is entering nursing education as faculty? Here are a few things we found:

  1. Financial Reasons

To be a nursing professor or lecturer, one needs to have full nursing credentials and experience. This makes sense because teachers clearly need to know more than their students to be effective and encourage learning. The big problem here is that to go from nursing practice to education involves a pretty big pay cut. In fact, recent numbers show that practicing nurses make on average about twenty thousand dollars more per year than nursing educators. That’s a pretty big difference and definitely something that deters nurses from leaving practice and entering education.

As an educator, nurses will experience a more regular schedule: daytime, weekends and holidays off, and term breaks are all benefits that occur. However, along with those more stable hours, there’s no chance for overtime earnings. Instead, faculty are expected to prepare lessons and grade work during whatever hours they can, whether that’s during their paid workday or not. So while practicing nurses may work more hours, they are getting compensated for that work fairly. Educators, on the other hand, experience less pay overall.

  1. Politics

The world of academics is such a unique setting. Faculty are generally passionate about sharing knowledge and skills. However, the politics in an academic setting can be draining and demoralizing, resulting in less enthusiastic staff.

For example, it often occurs that staff members are asked to teach additional courses outside their own specialty. This puts extra pressure on faculty to study up on the new course and prepare effective lessons from scratch. There’s also the issue of tenure. Those working in tenure systems often feel undue stress to perform well enough for their own job security. There are often very high requirements for advancement within these types of systems. Overall, the political tension of academia can be a big deterrent for those nurses that truly enjoy their practice.

  1. No Professional Development

In nursing practice, you are probably given several opportunities a year for professional development. There are trainings and events and conferences that offer the newest information on treatments and procedures. Taking advantage of these opportunities for continuing education is one of the best parts of nursing that help you stay up to date.

In nursing education, however, there are little to no opportunities for professional development. In fact the lack of professional support from superiors is a start contrast to the nursing practice experience, where there are mentors, supervisors, and colleagues. As a faculty member, it can be difficult to find opportunities for growth, especially if you are expected to teach the same course year after year without much change.

Final Thoughts

The nursing education shortage will likely only get worse unless there is a bit more motivation and incentive for nurses to become instructors. However, with proper encouragement and innovative methods of recruiting to fill in the gaps as needed, it is possible to see a rise in those numbers. Some hospitals, for instance, recruit high-performing nurses to lecture during their days off as part of paid overtime. Other institutions co-manage in-patient units alongside universities and nursing programs so that professors can teach as they practice.

Nursing education is a difficult role to fill. Faculty are overworked, underpaid, and rarely thanked. It takes a very strong and dedicated nurse to be willing to take a pay cut to enter education, and hopefully, there will be more willing to do so in the future.