Nursing Schools Explore Ways To Fill Faculty Vacancies

A shortage of nurse faculty is forcing nursing schools to consider innovative options.

While the national need for registered nurses continues to grow, a lack of qualified nursing educators is forcing colleges and universities to use creative strategies to attract and recruit nursing faculty.

Last year, nursing schools across the nation turned away 64,067 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors and budget constraints, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s 2016-2017 report on enrollment and graduation in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs.

Most nursing schools responding to the survey cited faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into baccalaureate programs.

The reasons for the faculty shortage, which started as early as 2005, include an aging faculty, budget limitations and a shortage of potential nurse educators in master’s and doctoral nursing programs.

Faculty salaries also are an issue. The average salary for a master’s-prepared assistant professor in schools of nursing was $77,022 in 2016, according to AACN. By comparison, the average salary of a nurse practitioner is $97,083, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Non-competitive salaries for nursing faculty compared to many other top nursing jobs have been identified as a cause for faculty shortages in annual national surveys by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“For the last 12 years, non-competitive salaries has been identified among the top recruitment barriers for full-time faculty positions,” said AACN President and CEO Deborah Trautman, PhD, RN, FAAN. “In many parts of the country, newly minted graduated-prepared nurses can earn considerably higher salaries in clinical versus academic settings.”

Ideas to address the nurse faculty shortage

Nursing schools across the country are taking a variety of short-term and long-term steps to address the nurse faculty shortage.

Harriet R. Feldman, dean of the College of Health Professions at Pace University in Pleasantville, N.Y., said the college has addressed its nurse faculty shortages by temporarily converting tenure track lines it was unable to fill to clinical faculty lines. Unlike tenured faculty, clinical faculty members are hired for limited terms and are responsible solely for teaching and service, while tenure-track and tenured faculty spend a significant percentage of their time on research in addition to their teaching duties, Feldman said.

“Clinical faculty teach year round and a master’s degree in nursing is the minimum requirement,” said Feldman, PhD, RN, FAAN, noting that tenured or tenure-track faculty require a PhD.

In some cases, clinical faculty have pursued PhD degrees and then the line is converted back to tenure track,” she added.  “In other cases, in subsequent searches, we find qualified tenure track faculty to replace clinical lines. It is important to be strategic in hiring the kinds of individuals who can make a strong contribution to the programs we lead.”

Other successful strategies at Pace include “Grow Our Own” initiatives, which involve recruiting promising nursing candidates early in their career; creating a culture of mentoring; investing in faculty development; forming more educational partnerships; and offering externally funded scholarships.

One of the most successful long-term strategies at Pace is a supportive work environment that highlights the many benefits of working there, Feldman said.

“We provide opportunities for a diverse group of students to be successful and, likewise, for faculty to be successful,” she said. “I look at our college as a family of diverse individuals who support each other toward success. This characteristic has been lauded by candidates for faculty positions and, I believe, it is the glue that helps with retention.”

A satisfied workforce is key to recruitment and retention, according to E. Carol Polifroni, dean of the University of Connecticut School of Nursing.

“You’ve got to retain the faculty you’ve got now, because if you don’t you’re in a constantly revolving door,” said Polifroni, EdD, RN, CNE, NEA-BC, ANEF. “Retention is all about the work environment. If people feel like they are involved in making a difference that enhances their willingness, interest and commitment to staying in an organizational structure.”

Trautman believes more federal funding and privately supported initiatives are needed to encourage nurses to pursue faculty careers and to remove financial barriers to graduate nursing education. The AACN is calling for all stakeholders in academia and practice to lobby for more federal and state funding for graduate nursing education.

Encourage nursing students to consider faculty positions

In their recruitment efforts, schools of nursing must encourage undergraduates to consider becoming the next generation of nursing faculty, which means planting the seed early, according to Polifroni.

The average age of a student enrolling in doctoral programs in nursing is significantly higher than in other professions, Polifroni said. She said nursing schools need to change that by encouraging more undergraduates to obtain their advanced degrees by age 30.

One of the most effective recruitment strategies is face-to-face interactions between nursing faculty and students who may be interested in becoming educators, experts agree.

Polifroni said testimonials by faculty members on the benefits of working at their institution “speak much more loudly than any ad I could ever place.”

Collaboration and faculty sharing is another strategy that nursing schools in each state should explore, according to Polifroni. In Connecticut, for example, she said “we are all looking for pediatric faculty and pediatric placements so why not have a conversation together?

“What would be so wrong about two students from Yale University and two students from UConn being on the same unit [in a clinical setting] at the same time working together?” she said. “We share a faculty member. We each pay 50% of that cost. I think going forth we need to look at things differently than we have looked at them in the past.”