A nursing shortage is occurring all over the country and it is expected to get worse. One big reason for this is the shortage of nursing school faculty that seems to be hitting hard in many places. This year at the University of Virginia School of Nursing alone, eleven professors have retired. This number represents 25 percent of the entire faculty.
Over the next few years, a new health law will be coming into play. The Affordable Care Act will more than likely increase the demand for nurses to take care of the newly insured. And according to Dean Dorrie Fontaine she will “. . . need faculty to teach the practitioners that are going to take care of these uninsured.”
As stated by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), in the last year more than 76,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools mainly due to the fact that nursing schools just did not have enough professors. According the executive director of the AACN, Polly Bednash, many nurses kept working during the recession and now that the economy is getting better, many nurses may be leaving.
There are a few major problems in trying to find qualified professors to teach new nurses. One difficulty is the fact that faculty members usually need a Ph.D. Of the three million plus nurses in the country, less than one percent have their doctorate degree. Most nurses want to go straight into practice to start seeing patients and put higher education on the back burner. By the time they consider going back for a Ph.D. their lives are complicated with a job, financial obligations and/or a family.
Salary also becomes a plight. Nurses with a master’s degree and special training can be certified as nurse practitioners and make about $120,000 a year. Now as a professor that salary may be considerably lower.
Another aspect that is lacking in the teacher population is diversity. D. Fontaine says, “We want to have our faculty and students match the population we serve, so we do not have enough Hispanic nurses or faculty, as well as African-Americans and other minorities – and men!” Men make up just ten percent of the nursing workforce, and Fontaine hopes the field can draw more of them to get Ph.D.s and step into the classroom.
An easy fix may be making classes bigger, unfortunately, this cannot happen. Much of the training for nurses is hands-on and by law for each additional ten students, there needs to be another clinical faculty member to supervise in the hospital setting.
Schools are looking for other ways to teach. For example some bring in other clinicians to the educational experience like having pharmacists be involved in teaching the pharmacotherapeutics. Technology is also becoming incorporated, using simulators and computer-based lessons to supplement classroom and lab experience.
Nationwide, nearly 8 percent of nursing school jobs are vacant, so the AACN is lobbying for more state, federal and foundation money to train Ph.D.s. They are also urging students to get the advanced degree before “life happens.”