If you're considering going back to school to earn an advanced degree in nursing, you probably know that the field has come a long way in the last few decades. The field now offers many career paths to those willing to earn an advanced degree to set themselves apart as the nursing community grows. The projected growth for Registered Nurses is 19%, 8 points higher than the national average growth of all occupations combined.
However, all this expansion and growth has unfortunately coincided with a shortage of nursing faculty who can provide academic instruction and practical training for those entering the field. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), almost two thirds of respondents to a survey of universities claimed that a nursing faculty shortage led to their turning away qualified degree candidates – as many of 78,089 in 2013. Here are some of the main factors contributing to this crisis.
People who enter nursing education as a career tend to do so later on in life. According to a 2013-2014 study, the mean age of doctoral-prepared faculty was 56.86. Nursing faculty also tend to retire early, at the age of 64.4 on average, which means the United States currently has a shortage of academically trained faculty to teach classes. It also could potentially mean that nurses do not serve as faculty members long enough to build meaningful communities within their departments, a factor that could in turn impact recruitment.
Although they have known about the nursing faculty shortage for over a decade, institutions of higher education have also been structurally unprepared to meet the enormous demand for nurses after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. A lack of qualified professors is one thing; the lack of facilities, equipment, and funding to hire new faculty members is another. Because community colleges and state universities tend to face declining enrollment when the local economy improves, many institutions find themselves strapped financially, and many others have seen state contributions decline as well. A detailed study by the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice notes that there are limited resources for nursing across the board, particular where nursing departments have to share resources with other health care educators.
Another problem is the fluctuating enrollment of nursing students themselves over the past two decades. The chief contributing factor here was the rise of managed care in the 1990s, which led to a number of layoffs of RNs by the end of the decade and made nursing a less viable option for students who wanted professional employment after graduation. During this period of time, institutions cut back on the number of nursing faculty they hired, leaving them unprepared for the demand necessitated by the Affordable Care Act.
The rise of managed care made hospitals eager to stem the increasing cost of healthcare, writes Patricia Keenan in a 2003 issue brief entitled, "The Nursing Workforce Shortage: Causes, Consequences, Proposed Solutions." As a result, nurses worked under increasingly difficult circumstances. The strain of treating difficult and critically ill patients led to stress and job attrition; by 2002, Keenan explains, the shortage of RNs was estimated at 125,000, or six percent of the full-time job force.
In addition to these difficulties, nursing itself became a less desirable career path for women, who had traditionally turned to this occupation to support themselves and their families. By the 1990s, however, women had other options that paid equally well and did not involve working long hours in a clinical setting.
Low Number of Potential Nurse Educators
Due to the shortage of nursing faculty, as mentioned above, educational institutions have had to turn away many students. AACN found that in 2014, 1,844 doctoral program applicants and 13,444 MSN program applicants were turned away. It is a cycle of supply and demand.
Organizations and agencies across the United States are working to address some of these problems. One solution is to compensate nursing students who wish to become faculty for the clinical work they do in preparation for the degree. Another has been to create scholarship programs, mentorship programs, and conferences designed to target and retain talented nurse students. Direct baccalaureate to Ph.D. programs are still another option.
Pursuing a nursing degree that specializes in education, such as a Master of Science in Nursing with a Nurse Educator specialization, is a gateway to the path of a nurse educator. Ultimately, the nursing faculty shortage has created a unique opportunity for individuals who are willing to take on the challenge. Designing robust curricula and teaching best practices to a new generation of nursing students will place you at the cutting edge of an important transition in the field of health care, one in which nursing emerges as an industry leader.