The nursing faculty shortage is real. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the national nurse faculty vacancy rate in 2018 was 7.9%, with 90.7% of the positions requiring or preferring a doctoral degree. Several reasons listed for the faculty shortage have been constant — aging of faculty, expected surge in retirements over the next decade, lower wages for faculty compared to clinical positions and a low pool of potential nurse educators being produced.
Examples of strategies that have been implemented to develop new faculty have been the Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program and the Johnson & Johnson/AACN Minority Nurse Faculty Scholarship. An incentive enacted in five states to date — Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland and South Carolina — is to give tax credits for nurse practitioner (NP), physician assistant (PA) and physician providers who precept NP and PA students during clinical placements. The exact rules for a preceptor to meet eligibility requirements may vary from state to state. Preceptors are clinical educators and can provide a pipeline for recruiting new faculty. Many schools nurture their preceptors with the hope that they will transition to academia in the future, while also encouraging those with master’s degrees to pursue a clinical or research doctorate.
As an expert clinician when I made the decision to move to a full-time faculty position, I was a novice educator and acknowledged that I did not have the knowledge and skills necessary to teach in higher education or be effective in a teaching role. What I knew so well in the clinical setting was difficult to transfer to students in the academic setting. In accepting a faculty position, I was forced to move out of my comfort zone.
Therefore, I took advantage of a program for NPs and nurse midwives that prepared you to teach: the Teacher Education Program (TEP) at the University of Pennsylvania.1 These three authors were the lead faculty for the program when I enrolled during my PhD education. You could earn either continuing education credits or a post-master’s certificate in teaching; I opted for the latter.
Even though TEP was rigorous, with three one-week residencies over a nine-month period, the program was also revitalizing. Included in the curriculum were lessons on learning theories and philosophies, adult learning principles, student learning styles, curriculum development, student formative and summative evaluation, teaching methods and strategies and expectations of the academic role.
There were other topics, multiple experiential learning opportunities and an abundance of work that was completed independently in between the residency weeks. TEP provided the tools and support, such as a willing mentor at your home school, which is needed to launch a novice educator on the journey to become a master teacher. The total experience was humbling for an expert clinician but made the transition to academia more authentic. My cohort of 13 felt the outcome was worth the effort. We at some point all expressed feelings very similar to those identified by the researchers in two studies: "Challenges of Novice Nurse Educator's Transition From Practice to Classroom" and "'Learning How to Teach' in Nursing: Perspectives of Clinicians After a Formal Academy."
Brown and Sorrell (2017) conducted a qualitative case study interviewing seven faculty who were teaching in an associate degree nursing program to better understand the challenges novice nurse educators experienced during their transition from clinical practice to academia. Additional data were obtained from the program’s self-study report and faculty demographic characteristics. The average time teaching nursing students either in an academic or clinical setting was 1.6 years. All seven had successfully completed the state Board of Nursing requirement of at least 45 contact hours of structured, individualized development activities for all part- and full-time faculty teaching in a nursing program. The researchers identified four major themes:
Overall, participants recommended that novice faculty would benefit from a more structured plan or path to guide them using mentorship and orientation to lessen the feeling of having been thrown in the fire with no support.
Jarosinski et al. (2020) studied the phenomenon of "learning how to teach" with 71 expert clinicians through focus groups over the course of three years. All had just completed a structured program that prepared them to be clinical faculty in a pre-licensure nursing program. The researchers wanted "to gain a deeper understanding of their experiences and explore their sense of preparedness for their roles as educators." Using interpretive phenomenological analysis, three main themes were identified:
The transition from expert clinician to novice educator was filled with uncertainty and insecurity; a different approach was needed to learn the knowledge and skills to develop competence in teaching; and all throughout the program, the resources and support of the program built their confidence in seeing themselves as educators.
Nursing is a practice profession, so one might logically believe that an educator should first be an expert in the content they teach, having clinical experience. As I have noted, there are challenges and barriers to recruiting clinicians into academia; sometimes the decision to stay or to leave presents itself.
Strategies that have some proven success in retaining new faculty include offering fellowships and student loan forgiveness (assistance), shared academic-practice partnership appointments, growing your own and mentorship initiatives that support transition from the clinic to the classroom. Current faculty must be proactive and put into place programs that will support expert clinicians who are interested in academia and decide to take the leap. Information on certificate programs that prepare nurse educators, similar to the one in which I participated, are searchable on the internet.
I am happy to say that I have joined the ranks of retired nursing faculty but am in reality in "preferment." The work never ends.
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