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Nursing schools try unique solutions to answer faculty shortages

Monday November 12, 2012
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Phyllis Shanley Hansell, RN
Across the nation, nursing schools are finding ways to build and retain faculty to educate the increasing throngs of nurses needed to meet the demands of a new age in healthcare.

The latest American Association of Colleges of Nursing statistics show that because of faculty shortages and budget constraints at nursing schools, more than 75,000 qualified student applicants were turned away last year, said AACN President Jane Kirschling, RN, DNS, FAAN. About 14,000 of those were applying to graduate programs. "There’s a substantial number we’re turning away who want to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees," Kirschling said, which chokes the pipeline for future faculty.

Nationally, one emphasis is on getting nurses to think about pursuing graduate degrees earlier rather than waiting until they have worked in the field, Kirschling said. With that in mind, many schools have designed BSN-to-DNP and BSN-to-PhD programs.

Nursing schools also are bracing for what may be a sudden wave of departures if and when the economy improves. Faculty who may have put off retirement because of economic concerns may depart in greater numbers as the tide turns.


Mary Alice Donius, RN
Susan Bakewell-Sachs, RN, PhD, PNP-BC, former dean of the The College of New Jersey’s school of nursing in Ewing, N.J., and now the college’s interim provost, said about half of her faculty are approaching retirement age. The uncertainty of when that departure wave will happen has left schools of nursing looking for answers.

Phyllis Shanley Hansell, RN, EdD, FAAN, dean of the Seton Hall University College of Nursing in South Orange, N.J., said she doesn’t currently have vacancies, but challenges remain.

Among Seton Hall’s approaches is to hire nurses in clinical practice as adjunct faculty outside of their regular work hours.

She also has worked out a system of "buying time" from clinical agencies — sometimes as much as 50% of a nurse’s work time.

"Let’s say someone is a full-time clinical nurse specialist at [a hospital] and they are interested in a joint appointment," Hansell said. "Seton Hall does not pay the individual directly. We reimburse the institution. That way you have somebody who is immersed and very familiar with the working environment for the students."

Seton Hall also covers instruction with teaching assistants enrolled in the PhD program. They help primarily with the patient care simulation lab, Hansell said, though some have taught classes as well. The TAs usually receive tuition and a small stipend.


Jane Kirschling, RN
Bakewell-Sachs is also program director for the New Jersey Nursing Initiative, a project to prepare 61 nursing faculty in the state. Currently, New Jersey is battling a nurse faculty vacancy rate of 8% that is expected to rise, she said. The initiative is a multiyear, $30 million project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The organizations partner with nine schools of nursing. Each scholar has received full tuition plus a $50,000-a-year stipend.

When scholars graduate, they have their expertise in a clinical specialty or research and have learned to teach, Bakewell-Sachs said. The expectation from the beginning is they will teach in New Jersey. If they teach at least half-time, there are a series of financial incentives. The initiative’s website — NJNI.org — is aimed at raising awareness of what teaching nursing entails.

"We want nurses, as they are orchestrating their career, to think about being a faculty member as part of that career," Bakewell-Sachs said.

At the College of New Rochelle (N.Y.) School of Nursing, Dean Mary Alice Donius, RN, EdD, BSN, said succession planning is critical.

"We spend a lot of time developing our adjunct pool," Donius said. "We’ve been fortunate that when we do have turnover, we can usually fill with adjunct faculty. They know our students. They know the mission of the school. We know their practice standards are congruent with our expectations." She said the school replaces one of its 18 faculty spots each year.

One thing nursing schools might need to consider in the future is job sharing, Donius said. Currently, older faculty who may want to reduce hours typically choose between retiring or becoming an adjunct without full benefits. A job-sharing model in which two faculty members split a full-time position, but both retain benefits, "might allow someone who’s 60 to work until they’re 70, as opposed to retiring at 65," Donius said.

Convincing nurses to pursue academic careers can be difficult because, at its heart, nursing is thought of as practiced-based. Also, the pay differential may deter some from pursuing academics, since clinical careers pay an average of 20% more, Kirschling said. Getting across the benefits of a teaching career is critical, she said. On a basic level, teaching can offer more traditional hours, vacations and holidays and it doesn’t have the physical demands of working on a hospital unit.

But the desire to teach usually grows from something more powerful, Kirschling said.

"Those who choose to teach are strongly drawn to an environment where inquiry is strongly supported," she said. "They’re interested in preparing the next generation."

Marcia Frellick is a freelance writer.


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School solutions

How local nursing schools are working to solve faculty shortages:

Buying time: Practicing nurses can use part of their work time to teach under an agreement between a hospital and a nursing school.
Having teaching assistants teach classes Common in nursing schools with PhD programs. The TAs typically get tuition covered and a small stipend.

Grooming adjuncts to move into full-time spots: Having those conversations about future opportunities from the beginning may mean a more ready pool when openings occur.

Job sharing: Offering faculty who want fewer hours the chance to work part time with benefits in a job-sharing arrangement

Sponsoring scholars: Partnering with philanthropic organizations and paying tuition and expenses for nurses with the intention they will teach nursing in a particular state.

Online instruction: Schools can draw on faculty not physically present; students enhance technical skills when they take online classes.

Source: Local nurse educators