South Florida Hospital News
Thursday August 6, 2020

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December 2006 - Volume 3 - Issue 6


Nursing Faculty Vacancies Impede Nursing School Enrollments

South Florida, like the rest of the US, is experiencing a critical shortage of registered nurses, and the problem is compounded by nursing school faculty vacancies that are actually keeping qualified applicants from gaining admission to nursing programs. Nursing school enrollments are not keeping up with the demand for nurses, and the aging of the baby boomer generation means that greater numbers of people will be needing health care services and that expert, experienced nurses will be retiring from the profession. In South Florida, the nurse vacancy rate reported by hospitals is actually higher than the national average.

The problem, according to Diane Whitehead, Associate Dean of the Department of Nursing at the School of Allied Health and Nursing at Nova Southeastern University, is a circular one. "We need nurses with a minimum of a masters degree to teach in our undergraduate nursing programs. We need Ph.D. prepared faculty to teach in our masterís programs and to conduct the research that is the foundation of nursing science, but we donít have sufficient numbers of nurses with masterís degrees who can go on to achieve their doctorates. For accreditation, 25% of nursing school faculty must have a PhD. We have outstanding nursing programs here in South Florida, but we canít "grow" new nurses to meet the demands of the health care marketplace if we donít have the faculty to teach them."

National data indicates that the faculty vacancy rate averages 8%, which translates into 2 vacancies per school, most of which are positions that require a doctorate.

Whitehead says that the problem is three-pronged: there is a general shortage of registered nurses; there is a growing shortage of nursing school faculty; and there are insufficient numbers of clinical sites for students to have hands-on experiences with patients in the health care setting. The faculty shortage is likely to worsen in the next decade, as the average age of faculty members presently is 54. Those nurse educators will be retiring, and there are insufficient numbers of nurses pursuing academic careers to take their places. In addition, the aging of the population, particularly in South Florida, will place enormous demands on the health care community.

According to an April 2006 Health Resources and Services Administration report, U.S. nursing schools need to graduate approximately 90% more nurses to meet the projected growth in demand for nurses in the coming decades. But the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that nursing schools are turning away qualified applicants. Their report, 2005-2006 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, states that 41, 683 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate programs in nursing in 2005 due to insufficient faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors and budget constraints.73.5% of nursing schools that participated in the study cited faculty shortages as the reason for not accepting qualified applicants to entry level nursing programs.

In addition to vacant faculty positions and pending retirements, there is a dearth of registered nurses entering nursing education. Whitehead explains that there are several reasons for this. One is that tuition reimbursement for graduate education is not as readily available from employers, and that other financial aid resources are few. Nurses who do choose to get a masters degree are more likely to seek an advanced practice clinical role, such as that of a nurse practitioner or clinical specialist, than a masters in nursing education. Another reason is economics - faculty salaries are often below those of nurses working in clinical settings, so there is no financial incentive to enter academics. AACN has reported that salaries for masterís prepared faculty averages $55,712 annually, while a nurse practitioner can expect to earn $72,480.

Whitehead believes that despite these complex problems, there is a plus side to the faculty crisis. "Some very positive things are happening," she says. "Faculty salaries are increasing somewhat, especially for adjunct faculty. It is motivating nursing leaders to take a closer look at how we are educating nurses and to identify new ways to teach nurses. The faculty shortage has focused attention on nursing education as a specialty and, just as in the clinical practice of nursing, nurse educators are looking at evidence based practices Ė what is the best way to teach? How can we make sure that students are able to perform effectively in todayís workplaces? We need new, more creative ways to teach and turn out good nurses."

New partnerships between nursing education and the nursing services in healthcare organizations are also emerging in this crisis, and Whitehead says that this is one of the strengths of the South Florida nursing community. "One of the best things about South Florida is that we have a shared goal of providing increased numbers of highly competent, well prepared nurses for our community. We are a collaborative community, and all the partners work well to solve problems together."

Whitehead says that in Florida, the SUCCEED nursing education grant program has been a wonderful resource. SUCCEED Florida! is a program of the state Department of Education that was created in 2005 to meet Floridaís critical workforce needs.

There are a significant number of several national initiatives that address the faculty shortage specifically. The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $3 million in grants and that is expected to increase. The U.S. Department of Education has designated nursing as an "area of national need" and has awarded $2.4 million for Ph.D programs in 14 schools of nursing. The federal Nurse Reinvestment Act includes funding for a Nursing Faculty Loan Program that offers loan forgiveness for graduate students who commit to work as nursing faculty upon graduation.

Nursing schools, healthcare organizations, foundations and government agencies at the state and federal levels are becoming increasingly concerned about the looming public health crisis that the nursing and nursing faculty deficits represent. They are seeking creative and strategic solutions that will raise the profile of the profession, attract bright young people into nursing careers, enable healthcare organizations to retain nurses in the workforce and enable schools of nursing to not only fill present and anticipated faculty vacancies, but also allow for significant expansion of nursing education programs to accommodate the inevitable demand for safe, quality care by preparing sufficient numbers of nurses to provide that care.

To learn more about the nursing faculty shortage, visit
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