No matter how long we’ve been in practice, we can all remember our nursing school experience. Giving our first injection, memorizing drugs and their side effects, fine-tuning a patient’s care plan—all were important first steps on our way to becoming a nurse. How did we get through it? Partially, it was our dedication and desire to learn and provide care; partially, it was the help of our fellow students, who served as our first patients and our study partners. And without a doubt, it was our nurse educators who passed their knowledge, skills, and professional values on to us, the next generation.
But passing the torch these days continues to be a tough proposition. For some years, there has been a nursing faculty shortage. And it will worsen unless we address the issues creating it.
First let me talk about the overall need for nurses. As of January 1, 2011, Baby Boomers began turning 65 at a pace of 10,000 a day. As our country’s population continues to age, there will be an increased demand for nurses who can provide care in all types of settings, from traditional acute care to primary and long-term care. Specifically, Bureau of Labor Statistics projections point to a need for 495,500 nurses to replace those leaving the workforce, largely because of retirement. This brings the total number of job openings for nurses due to growth and replacement needs to 1.2 million in 2020.
Nurses are also part of our aging demographic. The 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses reported that more than 1 million of the nation’s 2.6 million practicing RNs were older than age 50, with more than 275,000 beyond age 60. Looking specifically at nurse educators, the average age of doctoral-prepared professors, associate professors, and assistant professors was 60.5, 57.1, and 51.5 respectively, according to a 2010-11 report by our colleagues at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Like the overall nursing population, this group is poised for retirement, particularly if the economy continues to rebound.
So what can we do to ensure a steady supply of nurse faculty, who can then educate our future nurses? One incentive is to ensure that there is continued and strong funding for federal programs that support nurse faculty education. I recently testified before a Congressional subcommittee urging them to fully fund Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs, such as the Nurse Faculty Loan Program and Advanced Nursing Education Grants, in the fiscal year 2013 federal budget. These programs are crucial to preparing the next generation of nurses and to the future of our healthcare system. Nurses can find more information about these programs, as well as get involved in efforts to keep them fully funded, at ANA’s website at www.rnaction.org.
We can advocate for better compensation and flexibility for our nurse educators, which can heighten this role’s appeal to promising nursing students. For example, AACN notes that master’s-prepared faculty earned an annual average salary of just over $72,000 in March 2011, while their nurse practitioner counterparts averaged more than $91,000. I also urge nurse educators to talk with students more about their role and its rewards, and I ask student and practicing nurses to really listen—and consider this invaluable career option.
Some 600 nursing schools with baccalaureate and graduate programs who responded to another 2011 AACN survey reported nearly 1,100 faculty vacancies, and these institutions further cited a need to create 100-plus positions to meet student demand. Around the country, qualified students continue to be turned away from entry-level and graduate programs, because there is not enough faculty to teach them. This is a vicious cycle that we must break.
Reflecting on my experience, there were many nurse educators who helped me during my initial nursing program and as I progressed with my education. One was Betty Ballantyne, who offered me words of encouragement when I needed them and who instilled in me the highest professional standards. I am here because of her. We can’t let the next generation—or our patients—down. Let’s all work together to promote, support, and grow our nurse educators.
Karen Daley, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
President, American Nurses Association