Nursing Schools Face Faculty Shortage
There have been lots of parties this year at the University of Virginia School of Nursing. So far, eleven professors have retired. That's one-fourth of the faculty, and Dean Dorrie Fontaine is in no mood to celebrate. Over the next few years, the Affordable Care Act will probably boost demand for nurses to take care of the newly-insured, she says, "And I need faculty to teach the practitioners that are going to take care of these uninsured."
In the last year, more than 76,000 qualified applicants were turned away, in large part because nursing schools didn't have enough professors. Polly Bednash heads the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. She explains that nurses comprise the oldest workforce in the nation, and many of them kept working during the recession. "They are going to leave in droves and are already leaving in some places where the economy is getting better," she says.
Finding professors to teach new nurses will be difficult, because faculty members usually need a Ph.D. Of three million nurses in this country, less than one percent have their doctorate. Associate Professor Emily Drake says most nurses want to practice right away. "After you finish your degree," she says, "what we want to do is take care of patients."
Pay is also a problem. Nurses with a Master's degree and special training can be certified as nurse practitioners – paid $120,000 a year or more. After ten years as a professor, Drake earns about $75,000.
It's about more than the money, though. By the time most nurses consider a Ph.D., Dean Fontaine worries that their lives are complicated with a job, financial obligations, and children.
She says diversity in the teacher population is missing, too.
"We want to have our faculty and students match the population we serve, so we do not have enough Hispanic nurses or faculty, as well as African-Americans and other minorities – and men!"
Men make up just 10% of the nursing workforce, and Fontaine hopes the field can draw more of them to join young women in getting PhD's and stepping into the classroom.
Professor Emily Drake says classes can't get bigger because much of the training for nurses is hands on.
"By law for each additional ten students we take, we need another clinical faculty member to supervise them in the hospital."
Polly Bednash says schools are looking for other ways to teach.
"Faculty are getting more and more creative about how they prepare students. They bring in other clinicians to the educational experience – having pharmacists, for instance, be involved in teaching the pharmacotherapeutics."
They're also using technology – simulators and computer-based lessons – to supplement classroom and lab experience. Nationwide, nearly 8% of nursing school jobs – about 1,200 — are vacant, so the American Association of Colleges of Nursing is lobbying for more state, federal and foundation money to train PhD's. And they're urging their most promising students to get the advanced degree before they acquire a family and a mortgage.