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At a time when hospitals and medical centers are struggling to adequately staff their nursing departments, nursing schools across the United States are regularly turning qualified applicants away due to a lack of dedicated faculty members. In its attempts to raise public awareness and concern about this problem, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published statistics showing that, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, US nursing schools rejected 92,000 otherwise qualified baccalaureate and graduate nursing program applicants due insufficient teaching faculty, classroom space, and other administrative concerns. Furthermore, the AACN released a special report in 2022 that surveyed 909 nursing schools to identify a staggering total of 2,166 full-time faculty vacancies.

Understanding the Current Nursing Faculty Shortage

So, what, exactly, is the reason for the current abundance of vacant nurse faculty positions? The experts at the AACN have cited many reasons, ranging from elderly nursing faculty members aging out of the workforce to an increase in employment competition from clinical sites. Examining the modern school of nursing’s struggle to attract new educators, the AACN points to the significantly higher rates of monetary compensation for practicing clinical nurses, citing statistics that compare a $120,000 median salary for advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) with an average annual salary of $87,325 for nursing school professors with a master’s degree or higher. Considering this disparity, it is little wonder that experienced advanced practice nurses are more drawn to RN roles than faculty positions.

The Implications of the Nursing Faculty Shortage

According to the February 2023 Nursing Shortage study through the National Library of Medicine, the specific shortage of nursing faculty is directly related to the general shortage of nursing professionals worldwide. As nursing schools continue to turn away large numbers of aspiring nurses, patients everywhere suffer from a lack of qualified nurses with RN, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as well as other advanced nursing specializations.

Among other patient-related issues, nursing shortages lead to more errors as well as higher morbidity, mortality, and failure-to-rescue rates. The effect of the ongoing nursing shortage also profoundly affects nurses and the other medical professionals working alongside them. Nurses in facilities with high patient-to-nurse ratios report significantly increased levels of dissatisfaction and burnout.

Key Approaches to Address Nursing Faculty Shortages

Approaching the nursing faculty problem from a variety of angles, the AACN is working to secure federal government funding for key development programs, collect and analyze data on the nursing facility shortage, and draw media attention to this critical issue. Its specific initiatives range from spearheading the nursing education process through its NursingCAS platform to lobbying legislators to pass measures and support policy that boosts the number of nursing educators in the employment pool.

Encouraging Tenure and Non-Tenure Track Positions

The ability to work part-time ranks high among the distinct advantages that education positions have over traditional nursing positions. While these relaxed, non-tenure track positions are great when it comes to supporting a healthy work-life balance, much more needs to be done to attract and support serious lifetime nurse educators in search of full professorship and tenure.

According to a Nursing Education Perspectives case study on the transition to tenure-track positions in nursing education, challenges are significant for new nursing faculty who aspire to go beyond the associate professor level and seek tenure. And because many nursing educators are raising young children at this time of their lives, they commonly struggle to balance the serious rigors of nursing academia with the demands of parenting.

The Role of Higher Education in Combating Nursing Shortages

According to the AACN Nursing Faculty Shortage Fact Sheet, master’s and doctoral nursing programs are failing to graduate enough potential nurse educators to meet the growing demand. An April 2022 AACN report showed that enrollment in master’s-level nursing programs was down for the first time since 2001. Specifically, the number of students in graduate-level nursing programs dropped by 3.8 percent, meaning that student enrollment dropped by 5,766 between 2020 and 2021. The AACN reports that 9,574 qualified applicants were rejected from master’s programs and 5,169 qualified applicants were rejected from doctoral programs in 2021.

Can Diverse Faculty Help in Addressing the Shortage?

Nurse Journal joins the AACN and other nursing authorities in championing diversification efforts in the nursing world, not only as means of ensuring equality but as a solution to the ongoing nursing shortage. Nurse Journal contributor Joelle Y. Jean, FNP-C, BSN, RN, lists “increasing diversity in the nursing student body” among her “6 Proven Strategies From Nurse Execs to Combat the Nursing Shortage.” Jean draws upon the expertise of several industry professionals to identify unequal access to nursing education among minority communities as a well-documented barrier for many people who are pursuing a nursing degree.

Who Are Nurse Educators, and Why Are They Crucial?

Nurse educators are essential to teaching, supporting, and inspiring the next generation of nurses. The independent authority Registered Nursing  called for nurturing educators with exceptional leadership qualities, communication abilities, and in-depth expertise in their given fields of professional expertise. In the words of Registered Nursing, “the best nurse educators take time to invest in their students and teams at a personal level. They prepare aspiring nurses for the transition to the real world, and their efforts don’t stop at graduation; many nurse educators continue mentoring and advising nurses throughout their careers.”

Why Become a Nurse Educator?

As detailed in the Post University blog post “Top Reasons to Become a Nurse Educator” there are many compelling reasons to pursue this career path. In addition to its bright employment outlook and opportunities for career advancement, the nurse educator career path offers ample opportunities to impact and draw inspiration from students. Other reasons to become a nurse educator include the ready ability to become a lifelong learner and impact the future of nursing as a leader in your field.

Use Your Passion for Healthcare to Become a Nurse Educator

Post University offers two nursing programs for aspiring nurse educators through the American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences. In addition, students in these programs may be eligible to apply for the Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP), which seeks to increase the number of qualified nursing faculty nationwide by providing low interest loans for nurse faculty students and loan cancellation for those who then go on to work as faculty. Contact Post University to learn more about our Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a Nursing Education Specialization and our Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with an Educational Leadership Specialization. Post University offers both degree programs entirely online.