Perhaps nothing causes more administrative anxiety for deans at nursing schools than the nation's nursing shortage. It not only poses a real threat to the country's health care delivery system, but also to higher ed institutions that need nursing faculty.
Many are feeling the pinch. Positions remain unfilled, some for years. So nursing schools are rethinking and redesigning their traditional recruiting and retention strategies. Their solutions are quite varied, ranging from creating e-jobs and dual appointments to sharing existing faculty.
According to the Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions, published in October 2012 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), 662 nursing schools with baccalaureate and/ or graduate programs identified 1,181 facuky vacancies. Another AACN report--titled "2011-2012 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing"--reveals even more problems. Nursing schools "turned away 75,587 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2011 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints."
Consider the University of Indianapolis, a private institution that employs 39 nursing faculty. The assistant dean for graduate programs position has been vacant for almost four years, explains Anne Thomas, dean of the School of Nursing. "We're relooking at why we're having such a difficult time," she says, adding that many schools struggle with similar issues. One consideration is to convert hard-to-fill positions into "e-jobs," where faculty can perform part of the job on campus and the rest at home, which could be anywhere in the country.
Another is to split staff time with local health care facilities. Back in June, the school began sharing a hospital nurse who also acts as the school's coordinator for its master's level specialization track. While she is employed by the hospital, the school pays the hospital her university salary.
Since nurses can earn significantly more in clinical versus academic positions, she says dual appointments are very helpful in supplementing academic salaries. "It's very difficult for academic salaries to compete with clinical salaries, no matter how big or good [your school is]. If I'm getting offered $120,000 a year to work 40 hours a week, and you're going to pay me $70,000 as a new assistant professor working 60 to 70 hours a week on a tenure track, I think I know where I'm going to jump."
To make matters worse, the bulk of nursing programs require faculty with either a doctoral degree or those with a master's degree who are pursuing a doctoral degree. However, nurses with such credentials are growing scarce.
Some schools try to grow their own. Linfield College (Ore.), provides masters-level nurses looking to further their education with tuition assistance, reduced workload options, and work release time. An associate dean is assigned to mentor these students.
"Over the last two to three years, it seems that we've been having a constant search for faculty," says Pam Wheeler, interim dean of nursing. "The problem will get worse by virtue of the retirement of current faculty." In her state, 1,800 qualified applicants were turned away because schools didn't have enough faculty or classroom space. The four-year college, which employs 30 nursing faculty, had two current vacancies as of early December 2012, and knew of two others that would occur in January, due to a retirement and resignation.
Making more federal funds available for graduate studies would help grow the applicant pool, but Wheeler says more needs to be done--such as introducing teaching opportunities to nurses early in their careers. Since many don't start their doctoral program until mid-career, faculty career length is limited.
With more than 7,500 nursing students, The University of Texas at Arlington went online for its solution. …