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No Faculty, No Students: Why Nurse Educators Are Critical for the Future of Nursing

You’ve decided on a career: you want to be a nurse. This is a lifelong dream for some who have watched a parent or grandparent provide such critical care for people. For others, it’s a savvy career choice, considering the healthcare field is experiencing a shortage of registered nurses.

One major problem persists: there are not enough nurse educators on staff to teach incoming professionals. You’re either turned away from available programs or you’re put on a long waitlist (too long, in many cases).

The nursing shortage deepens. The cycle continues. No faculty, no students.

How Bad Is It, Really?

Understanding the full scope of a “shortage” is difficult unless you have some data to quantify it. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recently released a report detailing how pressing the problem is.

The report, “2018-2019 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing,” revealed that “U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,029 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2018 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.”

Nursing schools that responded to the AACN’s survey cited faculty shortages as a main reason for the void.

An additional survey of 872 nursing schools with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs released by the AACN in October 2018 also correlates faculty shortages with the nursing shortage. The participating schools identified a total of 1,715 faculty vacancies and a need to create 138 positions to best serve the number of applicants. All of this data points to a faculty “vacancy rate” of almost 8% nationwide.

The National League of Nursing has also compiled data from 2018 indicating a high rate of rejection of qualified applicants by program type – 9% of applications for MSN programs and 15% of applications for doctoral degree programs.

Why Are There So Few Nurse Educators?

Multiple factors are responsible for the faculty shortage. Via a report on nurse educator salary from the 2016-17 school year, the AACN states that the average ages for professors, associate professors and assistant professors with an MSN in nursing education are 55.5, 56.4 and 50.6 years old, respectively.

These nurse educators are nearing the ends of their productive careers and are often preparing to retire. In 2017, Di Fang, PhD and Karen Kesten, DNP, APRN, CCRN-K, CCNS, CNE projected that approximately one-third of the faculty count in 2015 would retire by 2025, not too far into the future.

Furthermore, the successors of retiring nursing faculty are likely to be in the 50-59 age range. Dr. Fang and Dr. Kesten concluded that there is a “sense of urgency for the nursing education community to address the impending exodus of senior faculty and to develop younger faculty for their successful succession.”

Shortages in healthcare aren’t limited to the nursing field. Fewer physicians and other care team members amid a rising patient population is also causing concern. Some nurse educators are pursuing opportunities as nurse practitioners, which leads to higher earning potential. The disparity between a nurse educator’s annual salary and that of a nurse practitioner can be nearly $20,000. It’s easy to see why the latter is more financially desirable.

What Can Be Done to Turn the Trend Around?

Yes, there are obstacles to filling the pool of both nurse educators and nurses across the field. There are also great opportunities. Making decisions to move toward a career in nursing education now may lead to a highly successful and lucrative career as a nurse educator.

The path to a nursing education MSN doesn’t have to be bumpy, either. Many MSN in nursing education programs are offered completely online, allowing working nurses to pace themselves in a manner that fits with their current schedules. Unlike more “traditional” semester structures starting in the fall, winter or spring months, many programs offer multiple start dates throughout the year, providing even more flexibility.

Pursuing an MSN in nursing education doesn’t have to offset those potential earnings down the road. Many programs are quite affordable. Becoming a nurse educator isn’t purely a career move. Given the current and future challenges, you’ll be doing your part to shift the scope of the entire nursing field.

Learn more about Northeastern State University’s MSN in Nursing Education online program.  


Nursing Shortage

Nursing Faculty Shortage

Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions for Academic Year 2018-2019

Definitive Healthcare: 4 Factors That Lead to Physician Shortages

National League for Nursing: Percentage of Qualified Applications Turned Away by Program Type, 2018

Nursing Outlook: Retirements and Succession of Nursing Faculty in 2016-2025

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