With the nation’s nursing shortage continuing, efforts to recruit more people into the profession have been stepped up, but a lack of teachers is affecting the ability of schools to accommodate the increasing numbers of recruits. Every year 80,000 applicants to nursing schools are turned away, frequently because there are not enough teachers to keep up with growing interest. The situation is becoming critical as many of the nation’s nurses and the baby boomer population are reaching retirement age together, meaning there is a reduced number of skilled workers to care for a rapidly growing body of patients.
The nursing shortage began in the late 1990s and peaked in 2002, as healthcare reimbursement dropped and facilities began replacing registered nurses (RN) positions with less expensive, unlicensed personnel. Those nurses left found themselves with unacceptable working conditions. In 2004 and 2005 RNs listed the top four reasons for the nursing shortage as undesirable working hours, salary and benefit issues, negative work environment and other available career options.
Efforts to recruit more nurses have included Johnson & Johnson ad campaigns, a focus on healthy work environments and federal and state education tuition funding. Nursing schools have seen an increase in enrollment, but this increase has been offset by the lack of qualified faculty to teach the incoming students, as well as an insufficient amount of classroom space, clinical sites and preceptors and budget constraints.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the average age of nursing faculty is 61.3 years for professors, 57.7 years for associate professors and 51.5 years for assistant professors. The average retirement age for these faculty members is 62.5 years. As teachers retire, the nursing shortage is fueled as they are not replaced by incoming educators, largely due to higher compensation available in clinical settings. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the average annual salary for a nurse practitioner is $94,050. However, the AACN reports that master’s prepared nursing faculty earn only an average of $80,690.
The American Nurses’s Association (ANA) is attempting to help address the problem by funding scholarships to masters and doctoral programs for nursing students and RNs, to provide them with future opportunities to move into faculty positions. They are also attempting to work with Congress early in 2015 for help with funding efforts for schools and scholarship programs. However, ANA President Pam Cipriano says that, while they see the position getting better, they know it can take years before the ratio of available teachers to incoming nursing students can be changed, meaning the nursing shortage has no immediate end in sight.
Last October the AACN released the Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions, which showed that in 680 nursing schools, there were 1,358 faculty vacancies. The schools also cited the need for 98 additional faculty positions, in addition to filling the vacancies, in order to accommodate student demand. A study released in February 2002 by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), showed that the combination of faculty vacancies and the need for new positions pointed to a 12 percent shortfall in the number of educators needed in the 16 SREB states and the District of Columbia.
The SREB study concludes that the nursing shortage will continue over the next five years due to lack of teachers. Resignations, unfilled faculty positions and projected retirements all continue to contribute to the problem.
By Beth A. Balen