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How to tackle the shortage of US academic nursing staff

As student demand increases, a greater emphasis on flexibility, mentorship and career progression is needed to recruit and retain the nurses that American faculties need

As student demand increases, a greater emphasis on flexibility, mentorship and career progression is needed to recruit and retain the nurses that American faculties need


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The insufficient number of doctoral-prepared nurses available for faculty positions, especially those with the secure employment agreements associated with tenure, should be considered a national crisis.  

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing schools have limited the number of students admitted to baccalaureate and graduate programmes due to a lack of faculty staff. The AACN also notes the increasing number of faculty vacancies, with almost 93% of the vacancies requiring or preferring a doctoral degree. 

Demand outstrips supply

The growing number of faculty vacancies is not driven only by increasing faculty retirements, an increasingly competitive job market, a shortage of nurses at doctoral level and the fact that such nurses find non-academic positions more attractive. There are also more faculty positions being listed to maintain the rising student demand. 

Therefore, nursing programmes are tasked with attracting staff from a limited pool of applicants and, if fortunate enough to succeed, are then tasked with retaining them. 

'Induction should focus on helping new faculty staff develop collaborative partnerships with other researchers'

Numerous surveys, reports and publications focus on how to attract and retain clinical nurses; few, if any, however, focus on the retention of nursing faculty pursuing tenure. This makes little sense given the costs associated with recruitment, faculty turnover and loss of initial investment in supporting new staff.  

The last of these include for example up-front funding to support research, reduced teaching load, mentoring and moving costs.

Improving retention

University administrators, directors of schools of nursing and senior nursing staff often think the hard work occurs during the recruitment and hiring of nursing staff, but these positions have responsibilities such as teaching, service and scholarly pursuit that surpass the standard requirements of a clinical position.

The retention of nursing staff, and ensuring their promotion and tenure, requires a significant commitment from the university and the nursing programme. Therefore onboarding, or induction, retention and mentoring programmes should be incorporated into the hiring and the promotion and tenure processes. 

'The academic nurse staff shortage is real and will worsen as more nurses retire'

There is a plethora of published articles on the onboarding of nurses in clinical settings, but little has been published focused on onboarding and retention of nursing academic staff. In our opinion, the successful onboarding and retention of nursing faculty staff requires collaborative partnerships in research, individualisation of the promotion and tenure process, and the development of strong mentoring programmes.

Onboarding, for example, should focus on helping new faculty staff develop collaborative partnerships with other researchers so that the emphasis should not be on requiring faculty members to adapt their research to others, but on supporting their research agenda instead. 

Flexibility and mentoring

Programmes may need to develop flexibility specific to the promotion and tenure requirements for individual faculty members. Often, for example, faculties are required to adapt to the institution’s and department’s research, service and teaching requirements for promotion and tenure. 

Many nursing faculty staff are excellent on research, but some may want to focus more on teaching and service. All areas are valuable to the institution yet allowing staff to enhance their areas of strength may produce a more focused, satisfied and long-term faculty member.

Meanwhile, mentoring needs to be beneficial to the mentor and the mentee, and needs to cover the varied position requirements including, but not limited to, teaching, service and scholarly activity. 

In summary, the academic nurse staff shortage is real and will worsen as more nurses retire. The lack of highly qualified faculty staff affects the ability of nursing programmes to meet the growing demand for professional nurses. Addressing the shortage requires an intentional effort to seek doctoral-prepared nurses for tenure-track positions in academic schools of nursing. It also will require universities to rethink the promotion and tenure requirements and processes for nursing faculty staff.

References


About the authors

Constance McIntosh is an assistant professor of nursing at Ball State University, Muncie IN, US

 

 

Cynthia Thomas is an associate professor of nursing at Ball State University, Muncie IN, US

 

 

Constance McIntosh and Cynthia Thomas’s book A Nurse's Step-by-Step Guide to Academic Promotion and Tenure is published by Sigma Theta Tau International

 

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