Already there isn’t enough faculty to teach nurses to meet existing demand. Nursing professionals say the shortage will deepen if the gap between private sector pay and that of academia isn’t closed at least somewhat.
Dr. Susan Lofton, professor of nursing at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, said the shortage of faculty to teach nurses beyond a two-year associate’s degree is something the state’s only teaching hospital has to negotiate daily.
In Mississippi, she said, there are large numbers of practicing nurses whose education does not go beyond an associate’s degree. There’s a reason for that. Average starting salary for registered nurses just out of school can land between $50,000 and $60,000.
That creates problems, too, Lofton said.
“What we’re seeing now is research that shows that as nurses become higher-educated, patient outcomes improve. So there’s a new demand for associate degree nurses to go back and complete, at a minimum, their baccalaureate degree in nursing.
“With that comes an obvious need for a lot more nursing faculty, particularly as you go up in the educational level,” Lofton continued. “There has to be closer clinical supervision, which means there has to be more nursing faculty-to-student ratio. There really is a huge problem coming up with nursing faculty to teach this large body of nurses that are coming back through for a baccalaureate degree.”
To go with the existing shortage, Lofton said the demands the ACA will place on the profession and the march of time will combine to worsen the situation.
“Most of the nursing faculty in Mississippi are well into their 50s.” Dr. Johnnie Sue Wijewardane agreed.
“I am actually 39, but I have one faculty member at MUW in my nurse practitioner program who’s younger than I am,” said Wijewardane, graduate nursing department chair and assistant professor at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. “I have two that have enough time to retire whenever they want to. Our anchor faculty are all retirement-ready and we’re going to lose them in the next two or three years. It makes me terribly nervous.”
Complicating the issue is the requirement that faculty who teach master’s or doctorate-level curriculum hold a doctorate degree.
That doesn’t work in Mississippi’s favor. Lofton cited American Association of Colleges of Nursing figures that show less than 1 percent of the three million nurses in the U.S. hold a doctorate degree. “And in Mississippi I would believe that that figure is even lower,” Lofton said. Numbers compiled in a new AACN report show that just shy of 76,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools in the U.S. because of faculty shortages for the 2011-12 school year.
The solution is simple: Sweeten the compensation packages for nursing faculty. Actually making that happen, when the state’s budget is still recovering from the recession, is not so simple.
“There’s a lot of talk, not much action,” Lofton said.
Wijewardane said the Legislature has done well in its efforts to attract physicians, especially in rural areas, and believes a similar program aimed at nursing faculty would work. And not just any nursing faculty — young nursing faculty.
“We don’t need people to be 40 years old before they get their doctorate,” Wijewardane said. “The truth is that nurses have for years, eaten their young. We’d tell young nurses they need experience before you get a master’s or a doctorate. Well, by time you get experience you have a mortgage, a baby, a husband or a wife and then it’s impossible to go back to school.”
Lofton and Wijewardane agree that the shortage will reach a crisis point in the next decade if reform efforts either aren’t made or aren’t successful.
“It’s going to reach a critical stage,” Lofton said. “The leaders of this state are going to have to recognize that in order to put out large numbers of nurses that we desperately need here, someone is going to have to take a stand and say that it’s time to compensate nursing faculty in such a way that it becomes an attractive option for nurses in the private sector. Right now, most of the highly educated nurses make more money in non-academic settings. Nursing faculty is already stretched, and it’s only going to get worse.”
Said Wijewardane: “We’ve been predicting this since about 2000, that by 2020 we’re going to have a huge shortage. We’re competing for a limited pool of resources. We have to convince the legislators that this is a priority if we want to continue to have adequate healthcare. How much do we value education? How much do we value healthcare? We all want good healthcare, but we have to pay for it through educating our nurses.”