In October, the Oregon Center for Nursing released the “Oregon Nurse Faculty Workforce 2011” report that reinforced earlier predictions of a serious nurse faculty shortage in the state.
“The stunning observation about the OCN report is that it hasn’t changed since 2009,” said Joanne Rains Warner, RN, PhD, dean and professor at the University of Portland School of Nursing. “The retirement age [of current faculty] is a cliff.”
According to the OCN, one-fourth of Oregon’s nurse educators plan to retire within five years, and another one-fourth plan to leave within 10 years. As nursing faculty heads out, younger nurses are not stepping in to replace them. Only about 13% of nurse educators are younger than 40, the report noted. At the same time, enrollment in Oregon’s nursing schools is increasing — by 184% since 2001. Yet for every qualified applicant accepted, at least one is turned away, according to a 2010 OCN study. There simply are not enough teachers for them.
Two other reports also reveal a layer of concern for Oregon’s nurse workforce.
The “U.S. Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast” published in the May 2012 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality predicts that the western region of the U.S. will have the greatest RN shortage ratio: 389 jobs per 100,000 people.
The Institute of Medicine’s “The Future of Nursing” report calls for 80% of the RN workforce to hold at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020, and for the number of nurses with a doctorate to increase by 50%, challenging schools to increase enrollment not just for new RN students, but also for established RNs who now need degrees.
Some of the reasons cited for U.S. nurses not pursuing teaching positions are widespread: lower salaries than those in clinical care, a heavy workload and increased class size. Rebecca E. Boehne, RN, PhD, MSN, nursing program director and professor of nursing at Concordia University in Portland, said salaries for educators with a master’s degree are about 40% lower than nonteaching nurses.
Paula Gubrud-Howe, RN, EdD, FAAN, associate professor and senior associate dean for education and statewide programs at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said the average number of weekly hours faculty work is about 50, and teachers with a doctorate earn 15% to 20% less than non-teachers. “Most faculty are baby boomers used to working long and hard,” she said. “It’s part of the culture.”
Warner, who is on the board of directors for the Oregon Center for Nursing and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, thinks income disparity may be an issue for those entering education.
All three nursing school leaders said inspiring young nurses to be educators, making school more affordable through scholarships and loan forgiveness, and innovation in nursing programs are key to recruiting and retaining faculty.
The OCN suggests graduate students work as teaching assistants to help alleviate faculty shortages. Gubrud-Howe recently hired a grad student to be a teacher’s assistant. “She’ll be directly supervised by faculty,” she said. “She won’t be teaching; she’ll be correcting papers. And maybe we’ll use a model where she increases her experience as she gains more skill sets.”
Boehne was more cautious. “I think we can use grad students in creative ways,” she said. “But I don’t think we want to make a permanent model of using grad students because many of us have experienced … very large classes with a TA and never even met the professor. We could use this model to encourage [new educators] but not to abdicate our responsibility.”