‘Who will teach them?’: 7 experts on bolstering the nurse educator pipeline

Ashleigh Hollowell (Twitter) –  Becker’s Clinical Leadership

Nurse educators are notably in high demand, but the desire to become one has been generally low in recent years.

Several factors are at play: nurse educators often receive lower pay than clinical practice, and qualified nurses typically must choose between clinical practice and teaching, experts shared with Becker’s.

What’s of even more concern is where the nurse educator pipeline is headed. A lack of competitive pay and flexible teaching and practicing models will deter some from entering the pipeline at all.

If that holds true, “the question remains: who will teach them?” asked Catherine Huber, MSN, RN, a nursing professional development specialist and nurse residency program coordinator at Luminis Health in Annapolis, Md.

“The shortage of nurse educators needs our full attention,” she said. “In some cases, nurse educators with master’s degrees are making less money than front-line nurses, which is a significant factor. To address the nationwide nurse shortage, we need to cultivate more skilled nurse educators.”

Ms. Huber and six other nurse educator experts resoundingly told Becker’s a key to strengthening the pipeline begins with strengthening the partnerships hospitals have. Here’s what else they had to say:

Note: Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

David Wyatt, PhD, RN, Chief Nursing Officer at University Hospital and UT Southwestern Medical Center in Houston: The nurse educator role is incredibly valuable in the overall strategy to address the workforce shortages in the nursing profession. Increasing collaboration between hospitals and academic institutions could provide more innovative approaches to allow dual employment.

Many nurses want to continue to practice at the bedside while also teaching and receiving full-time benefits. Overall connection to the hospital setting will allow better comparison for competitive and market-based compensation. Alleviating some of the concerns around benefits and compensation may attract more qualified, experienced nurses to academics, thus helping to address the faculty shortage.

Peggy Norton-Rosko, DNP, RN, Chief Nurse Executive at University of Maryland Medical System in Baltimore: I believe some of the work my predecessor, Lisa Rowen, DNSc, RN, and the team at University of Maryland Medical System did with its Academy of Clinical Essentials program aims to solve this.

The program allows our bedside nurses who have at least two years of experience and a bachelor’s degree to be clinical instructors on their units with the same patient population that they work with all the time. They also have the opportunity to teach the nursing students that are coming in. This has been a very successful new model for us here at University of Maryland and the 12 schools of nursing and colleges that we’ve partnered with. I’ve just learned in the last couple of weeks since I’ve been here that of our nurses who are acting as clinical instructors, our retention rate for those individuals is around 90% compared to a slightly lower retention rate for some of our nurses in general, which is at about 84%.

As chief nursing officers, we have to continue to look at our academic practice partnerships in different ways than we have historically, and be willing to fund things a little bit differently. The clinical instructors, of course, are our employees, and we’re funding their time while they’re acting as educators. I also think schools of nursing need to be open to new models of education as well. Those are two of the key things that we have to continue to work on to build that pipeline.

Maja Djukic, PHD, RN, associate professor and assistant dean of research with Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston: Bottom line for expanding the nurse educator pipeline in addition to improving pay — especially at these clinical educator roles and community colleges, or even on clinical tracks — would be a prerequisite to recruit more people into nursing education by exposing nurses to more of what it’s like to be a nurse educator.

I think developing pipeline programs for nurse educators and providing opportunities to dip their toes into teaching while also providing them with skills, short courses, and simulations or apprenticeship opportunities are all good ways to expose people to what it could be like for those who are interested in it and really emphasize benefits beyond pay of being in nursing education.

There has to be some sort of broader plan between academic and clinical partners to sit down and say: “Where are the vacancies? What are the specialties we need? What level of education do we need?” And then let’s figure out how to mentor those nurses in clinical settings who are interested in filling those particular vacancies in their areas and bridge them over. It doesn’t have to be in a full-time capacity. So having those you know, pointed conversations is critical. I do think pay is part of the conversation, but there are so many other variables that need to be addressed to match the supply to demand, and we have to plan better to make that possible.

Carolyn Rutledge, PhD, RN, Executive Director of Faculty Development, Innovation and Research for Old Dominion University’s School of Nursing in Virginia Beach, Va.: I think more institutions need to develop what we call academic practice partnerships. Schools need to work closely with hospitals and hospitals need to be willing to work closely with schools in their region, instead of whoever. Too often, it’s the administrators that make the decision on what schools they partner with, and they don’t consult the people who are actually trying to cover the floor and so forth.

From a teaching perspective, working closely with the local universities, you get to know faculty at the school and their faculty positions and who can come in as a guest lecturer, as an adjunct — there are a number of different opportunities there. But it has to be this partnership that goes back and forth. So if you have an undergraduate nurse in the hospital who wants to go on for a master’s, ideally you would work closely with the universities that are right there locally and let them know what type of graduates your hospital needs, so they can develop the programs to meet those needs.

Instead, sometimes they send them off to for-profit schools and then are disappointed with what they get back, but it’s because for-profit programs are not tailored for the hospital’s needs. So there needs to be many, many more academic practice partnerships where the teaching opportunities are in the school and the clinical opportunities are in the health system.

Sandra Russo, PhD, RN, Chairperson and Director of The Nursing Program at Touro University School of Health Sciences in Brooklyn, N.Y.: Amidst burgeoning demand, there exists a palpable gap between the necessity for nurse educators and the attractiveness of the role itself. Addressing this disparity necessitates a comprehensive overhaul of nurse education paradigms to align with the evolving needs of both educators and students.

Among the strategies for transformation is the imperative of salary augmentation. Historically undervalued, nurse educators must be remunerated commensurate with their expertise and contribution to nursing education. Advocacy for higher pay scales not only serves to attract seasoned nurses into education roles but also elevates the prestige associated with these positions within the nursing community.

Flexibility emerges as a pivotal determinant of role desirability. Recognizing the dual responsibilities often borne by nurse leaders engaged in clinical practice, institutions must offer flexible work arrangements. Part-time positions and remote teaching options afford educators the flexibility to balance their teaching commitments with clinical obligations, thereby fostering a sustainable workforce.

By elevating the status of nurse educators, institutions engender a sense of professional fulfillment and satisfaction, thereby enhancing the attractiveness of education roles.

Mary Ellen Glasgow, PhD, RN, Dean and Professor of Nursing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh: We need to look at ways to pay for nurses to go back and become nurse faculty, whether it’s a nurse corps like [Health Resources and Services Administration] has, or expanding Nurse Faculty Loan repayments and ways to fund that.

I think we need to really look at the workload and then sell the role of becoming a nurse educator to other nurses. There’s such a nursing shortage, at least on the East Coast here, that some hospitals have nurse vacancies as high as 30%. We need nurse educators and nurses at the bedside. We need to look at ways to have funding from the Centers of Medicare, maybe to fund preceptors and funding for people to teach nursing students.

The other thing that’s critical, is that nursing faculty need to stay clinically current to teach and, importantly, to teach the right things. If they want to practice to stay current, that’s in addition to their job in a lot of cases. So we need to create academic clinical partnerships where it’s already part of their job to do both. Maybe they teach a course for a day and practice for a day.

We should think about how we can make the nursing faculty workload reasonable and manageable, particularly for the new faculty member, who has a lot to learn. We should also consider think tanks between accreditors, educators, and others to evaluate workload standards.

Catherine Huber, MSN, RN, Nursing Professional Development Specialist and Nurse Residency Program Coordinator at Luminis Health in Annapolis, Md.: There is a very high demand for nurse educators both in the hospital and academic settings. One obstacle preventing nurses from becoming nurse educators is that while most hospital organizations prefer and require a master’s in nursing or higher, academia prefers a PhD or DNP.

Another challenge is that not all nurses feel competent or confident enough to stand in front of a class and teach a specific topic. Front-line nurses frequently encounter obstacles that prevent them from staying updated with new knowledge, which can impact their opportunities for professional development toward becoming nurse educators.

There are potential solutions. For example, allowing nurse educators to work remotely could improve their work-life balance. Providing additional time for professional development and staying updated with new technology could also reduce stress.

Healthcare systems must budget more for nurse education to encourage more front-line nurses to pursue a nurse educator role. If teaching is their calling, front-line nurses should have every opportunity to be mentored by the clinical education team within the organization. Keeping nurses engaged and providing them with opportunities is empowering and ignites excitement.

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