Nursing school faces faculty shortage

A nationwide shortage of nursing faculty has not significantly affected the College yet, due to careful planning by administrators.

According to Dean of the School of Nursing, Health and Exercise Science Susan Bakewell-Sachs, the School of Nursing is able to cover both lecture and clinical classes, despite the national crisis.

Although all classes are currently covered, Bakewell-Sachs said the school is focused on succession planning. Like other nursing schools, the College has more senior faculty than junior faculty. A search began in late September to fill two tenure-track positions, which will be available in fall of 2008.

Bakewell-Sachs said one of the biggest challenges facing nursing schools is that the majority of nurses do not have the qualifications to teach. Only 9 percent of nurses have a master’s degree and of that 9 percent, only 1 percent of registered nurses (RNs) have a doctorate.

A master’s degree in nursing is the minimum degree needed to teach nursing in New Jersey, although faculty members may have their doctorate in nursing or in a discipline other than nursing, such as public health, science, social sciences or education.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the national nursing shortage is expected to intensify as baby boomers age, nurses retire in increasing numbers and more healthcare is needed.

However, AACN reported that over 42,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2006 due in part to the shortage in faculty. Although nursing enrollments have risen substantially in the past six years, the decade before that had seen falling enrollments. As fewer nurses entered the profession, the average age of RNs, as well as the average age of nursing faculty, has risen.

Bakewell-Sachs said the average age for an RN in New Jersey is 49 and the average age for nursing faculty in New Jersey is 55. Both nationally and in New Jersey, the average age of retirement for nursing faculty is 62.

“We have a supply issue that doesn’t match demand,” she said.

Fewer than 10 percent of all nurses in the United States are currently under the age of 30.

One limiting factor in bringing nurses in to teach is the increasing demand for nurses with advanced degrees in practice settings such as hospitals, and in other professions such as the pharmaceutical industry and insurance. Bakewell-Sachs said these positions are appealing because of the higher salaries.

“Faculty salaries are significantly lower in general than those nurses with Masters and Doctorates can make in clinical practice and other sectors,” she said.

In addition, nursing faculty members have an intensive course schedule. Faculty members often are required to be present on clinical sites as well as in a classroom setting. In a clinical site one faculty member must be present to supervise every 10 students. The College tries to keep this ratio as low as one to eight or nine.

Bakewell-Sachs said nurses who are doctorally prepared are also contributing to the research of nursing science. She said there are many more career opportunities for those with advanced degrees.

At the College, one factor that could contribute to a shortage in faculty in the future is the growth in the number of nursing students enrolled. Bakewell-Sachs said the College had about 147 undergraduate nursing students when she became dean in 2000. This year, there are over 300 nursing undergraduates, putting the nursing undergraduate program at capacity.

In New Jersey, the number of nursing students has increased 72 percent since 2002.

Bakewell-Sachs said a reason for the surge in nursing students is the career opportunities in the field and the expected workforce shortage through at least 2020.

“The demand for qualified RNs in these students’ lifetimes is huge,” she said.

Bakewell-Sachs said there is always a hope that students who graduate from the nursing program will take a career path that includes a master’s degree.

As soon as a student graduates from the School of Nursing at the College, he or she is eligible to sit for the RN licensing exam and to apply for graduate school.

“They are eligible to go on to graduate school because of their educational study here,” she said.

Bakewell-Sachs said the vast majority of students who graduate from the College go for a master’s degree. She said nursing students are no different from students in other disciplines in that respect.

“There is often a misconception that nursing is different,” she said.

New Jersey has PhD programs for nurses at Rutgers and Seton Hall, as well as a related field doctorate at UMDNJ. Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutgers, and UMDNJ also offer the Doctorate of Nursing Practice.

In order to ensure the College has all its classes covered, the School of Nursing has been working to create part-time positions to cover clinical and lecture classes.

“We want to maintain the integrity of the curriculum,” Bakewell-Sachs said. “We want to find and retain the best people we can.”