Would you take a 50 percent pay cut just to teach your profession? It might seem far-fetched, but it’s a dilemma facing many would-be nursing professors.

It would seem self-evident that nursing professors are important, especially in the day and age of looming nursing shortages. Yet, in our state, nearly every community and technical college with a nursing program has faculty vacancies.

One huge reason is the atrocious pay for nursing professors. In Washington state, nursing faculty actually make less on average than the first-year nurses they just graduated. As one nurse put it, “My determination and enthusiasm [to teach nursing] were cut short by the sobering reality of nursing education: during my job hunt in academia, I realized I would be making significantly less money as an instructor than I made in industry – a $50,000-$60,000 annual pay cut.”

When it comes to the nursing workforce shortage, we are our own worst enemies by selling short the value of excellent nursing education. Consider this:

  • 70 percent of nursing programs in Washington have vacant faculty positions,
  • 55 percent have lost nursing program directors, and
  • 67 percent of nurse faculty have considered leaving in the past two years.

Faculty diversity is a significant problem as well, as people of color make up only 16 percent of nurse faculty (in comparison to 30 percent of the population at large)—in other words, nurse academia is not reflective of the populations and students being served.

All told, these factors combine to result in a startling fact: in the day and age of health disparities and nursing shortages, only one out of every two qualified nursing school applicants is actually accepted into a program. Those aren’t Ivy League numbers, but they’re not too far off. In total, this means that approximately 800 qualified nursing school applicants are turned away annually because there are not enough nursing faculty to teach them.

That’s why the Washington State Nurses Association has joined partners in advocating the legislature for a state budget that will recognize nursing as a high demand profession and improve nurse educator pay accordingly. Without these improvements, we will continue to lose qualified nursing applicants and perpetuate the impending nursing shortage.