Filling the nurse faculty gap

To graduate the number of nurses needed to meet the demand, Washington state needs more nurse faculty. In 2016, the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN) began efforts to examine whether there was a nurse faculty shortage.

This story was published in the Winter 2021 issue of The Washington Nurse.

WCN workshop aims to support better representation among future nurse educators and address nurse faculty shortages

To graduate the number of nurses needed to meet the demand, Washington state needs more nurse faculty. In 2016, the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN) began efforts to examine whether there was a nurse faculty shortage. In the 2017 Survey of Nursing Educators in Washington State conducted by WCN, 70% of Washington’s nursing schools reported program faculty vacancies. The survey also found that 38% of nurse faculty at community and technical colleges and 40% of faculty at four-year colleges and universities planned to retire by 2027. Additionally, nurse educators were less diverse than practicing nurses, nursing students and the general population. To increase interest in nursing education as a career, particularly among underrepresented students and practicing nurses, the “So You Want to be a Professor” workshop was born.

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Antwinett Lee, EdD, MSN-CNS, RN, (left) Interim Dean of Undergraduate Nursing and Assistant Professor of Nursing at the Seattle Pacific University of Health Sciences, shares information with a nursing student.

The concept for the workshop came from the work of the WCN Diversity Advisory Committee. In response to reports about the growing shortage of nursing faculty, committee member Dr. Butch de Castro, professor and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Washington, raised the question to others on the committee about how they found their way into and established themselves in academe. “We each had different paths, but a major, common theme was that we recalled how much mystery and how many unknowns there were about the day-to-day life of being a professor,” Dr. de Castro said. “I knew there were a few books and guides that described the ins and outs, as well as tips to succeeding in an academic career. So, why not pull the curtain back through a workshop, especially one that featured the experiences of faculty of color?”

In 2019, WCN piloted its first three-day “So You Want to be a Professor” workshop. In the workshop, experienced nursing faculty who represented diverse identities or had experience in nursing workforce diversity and health equity aimed to inform participants of the role and responsibilities of a nursing educator. Content included the required degrees, qualifications and preparation for educators — along with basics on how to apply for jobs in college and university settings, attain tenure and navigate a career in the academic world. Space was also made to discuss issues related to succeeding as a faculty of color in higher education which is steeped with tradition and hierarchy that can disadvantage those from underrepresented racial/ethnic identities and make the academic career experience challenging.

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To expose participants to a variety of higher-education settings, each session of the three-day workshop took place at a different type of school: a community and technical college (Green River College), a public research university (University of Washington, Seattle) and a four-year private, religious university (Seattle Pacific University). At the end of the workshop, participants completed an evaluation, and feedback was very positive. Both faculty and students urged WCN to repeat the workshop.

In 2020, with grant support from Premera Foundation, WCN offered the workshop again. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the workshop was adapted to a Zoom video conference and moved from a three-day in-person workshop to a four-hour session. Beyond introducing practicing nurses and nursing students to a career in nursing education, the 2020 program also aimed to reach nurses working in rural environments and nurses specializing in mental and psychiatric health. The workshop took place on Sept. 1 and was filled to capacity.

The workshop facilitators included the University of Washington’s Butch de Castro, PhD, MSN/MPH, RN, FAAN; Green River College’s KaraLynn LaValley, PhD, MN, RN; and Seattle Pacific University’s Antwinett O. Lee, EdD, MSN-CNS, RN. The facilitators provided an overview of teaching, research and service in a variety of academic settings. Attendees also obtained four continuing education credits for participating in the workshop.

WCN worked with multicultural nurses’ organizations, nursing schools in Washington state and the Association for Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses to generate interest in the workshop. To ensure student engagement, facilitators limited the workshop to just 36 participants of the more than 150 nurses who applied to attend. WCN will be offering the remaining applicants spots in future workshops.

Many applicants held graduate degrees, which positions them well to qualify for nurse educator roles. Additionally, the Premera Foundation’s grant emphasized participation by practicing nurses, nurses in rural areas, and nurses who specialized in mental and psychiatric health. Among the applicant pool for the workshop:

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    • 64% were practicing nurses with up to 40 years of experience.
    • 20% lived or worked in rural areas.
    • 11% specialized in mental and psychiatric health.
    • The applicant pool was also diverse, representing multiple ethnicities.

    The diversity of the participants also exceeded that of those typically found in nursing education roles and, in most cases, was closer to Washington state demographics. Additionally, Washington nurses overall are about 12% male, and workshop participants were 16% male.

    Looking at the changing demographics of our state, the next generation of the nurses is expected to be far more diverse than it is today. As a result, we will need diverse faculty already in place to be able to successfully train and educate this up-and-coming workforce.

    WSU College of Nursing professors Louise Kaplan, PhD, ARNP, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN and Deborah Eti, PhD, ARNP, FNP-C, PMHNP-BC, MSN-Ed, CNE, CEN will be evaluating the workshop. They conducted both pre- and post-workshop surveys and will conduct ongoing surveys with workshop participants over two years to determine how many pursue and secure positions as nurse faculty.

    Washington state needs more nurse faculty, and diversity among nurse educators is lacking. The “So You Want to be a Professor” workshops aim to support better representation among future nurse educators with the potential of improving health care delivery in Washington state. If the program succeeds in its goal, the possibility to graduate larger populations of diverse nursing students also increases. Graduating a nursing workforce that better reflects the demographics of Washington’s population means more culturally responsive care for communities across the state.

    WCN Diversity Advisory Committee

    The WCN Diversity Advisory Committee is a committee formed of leaders from state ethnic nursing associations, including:

    • Mary Mahoney Professional Nurses Association
    • Western Washington chapter of the National Hispanic Nurses Association
    • Filipino and Professional Health Care Association
      of Washington
    • Pacific Northwest Chinese Nurses Association
    • Samoan Nurses Association
    • Nurse scholars experienced in the area of equity and diversity also contribute to the committee.