Supporting the retention of diverse nursing faculty in Washington state

Nursing faculty reflective of student diversity supports the success of historically under-represented persons entering the nursing workforce.

This story was published in the Fall 2022 issue of The Washington Nurse.

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A nursing education data report released in May of 2022 by the Washington Center for Nursing (WCN) shows that the diversity of nursing faculty lags the students attending those programs and Washington’s population. Nursing faculty reflective of student diversity supports the success of historically under-represented persons entering the nursing workforce. This effort, in turn, complements the advancement of health equity in the state by supporting the diversification of the state’s nursing workforce.

To try and address this issue, WCN launched its Diverse Nurse Faculty Mentorship Program, which pairs diverse nurse faculty fairly new to their role with more experienced faculty members or nurse leaders from across the state to support their success in academia. The program also responds to the need for greater diversity among nurse faculty in Washington state. The pilot program kicked off in January 2022 and will run for 12 months.

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Compounding the issue of diversity, Washington state has a shortage of nursing professors overall. According to a WCN demand data report released at the same time as the education report, from 2019 to 2020, there was an annual average of 182 nursing faculty job openings statewide (representing approximately 13% of the state’s nursing faculty positions). In addition, in 2020, the average nursing faculty wage for Washington was $88,738, just over $700 more than the average wage for RNs at $88,018, even though nurse educators often must hold a master’s or higher level of education. After all, it takes a nurse to train a nurse.

Despite these adversities, racial and ethnically diverse nursing educators continue to navigate systemic barriers, complex academic cultures, daily experiences of micro-aggressions, and other challenges to contribute incredible value to nursing programs across the state. However, with the risk of burnout and the ever-present opportunity to return to clinical practice with more pay, supporting the retention of diverse nursing professors in academia is at the heart of the pilot mentorship program launched by WCN in 2022.

Inspired by a Colorado Center of Nursing Excellence (Colorado State’s Center for Nursing) mentoring program created for diverse Bachelor of Science in Nursing students, WCN contracted with the Colorado Center of Nursing Excellence to tailor the program to fit the needs of nurse educators here in Washington.

According to Best Practices in Academic Mentoring: A Model for Excellence Research (Article ID 937906, hindawi.com):

“Research indicates many positive outcomes as a result of mentorship. For example, when a novice educator is formally mentored by a more experienced and accomplished academician, the novice educator more quickly assumes the full scope of the academic role and is more productive. Across settings, mentoring has contributed to higher career satisfaction and increased departmental or organizational morale. Mentored faculty reported augmented professional identity and experienced a smoother bridge from practice to the academic environment. In addition, mentored faculty reported increased self-confidence and professional development.”

Unique to WCN’s program, mentors attended a two-day virtual Mentor Training Institute facilitated by the Colorado Center of Nursing Excellence to prepare for their role. Content for the workshop included the mentoring process, emotional intelligence, bias, and civility. The in-depth 16-hour developmental training engaged participants in models of mentorship and reflective activities aimed at building a deeper understanding of unconscious bias and its effects on intercultural communications and interactions. In addition, the workshop shared tools for raising the awareness of intercultural sensitivity.

“This is one of the best trainings I have ever attended,” said one program mentor. “It allowed me to be vulnerable, and it provided me with time to reflect. I realize that mentoring means different things to different mentees. I will stop imposing my values onto my mentee. This has been a point of maturity for me.”

Mentors also completed an Intercultural Development Assessment to help them understand where they fall on a spectrum of intercultural skills and set goals for improvement. As part of their commitment, mentors also participated in monthly one-hour group coaching sessions for six months via virtual conferences from February through July 2022.

Although many higher education institutions offer new faculty the opportunity for a mentor, the focus is often on familiarizing new faculty with the culture, procedures, and requirements of the school where they will be teaching. The purpose of the WCN program is to provide support and foster the success of diverse faculty mentees in their respective roles as nurse educators beyond the institution where they work. To set up the framework for WCN’s pilot program, WCN brought together a committee of nurse leaders, including diverse nurse faculty, to inform the overall program design, including the recruitment of mentor and mentee participants.

Outreach for program participants began in October of 2021 and concluded in December. In total, 15 mentors and 15 mentees signed up for the pilot. Once applications were received, based on answers given by mentees on the program application and wherever possible, efforts were made to match them with the type of mentor they thought would be most beneficial for them. Program participants come from across Washington and include faculty from Washington State University, Walla Walla Community College, Heritage University, Wenatchee Valley College, Bellevue College, and the University of Washington, among others.

As part of the program, mentee and mentor pairs agree to meet for a minimum of one hour a month over the course of 12 months, either virtually or in person. And to support program improvements and overall evaluation, mentors and mentees will complete program evaluations throughout the year.

Mentoring is a strong tool for supporting the retention of diverse nurse faculty and the unique challenges they can encounter in academia. WCN’s Diverse Nurse Faculty program works to expand mentorship opportunities for these faculty as they navigate their roles as educators. And by working to develop the cultural humility and mentorship skills of mentors through the Mentor Training Institute, this program also brings new skills and knowledge to seasoned professionals, creating an ever-expanding support system for diverse nursing faculty across Washington.