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  • A critical element of preparing competent nursing students, not mentioned in "Crisis in Competency: A Defining Moment in Nursing Education", is the need to eliminate barriers to recruiting and retaining nurse educators still engaging in clinical practice.

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Faculty Formation: Philosophical Perspectives, Issues, and Considerations

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Elizabeth Young, MSN, RN, CNE
Nelda Godfrey, PhD, ACNS-BC, RN, FAAN, ANEF


With a looming nurse faculty shortage, it is imperative that schools of nursing develop and maintain the nurse educator workforce to meet the demands of today’s complex healthcare system. One component needed for workforce preparation is structure regarding formation of the faculty role. This article first defines faculty formation and why faculty formation is a relevant philosophical issue within nursing education. Next, we discuss current issues in faculty formation including: educational training; the orientation process; mentorship and role modeling; communities of practice; and faculty workload. We offer brief exemplars to illustrate current concerns with formation that faculty experience during role transition and recommend considerations for nurse leaders to support faculty formation.

Citation: Young, E., Godfrey, N., (January 31, 2021) "Faculty Formation: Philosophical Perspectives, Issues, and Considerations" OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol. 26, No. 1, Manuscript 1.

DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol26No01Man01

Key Words: nursing faculty, formation, faculty formation, orientation, mentorship, communities of practice, role modeling, faculty workload

I remember my (E.Y.) dad holding on to the back of the seat and running alongside me as I learned how to balance on my two-wheel bicycle. Suddenly, I realized that Dad had let go of the bicycle, and I was riding on my own. I panicked and crashed. Afterward, he was right there to pick me up, dust me off, and get me back on the bicycle for the next run. Eventually, I rode down the driveway on my own. To this day, I consider myself a cyclist thanks to my Dad’s mentorship and support.

This same idea of someone holding onto the back of your seat is also seen in clinical nursing through transition-to-practice models and nurse residency programs as new graduates work alongside preceptors while learning to care for patients. During one of my first weeks as a new nurse, I remember calling a code for an apneic patient. My preceptor was by my side the entire time, working with me to stabilize the patient and transfer him to the intensive care unit. Because my preceptor worked with me, the patient survived, and I gained knowledge about how to safely handle emergent situations with future patients. Graduate nurse residency programs are now becoming the norm, formalizing orientation and mentorship in the clinical environment.

Imagine you are a new nursing faculty member teaching in the college setting, standing in front of 75 students on your first day of class. A question comes up that you do not know how to answer. As an expert clinician in the intensive care unit, you were confident in your ability to provide patient care while precepting students. Now, as the only faculty member in the classroom, you feel lost as you do not have a preceptor working alongside you. You are concerned about your ability to teach these students and how your students will provide quality care in the future.

In a review of ethical and philosophical issues in nursing education, Fowler and Davis (2013) identify faculty formation, including socialization and mentorship, as an area for further study. Fowler and Davis (2013) stated “the weakness of the nursing ethics literature in this domain requires that we provisionally amplify the literature with our own knowledge and experience” (p. 129). This article answers Fowler and Davis’ (2013) call by utilizing our knowledge and experience to “amplify the literature” regarding faculty formation.

Our article begins by defining faculty formation and why it is an important philosophical issue in nursing education. Next, we discuss current issues regarding faculty formation including: educational training, orientation to a new role, mentorship and role modeling, communities of practice, and faculty workload. We then offer two brief exemplars that illustrate current concerns with formation that faculty experience during the role transition from clinician to educator. In conclusion, we summarize important considerations for nurse leaders to use in supporting faculty formation.

What is Faculty Formation?

The need for formation in nursing is a relatively new theme in the literature.Faculty formation can be defined as the psychological development of the nurse educator in transitioning to a subset of the nursing profession that includes agency, commitments, practice capacities, and meaning about educating future nurses (Benner et al., 2010; Jarvis-Selinger et al., 2012). The need for formation in nursing is a relatively new theme in the literature. Benner et al. (2010) first framed this idea in The Carnegie Foundation on Preparing the Professions publication, “Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation.” Benner and colleagues recommended that nurse educators adopt four shifts in their thinking and approaches to nursing education. One of the four shifts focused on formation, stating that educators “shift from an emphasis on socialization and role-taking to an emphasis on formation” (Benner et al., 2010, p. 86). In the following discussion, we will expand that application of formation to intentionally focus on nursing faculty as they orient and become part of an academic nursing work environment. We argue that nurse educators in practice, college, and university teaching settings need a proportionally larger amount of education and support in formation when compared with socialization to the faculty role.

First, we consider why and how a shift toward faculty formation is important. Benner and colleagues (2010) carefully examined student learning experiences at 10 schools of nursing in the United States and found that student responses had far more depth than what could be explained by socialization or role theory alone. They found that becoming a nurse was best articulated as formation because it “is constituted by the meanings, content, intents, and practice of nursing rather than merely learning or being socialized into the role of nursing in an external way” (Benner et al., 2010, p. 87). Nursing students described their education as a transformative experience and one that actively helped them form their professional identity, moving from the perspective a lay person would have and becoming a professional. Further, Benner and colleagues reported that socialization enters the equation after the person’s formation experience and describes social forces and influences (Benner et al., 2010).

Like all academic disciplines, nursing incorporates both descriptive and normative (i.e., prescriptive) principles. This is sometimes described as the ‘is-ought’ question. A descriptive view explains ‘what is,’ and a normative approach conveys ‘what we ought to do’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2020). Benner et al. (2010) reported their research findings descriptively and also interpreted the findings from a normative lens. For example, they highlighted what it means to be a good nurse and what is needed to accomplish such a goal. There is a moral (or ‘ought’) component to teaching nursing students, promoting the ability to form helping relationships and engage in practical and clinical reasoning situated in experiences that intentionally promote formation (Benner et al., 2010).

The transformational aspects of being an academic nurse include much more than constructing a syllabus and knowing when group meetings are scheduled.Perspectives from the Benner study and general philosophic principles will provide an emphasis on formation when orienting faculty to the academic nursing culture. The transformational aspects of being an academic nurse include much more than constructing a syllabus and knowing when group meetings are scheduled. Further, mentoring and coaching need to be designed to account for both descriptive and normative aspects of the academic faculty role so that faculty feel knowledgeable and adequately supported by the ethos of the academic work environment.

How can such a shift in emphasis take place? By adopting a ‘yes, and’ way of thinking. Technical expertise is critically important to the nurse’s practice, but this is not the whole story. Imagine if the orientation process for a nurse new to the academic setting intentionally addressed the development of the senses, aesthetics, perceptual activities, relational skills, knowledge, and dispositions of the academic nursing role. What if annual faculty evaluation summaries created space to address one’s self-assessment and self-understanding of academic nursing specific to the current setting. Attention to formation—in addition to socialization—can yield much richer dialogue among faculty members and program directors and help direct the new faculty member toward incorporating formation in formal and informal teaching opportunities with students.

Formation: A Philosophical Perspective is important to also address formation from a philosophic inquiry perspective.Lastly, we argue that while formation can be empirically studied, as in the Carnegie Foundation work (Benner et al., 2010), it is important to also address formation from a philosophic inquiry perspective. So, to review: empiric or scientific inquiry is investigative and dependent on the specific experience. For example, in their Carnegie Foundation study of 10 schools of nursing, Benner et al. (2010) derived specific information using methodologically-accepted approaches to conduct the study. Philosophic inquiry, on the other hand, is discursive, non-investigative, dependent on common experience, and not falsifiable by appeal to any sort of experience, special or common. Said another way, the essence of the scientific mode is in its nature as investigative; the essence of the philosophic mode is its dependence on common sense (Simmons, 1992).

Why is it important to include a philosophic approach when incorporating formation in orienting, coaching, and empowering nursing faculty? First, findings from empirical studies in nursing education regarding formation are quite limited (Godfrey et al., 2020). Second, the topic of formation itself includes both descriptive and normative considerations. Formation, according to Benner et al. (2010), goes beyond a description of how a nurse is acting and enters the conversation of how a nurse ‘ought’ to behave, particularly in speaking about the ‘good nurse.’ ‘Ought’ or normative language is the language of philosophy, and in particular the language of ethics. To discuss the good nurse only in terms of what appears in empiric literature eliminates important discursive work that adds to the larger understanding of nursing as a discipline.

...philosophy cannot be esoteric, but instead needs to be understandable to the average person.A third consideration when looking at philosophical perspectives is that philosophy should be accessible to everyone. This means that philosophy cannot be esoteric, but instead needs to be understandable to the average person. It is this consideration that most strongly underscores the need for philosophic discourse in the nursing field. With often little data-driven science in areas that touch upon philosophic concerns (e.g., faculty formation), one should also look to philosophic perspectives. The average faculty member understands that formation for students is a reasonable and frequent concern. By extension, it is logical that intentional focus on faculty formation is critical to achieve the levels of excellence desired of nursing faculty teams.

Current Issues in Faculty Formation

Several issues are influential in the formation of a nurse in transitioning from the role of a clinical nurse to a faculty member. They are: formal training for education and teaching, orientation, mentorship, communities of practice, and faculty workload.

...faculty members may not have the graduate training related to teaching, learning, and curriculum development...Formal Training for Education and Teaching
In 2018, bachelor and master’s nursing programs across the United States turned away 75,029 qualified applicants. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing ([AACN], 2019), most schools suggested a shortage of faculty as a reason for not accepting these applicants. With the increased need for educators and preference for doctoral degrees in the academic setting (AACN, 2019), many nurse faculty members with advanced practice degrees, or other graduate education, find their way to the academic environment. However, these faculty members may not have the graduate training related to teaching, learning, and curriculum development recommended by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) (Spector, 2009).

...expertise as a researcher or clinician is not sufficient for teaching in a nursing school.Professional identity begins to form as one’s training and education begins (Godfrey & Young, 2021). The lack of formal pedagogical preparation may leave faculty feeling unprepared to navigate relationships with students, teaching strategies, or curriculum development, thereby impacting the initial formation as a faculty member. One participant in Schoening’s (2013) study commented that it was unethical to allow faculty to teach without specific educational training, noting, “[i]t’s like letting someone operate on someone who doesn’t know what they are doing” (p. 169). Oermann (2017) echoed the idea that expertise as a researcher or clinician is not sufficient for teaching in a nursing school. Preparation through graduate degrees in nursing education, reading scholarly journals, or attending professional development activities about teaching can broaden a faculty member’s view and positively impact formation in the faculty role (Schoening, 2013).

Nurse residency programs are increasingly becoming the norm in clinical settings. Programs by national organizations such as the Vizient/American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Nurse Residency Program (NRP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) Practice Transition Accreditation Program (PTAP) accredit registered nurse (RN) residencies and registered nurse and advanced practice nurse fellowships. These programs typically entail having one or more assigned mentors who work directly with the nurse resident or fellow. Benefits of nurse residency programs include decreased staff turnover and improved nurse satisfaction (AACN/Vizient, 2019; Trossman, 2015).

The National League for Nursing (NLN) (2020) Leadership Institute also has three program tracks (leadership, simulation, and executive) to foster leadership skills for nurses in academia and practice. However, these program tracks focus on nurses who are moving into or have been in leadership positions versus new members of the academic community.

There is no nationally recognized model for a nurse residency or fellowship program to support the process of faculty formation for nurse educators.There is no nationally recognized model for a nurse residency or fellowship program to support the process of faculty formation for nurse educators. Many schools of nursing do not have a formal orientation process for new faculty members other than the institutional new employee training. New faculty members frequently report inadequate orientation to the academic role (Schoening, 2013; Rodgers et al., 2020). Phrases like “sink or swim” have been used to describe how new nurse educators felt in transitioning to the rigors of teaching as a faculty member (Anderson, 2009; Schoening, 2013).

Cooley and de Gagne (2016) found that an internship program promoted successful development of novice nursing faculty. Hande et al. (2018) studied the impact of a faculty teaching fellowship that consisted of seminars on the scholarship of teaching and learning as well as individual consultations and dinners with senior faculty. The fellowship was found to be a valuable support for nursing faculty transitioning from the role of clinical expert to educator.

The importance of mentorship in nursing is well documented in the literature. Mentorship has been cited as a vital resource for new faculty (Cooley & de Gagne, 2016; Rodgers et al., 2020; Summers, 2017). Some benefits of mentorship include decreased turnover, increased employee satisfaction, and better student and faculty outcomes (Rodgers et al., 2020). However, new nurse educators often report lack of formal guidance or mentorship when first beginning a teaching role (Schoening, 2013; Cooley & de Gagne, 2016).

Both informal, or self-selected, and formal, or assigned, mentors can be effective.Mentors are key to faculty formation as a role model and to help new faculty members socialize into the community. Both informal, or self-selected, and formal, or assigned, mentors can be effective. One concern is that if not every new faculty member is assigned a formal mentor, there may not be adequate support (Ross & Silver, 2019).

Communities of Practice
A mentor is vital for one’s ongoing development. However, nursing is a team sport and requires a culture of support and commitment from one’s colleagues, whether in the clinical or academic setting. We cannot expect new faculty members, with or without a mentor, to successfully enter a classroom without the support of colleagues.

...nursing is a team sport and requires a culture of support and commitment from one’s colleagues...The definition of professional identity in nursing is emerging with a sense of oneself, which also includes our relationships with others (Godfrey & Young, 2021). This same definition can be applied to nurse faculty members as they socialize into the academic environment by learning the norms and values of the role. A faculty member’s formation is impacted by the work culture around them, whether positive or negative. In turn, lack of collegiality and support can impact students for, as go faculty, so go students.

To support formation, faculty members need to engage in communities of practice...A community of practice is a group of people who have common concerns or passions for what they do and work together regularly to learn how to do it better (Wenger & Snyder, 2000). The community of practice goes beyond civility, “an authentic respect for others” (Clark & Carnoso, 2008, p. 13), or acquisition of knowledge. Instead, the focus is on formation, learning with and from one another, and a change in identity of the individuals involved (Pyrko et al., 2016). To support formation, faculty members need to engage in communities of practice by supporting one another regardless of assigned mentors. This may be accomplished through touching base; eating lunches or having coffee breaks together; brainstorming teaching strategies; and collaborating on scholarly work. Through these authentic communities of practice, one can meet the call from the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for Nurses (2015) for nurses in all environments to create and maintain environments that promote excellence and support nurses in fulfilling their ethical obligations.

Faculty Workload
The ANA (2019) advocates for safe nurse staffing based on patient complexity and acuity; nursing skill level and expertise; availability of support and resources; and layout of the nursing unit. In addition, 14 states currently have laws or regulations regarding safe staffing ratios for the hospital setting (ANA, 2019). In parallel, several states have prescribed student to faculty ratios in regard to clinical education. For example, the Texas Board of Nursing requires an individual faculty member in the clinical setting to oversee no more than 10 students at a time (Texas Board of Nursing, 2019).

...there is limited data regarding optimal faculty-to-student ratios for the classroom or online settings.Suggestions for student-to-faculty ratios for simulation learning experiences have also been proposed (Blodgett et al., 2018). However, there is limited data regarding optimal faculty-to-student ratios for the classroom or online settings. Bitter and Bechtel (2017) found that the number of credits per semester and number of classes per semester were frequently used to calculate faculty workload. However, the number of students per class was not discussed. Teaching a three-credit hour course with 30 students is a different workload than teaching a three-credit hour course with 100 students, due to the amount of time required to meet individual student needs, answer course-related questions, assess learning outcomes, and grade assignments.

Insufficient time has also been reported as a barrier to developing competence as a nurse educator. In one study, faculty reported “I’m trying to grade papers, but I do not seem to have enough time to prepare my lesson plan,” as well as descriptions of students who required more time than originally anticipated (Cooley & de Gagne, 2016, p. 97). Many faculty balance teaching assignments with research, committee work, and clinical practice, leading to further complexities in calculating individual workload. Bitter and Bechtel (2017) found there was no standard calculation for faculty workload and suggest this as an area of improvement to address the nurse faculty shortage.

...many new faculty members carry full teaching loads from the first day of their academic role, leaving no time to acclimate to the new environment...New nurses in the clinical setting often have a reduced patient-to-nurse ratio as they begin orientation for their clinical career. However, many new faculty members carry full teaching loads from the first day of their academic role, leaving no time to acclimate to the new environment and engage with the communities of practice specific to the academic setting. In addition, learning to navigate various learning management systems, preparing for class or clinical, or working through curricular issues can be arduous and take longer when one is learning a new role. The following exemplars briefly demonstrate negative and positive examples related to faculty workload and mentoring.

Exemplars of Faculty Mentoring

Dr. Mary Jones is an advanced practice registered nurse who earned a doctorate of nursing practice two years ago. She is beginning her first semester of teaching in an undergraduate program. She teaches in a traditional, face to face classroom. Her teaching assignment includes five courses, each with 50 to 100 students. Dr. Jones has an informal mentor she has known as a colleague for several years. However, due to personal health issues, this faculty mentor is rarely in the office. When Dr. Jones approached another faculty member for help, the response was, “ask your mentor.”

The first day of class, the students seem disgruntled and angrily tell Dr. Jones they do not understand the course assignments or grading rubrics. Dr. Jones is not sure how to react or address the issue and is not able to reach her faculty mentor for guidance.

By the middle of the semester, Dr. Jones is overwhelmed with the heavy workload and lack of support.By the middle of the semester, Dr. Jones is overwhelmed with the heavy workload and lack of support. In addition, she is unsure of the best way to transition the courses she is teaching to the online learning environment when social distancing guidelines resulting from COVID-19 are required. Dr. Jones has received little direction from her mentor or program director regarding this process and has less than a week to make the transition. She begins searching for nurse practitioner jobs as she is unsure if a faculty position is the best fit for her.

Jack Carter has been practicing in a hospital as a medical-surgical nurse for five years and recently completed a master’s of science in nursing with an emphasis in nursing education. Upon beginning his new role as nursing faculty, Jack is assigned a formal mentor, Dr. Smith. Jack and Dr. Smith are assigned to teach a class together. Dr. Smith is approachable, supportive, and open to implementing Jack’s ideas in class. In addition, Jack’s office is located between three other experienced faculty members who have mentored many others before him. He often finds himself discussing ideas with his colleagues or asking for advice. Dr. Smith frequently touches base with Jack to see how he is transitioning to the faculty role.

He often finds himself discussing ideas with his colleagues or asking for advice.When the COVID-19 pandemic occurs and faculty members are working from home due to social distancing guidelines, Jack continues to feel supported by his colleagues and mentor as they frequently email, have virtual meetings, or speak on the phone to stay connected and plan for the semester. Dr. Smith and Jack work together to successfully transition their course to the online learning environment.

After one synchronous online class period, Jack is notified by a student who wishes to remain anonymous that two other students cheated on a quiz. Jack talks with Dr. Smith about his concerns, and together they meet with the students suspected of cheating via their online learning management system. Dr. Smith models for Jack how to speak with the students respectfully, yet hold them accountable. Jack now knows how to handle similar situations moving forward; he also feels that if something else occurs, he can ask Dr. Smith for support.

Considerations for Nurse Leaders

...formal education regarding teaching and learning should be integrated into graduate programs in nursing.Our discussion of issues related to faculty formation points to several considerations about how best to support the process to prepare future nurses to provide safe, high-quality care in our complex healthcare environment. Due to concerns regarding faculty preparedness, and to meet the recommendations of the NCSBN, formal education regarding teaching and learning should be integrated into graduate programs in nursing (Oermann, 2017; Schoening, 2013). Integration of this content allows identity formation as a faculty member to begin during one’s formal education.

With the success of residency and fellowship programs by national organizations, a standardized curriculum or accreditation system may be helpful for orientation of new faculty to promote best practices. At the very minimum, schools of nursing need some type of year-long, structured orientation program to support the transition from nurse clinician to nursing faculty member (Rodgers et al., 2020).

A culture change in nursing education is needed, with a focus on both formation as a nursing faculty member and mentorship. This is especially important now as one-third of faculty members are expected to retire by 2025 (Fang & Kesten, 2017). To ensure this culture change, mentors should be trained in mentorship strategies and receive a reduced faculty workload to fully allow time for mentoring activities (Schoening, 2013). Mentoring should not be a one-time experience; it should begin when faculty members enter a faculty position and continue throughout their careers (Ross & Silver, 2019). Nurse leaders should model engagement in communities of practice while allowing time for collaboration with faculty members.

Further research regarding faculty assignments among multiple demands and student-to-faculty ratios for didactic settings is required to promote manageable workloads that allow for faculty formation. Offering a reduced workload for the first semester or year, as well as the opportunity to co-teach with an experienced, approachable faculty member, allows for role modeling and time for new faculty members to become accustomed to workflow, ask questions, and think through ways to handle issues that arise.

...we cannot forget the importance of the formation of new faculty members to prepare competent nurses of the future.Conclusion

Just as one’s formation as a cyclist begins with adequate time, multiple runs up and down the driveway, and someone to hold the seat while knowing when to let go, so too does the formation of nurse faculty require education, mentorship, an adequate orientation, and time to learn the new role. Amidst a nursing shortage, a pandemic, and multiple other complexities related to our healthcare system, we cannot forget the importance of the formation of new faculty members to prepare competent nurses of the future. Only when we are confident about who we are as faculty can we hold our students’ bicycle seats, knowing when to let go so they can continue the ride and provide high quality care for patients.

Acknowledgment: The authors would like to thank Sally Barhydt from the University of Kansas School of Nursing and Dr. Eric Young for their insights and edits in the preparation of this manuscript.


Elizabeth Young, MSN, RN, CNE

Elizabeth is an adjunct assistant professor at the University of Kansas School of Nursing, a clinical instructor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, and a Certified Nurse Educator. She has a master’s of science degree in nursing with an emphasis in nursing education from Duke University. Elizabeth has experienced the positive, transformational aspects of orientation and mentorship both as a nurse in the acute care setting and throughout her time as a nurse faculty member.

Nelda Godfrey, PhD, ACNS-BC, RN, FAAN, ANEF

Dr. Godfrey is the Associate Dean for Innovative Partnerships and Practice at the University of Kansas School of Nursing. She is board certified as an adult clinical nurse specialist and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing and a member of the Academy of Nursing Education. Dr. Godfrey is known internationally as a thought leader regarding professional identity and professional identity formation in nursing. She has mentored countless nurses and nurse educators throughout the years in both her teaching and administrative roles.


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© 2021 OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published January 31, 2021

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