This article articulates the growing shortage of nursing faculty and identifies factors that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis and a Decision Matrix are applied to the process of pursuing graduate studies in nursing education. When driving forces outweigh restraining forces, nurses are more likely to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. Innovative solutions to strengthen driving forces and overcome restraining forces include: offering more programs with a focus in nursing education; financial support; flexible program delivery options, including more online graduate programs; mentoring; and collaborations between employers and academic institutions. The implications of this analysis for nurses, academic nurse leaders and nursing faculty, nurse employers, and governing bodies are presented.
Keywords: Faculty shortage, nursing education, decisions regarding graduate studies, pursuing graduate studies, driving and restraining forces, flexible program delivery, collaborations, mentoring, nursing faculty salaries
Encouraging nurses to pursue graduate studies and a career in nursing education is necessary to address the growing nursing faculty shortage. In this article I address factors that influence nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate programs that have a focus in nursing education with the goal of addressing the looming nursing faculty shortage. The purpose of this article is to identify driving and restraining forces that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. I also provide suggestions to key stakeholders on how to increase driving forces and overcome restraining forces. Key stakeholders include nurses, academic nurse leaders and nursing faculty, nurse employers, and governing bodies. The instruments presented in this article can be utilized by nurses as they consider pursuing graduate studies and careers in nursing education.
In the US the National League for Nursing has reported that almost two-thirds of nursing faculty are 45 to 60 years old and likely to retire within 15 years... The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) (2010a) and the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) (2010) have both documented the growing shortage of nursing faculty. This article features data from nursing advocacy groups in Canada and the United States (US), recognizing that the growing nursing faculty shortage and the need for more graduate-prepared nurses is a concern in both countries. The current number of nurses completing graduate programs is not sufficient to replace the number of retiring faculty (AACN, 2010b; CASN, 2010). In Canada, 31% of nursing faculty are over the age of 55, and 12% are over the age of 60 (CASN, 2010). CASN has reported that “sustaining the nursing workforce will be a major challenge because of an inadequate supply of faculty” (CASN, 2010, p. 7). In the US the National League for Nursing (NLN) (2009) has reported that almost two-thirds of nursing faculty are 45 to 60 years old and likely to retire within 15 years, further contributing to the faculty shortage.
Graduate preparation is a requirement for most faculty positions. In the US 55.5% of vacant faculty positions require a completed doctorate degree, and 37.1% require a completed masters’ degree with a doctorate preferred (AACN, 2010a). Faculty requirement statistics were not found for Canada, although approximately 61% of current nursing faculty report having at least a master’s degree (CASN/Canadian Nurses Association, 2009).
...academic institutions are competing with non-academic sectors for graduate-prepared nurses. Especially as a result of the nursing faculty shortage, the CASN, AACN, and NLN have been strong advocates for the strengthening of nursing education through the promotion of increased funding for education, recruitment, and retention of nursing faculty (AACN, 2010a; CASN, 2010; NLN, 2009). Yet the nursing faculty shortage continues. In the US 67,563 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2010 largely due to a lack of faculty and lack of other educational resources (AACN, 2011).
In addition to the advancing age and retirement of faculty, academic institutions are competing with non-academic sectors for graduate-prepared nurses. Nurses with graduate preparation are increasingly finding work as advanced practice nurses, administrators, quality and safety specialists, and employees in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries (Cleary, Barron McBride, McClure, & Reinhard, 2009). The following section provides a theoretical perspective that can be applied by nurses as they consider pursuing graduate studies in nursing education.
If driving forces outweigh restraining forces, nurses will be more likely to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. Kurt Lewin (1952) developed a theoretical perspective called the Force Field Analysis and suggested that with any change there are driving forces (factors that encourage the change) and restraining forces (factors that discourage the change). Lewin proposed that in order for change to occur, driving forces must outweigh restraining forces. Although Lewin’s work has traditionally been applied to the social sciences and organizational change, I have found Lewin’s Force Field Analysis helpful in providing a theoretical basis and practical application for understanding driving and restraining forces impacting nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. If driving forces outweigh restraining forces, nurses will be more likely to pursue graduate studies in nursing education.
It is helpful for nurses considering graduate studies in nursing education to complete a list of driving and restraining forces affecting their decisions. Nurses can then critically examine the restraining forces and look at ways they may be overcome. Nurses can also examine how driving forces may be strengthened. Figure 1 provides an example of an instrument that can help nurses explore their options. While reading the following review of the literature, readers are encouraged to add their own driving and restraining forces to Figure 1 and determine which of the solutions may be applicable for them.
Interest in pursuing graduate studies
Lack of available programs with a focus in nursing education
Financial assistance and employer incentives
Financial costs – tuition, time off work/lost salary, decreased salary when moving from clinical practice to education
Flexible program delivery options
Work responsibilities that may limit time and access to graduate studies
Lack of available mentors
Lack of collaborative programs
Strengthening Driving Forces/ Overcoming Restraining Forces
Recognize the importance of, and need for developing teaching expertise
Investigate tuition reimbursement; advocate for increased faculty salaries
Ask for flexible work schedules and paid time off to pursue graduate studies
Explore online and other programs that offer flexibility with time and place
Find nursing faculty mentors by attending a nursing education workshop or conference and networking with instructors or faculty liaisons in your clinical area
Look for collaborative programs that allow you to keep your existing position while teaching part time and those offering graduate courses and tuition reimbursement
The Decision Matrix in Figure 2 [full pdf of Figure 2] provides a step-by-step practical instrument nurses can use when considering graduate studies in nursing education, based on relevant literature and the author’s experience in pursuing graduate studies in nursing education. The Decision Matrix is intended as a guide for navigating the planning phases of pursuing graduate studies in nursing education. The following section will present a review of the literature identifying driving and restraining forces in the pursuit of graduate studies in nursing.
Review and Synthesis of the Literature
Because I have found a very limited number of studies specific to nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies with a focus in nursing education, this section will review driving and restraining forces nurses have experienced in the pursuit of graduate studies in general. Although research specific to the pursuit of graduate studies with a focus in nursing education is needed, much can be learned from the existing literature to inform the exploration of driving and restraining forces that guide nurses’ decision to pursue graduate studies in nursing education.
Research addressing driving forces nurses have experienced during their pursuit of graduate education programs has identified an interest in the nursing profession, a desire to advance one's education, and family support as key driving forces in the decision to complete graduate studies. Another important driving force in the pursuit of graduate studies has been the availability of financial assistance. More than half of nurses pursuing graduate degrees were found to be part-time students (Livsey, Campbell, & Green, 2007). Financial assistance included paid time off to attend school and tuition reimbursement (Mingo, 2008; Warren & Mills, 2009). Graduate students have traditionally supported their education through employment income as well as through employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs (Aiken, Cheung, & Olds, 2009).
Unfortunately, with the recent economic downturn, employer assistance to aid in the pursuit of graduate studies is becoming increasingly scarce. Limited funding and support for living expenses have contributed to the trend of continuing to work (often full time) while pursuing graduate studies (Livsey et al., 2007).
Geographical access is also a barrier for nurses seeking to pursue graduate studies (Leners, Wilson, & Sitzman, 2007). Halter, Kleiner, and Formanek Hess (2006) have discussed how geographical barriers and lack of an accessible program consistent with a student’s research interests may make doctoral study next to impossible for many interested candidates. It also may be difficult for master’s-prepared nurses already in faculty roles to find programs allowing them to remain in their teaching positions while pursuing a doctoral degree (Leners et al., 2007). In addition many nurses in clinical roles who are interested in pursuing graduate studies work shifts, making traditional programs challenging or impossible. Increasing the number of online programs offered at both the master’s and doctoral levels can help overcome geographical barriers as well as allow nurses to continue employment while pursuing graduate studies. Flexible program delivery options, particularly in the form of online programs, allow nurses the opportunity to meet their academic goals while balancing family and work commitments (Halter et al., 2006; Leners et al., 2007; Warren & Mills, 2009).
Collaborations amongst academic and clinical practice institutions have been identified as a means to decrease restraining forces/barriers for nurses to pursue graduate studies. Collaborations amongst academic and clinical practice institutions have been identified as a means to decrease restraining forces/barriers for nurses to pursue graduate studies. Warren and Mills (2009) utilized grant funding to form a collaborative between a hospital and an academic institution to assist nurses in pursuing advanced degrees. Through the collaborative nurses were supported and mentored in pursuing advanced degrees while maintaining their positions at the hospital and working as clinical nursing instructors. This collaboration provided both a faculty recruitment initiative and an incentive for nurses to pursue advanced degrees.
In summary, driving forces in the pursuit of graduate studies in nursing include interest in and availability of graduate studies, financial assistance and employer incentives, flexible program delivery options, family support, mentoring, and collaborative initiatives. Restraining forces in the pursuit of graduate studies in nursing include time constraints and geographical barriers, financial costs, work responsibilities, and family responsibilities.
The literature review above has described some of the key driving and restraining forces in the pursuit of graduate studies in nursing. Innovative solutions to overcome restraining forces so as to strengthen the driving forces include the following: Offering more programs with a focus in nursing education; providing financial support and increasing faculty salaries; making available flexible work schedules and arranging flexible program delivery options (including online courses for developing teaching skills); mentoring; and developing collaborations between employers and academic institutions. Each of these will be described below.
Graduate Programs with a Focus in Nursing Education
There are differing beliefs about how best to prepare nurses for the faculty role (Bell-Scriber & Morton, 2009). What is generally agreed upon, however, is that teaching requires a specific skill set (Cangelosi, Crocker, & Sorrell, 2009; Clark, Alcala-Van Houten, & Perea-Ryan, 2010; NLN, 2005). Graduate programs with focuses in nursing education provide an opportunity to prepare nurses for faculty roles. Billings & Halstead (2009) have explained how doctoral programs that focus in nursing education will help ensure the development and dissemination of evidence-based teaching practices. Other ways to acquire academic teaching skills include online courses offered through the AACN or the NLN, faculty development programs and workshops, mentoring, and shadowing opportunities (Clark et al., 2010). Nurses who desire a career in nursing education are encouraged to look for programs that specialize in nursing education. A complete listing of all nursing programs in Canada, with program website links can be found through the CNA (n.d.) website or by contacting the CASN. Similarly, a list of such programs offered in the US can be found at the AACN website (AACN, 2010c)
The reality is that most graduate nursing students do need to remain employed due to financial, professional, and/or family commitments. As discussed above, barriers to the pursuit of graduate studies include financial costs of education and the need to continue working. The reality is that most graduate nursing students do need to remain employed due to financial, professional, and/or family commitments.
In the US the Nurses’ Higher Education and Loan Repayment Act of 2008 (AACN, 2008) offers some financial assistance. Successful candidates who are current students and graduates of nursing master’s and doctoral programs can receive reimbursement for student loans if they teach for four years in an accredited school of nursing. In Canada, nurses completing advanced degrees may be eligible for tuition support and reimbursement through their provincial licensing bodies. For example, in Alberta, nurses can apply for degree-level funding through the Alberta Registered Nursing Educational Trust (College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, 2009).
A healthcare agency’s commitment to offering continuing education and supporting nurses in obtaining advanced degrees is an important consideration in the clinical agency’s obtaining Magnet® designation (American Nurse Credentialing Center, 2011). By providing nurses with the opportunity to pursue graduate studies, employers will help to insure there will be faculty to teach qualified nursing applicants in the future, thus helping to address the shortage of nurses.
By providing nurses with the opportunity to pursue graduate studies, employers will help to insure there will be faculty to teach qualified nursing applicants in the future, thus helping to address the shortage of nurses. In addition to financial support, nursing faculty salaries need to be increased to motivate nurses to become nurse educators. Noncompetitive salaries in nursing education are contributing to the shortage of nursing faculty in Canada and the US. In Canada, 51% of nursing schools reported that non-competitive salaries in educational settings compared with practice settings, presented a challenge when hiring faculty (CASN/CNA, 2009). In the US some nurses enter practice earning higher wages than their faculty are earning (NLN, 2009). To recruit and retain nursing faculty, nursing faculty salaries and benefits must be competitive with non-academic sectors (Bartfay & Howse, 2007; Cleary et al., 2009).
Employers can assist nurses in pursuing graduate studies by providing flexible work schedules. This may involve granting nurses a given number of paid days off each month to devote to their studies or, allowing nurses to make scheduling changes or switch shifts with colleagues. In addition, employers can also accommodate nurses who need to decrease their work hours to accommodate their studies. Educational leaves of absences for the pursuit of graduate studies that allow nurses to maintain benefits should also be considered. Employers can also work with academic institutions to accommodate nurses pursuing graduate studies, as discussed in the literature review and a section on collaborations between employers and academic institutions below.
Flexible Program Delivery: Online Programs
Online graduate programs allow students the flexibility needed to manage family commitments, as well as work commitments, while overcoming geographical barriers and rigid schedules of traditional programs (Candela et al., 2009). The Table below lists examples of programs offering flexible, online programs and describes unique features of each program.
Athabasca University, Alberta, Canada (Athabasca University Centre for Nursing & Health Studies, 2010)
University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada (University of Victoria School of Nursing, 2011)
University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, US (The University of Northern Colorado School of Nursing, 2010)
NEXus (The Nursing Education Exchange), US (Western Institute of Nursing, 2011)
New faculty can also find mentors by attending nursing education conferences and networking with their former instructors and/or faculty liaisons in the clinical setting. Faculty mentors and role models are important for the recruitment and retention of both potential and newly hired nursing faculty (Bell-Scriber & Morton, 2009; NLN, 2006). Bartfay and Howse (2007) have described the benefits of senior faculty serving as mentors to new nursing faculty. They have also suggested that national nursing organizations collaborate to create online resources for new faculty, outlining expectations of academic roles and professional development resources. New faculty can also find mentors by attending nursing education conferences and networking with their former instructors and/or faculty liaisons in the clinical setting.
Collaboration Between Employers and Academic Institutions
Collaborative initiatives are becoming increasingly common. The Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence now collaborates with healthcare organizations to prepare nurses for clinical teaching roles. The Center has developed the role of ‘Clinical Scholars,’ i.e., nurses who keep their clinical positions, salaries, and benefits, take a course to prepare them for clinical teaching, and are granted release time to teach undergraduate students in the clinical setting (Kowalski et al., 2007).
Based on the Colorado model, the Clinical Teaching Collaborative in Calgary, a partnership between the provincial government in Alberta and the academic nursing programs in Calgary, enables baccalaureate-educated nurses to apply to serve as Clinical Teaching Scholars who maintain their nursing positions while teaching. They are provided a graduate course in which they learn the skills of clinical teaching (Clinical Teaching Collaborative, 2009).
Further Research Needed
Research is needed to address the driving and restraining forces specific to nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education. Knowing the subsequent career paths of nurses who have been involved in collaborative programs, such as the Clinical Teaching Collaborative, and who continue on into graduate programs and careers in nursing education would provide evidence of the benefit of such programs in addressing the nursing faculty shortage. Also, research examining relationships between nurses’ specializations in graduate programs and career paths may assist in determining if nurses who complete graduate studies with a focus in nursing education are more likely to go on to faculty roles. Research alone will not address the nursing faculty shortage, but it can help to identify driving and restraining forces that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education and to recommend action for key stakeholders.
The information provided in this article has implications for nurses considering pursuing graduate studies and careers in nursing education, academic nursing leaders and nursing faculty, nurse employers, and governing bodies. These groups represent the key stakeholders who are most impacted by the nursing faculty shortage. These key stakeholders also have the greatest ability to influence the future of nursing and nursing education.
...explore flexible program delivery options, including online programs and other resources...to continue to balance personal and professional commitments [and] meet professional goals. This article and accompanying figures provide practical tools for nurses considering pursuing graduate studies and careers in nursing education. It is my hope that this article will increase awareness of the looming nursing faculty shortage and stimulate among nurses an interest in graduate studies leading to careers in nursing education. Nurses are encouraged to obtain baccalaureate degrees and then explore master’s or doctoral programs with the intent of preparing themselves for faculty roles. I strongly encourage nurses to explore flexible program delivery options, including online programs and other resources that allow them to continue to balance personal and professional commitments while also meeting their professional goals.
Along with increasing awareness and interest, I hope nurses reading this article will advocate in their professional organizations and work settings to raise awareness about the nursing faculty shortage. It is crucial that nurses from all practice areas advocate for solutions to prevent a critical shortage of faculty that will have far reaching consequences on not only the profession of nursing, but the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Academic Nurse Leaders and Nursing Faculty
Academic nurse leaders and all nursing faculty are encouraged to take on active roles as mentors and advocates. Academic nurse leaders and nursing faculty are encouraged to identify and mentor nurses at the undergraduate level who have the ability and interest in pursuing graduate studies in nursing education. Schumacher, Risco, and Conway (2008) have discussed how faculty can take on the role of career counselor and provide the guidance needed for nurses to pursue graduate studies. Brady (2007) has encouraged faculty to view students as not only potential nurses, but also potential nurse educators. Additionally, it is imperative for academic nurse leaders and faculty to advocate for more funded, full-time faculty positions and competitive salaries and for the resources needed to overcome barriers to completing graduate nursing studies. Academic nurse leaders are also encouraged to consider adding flexible program delivery options, including online and blended programs to their graduate curriculum. Blended programs offer a combination of online and traditional course delivery. Masters’ and doctoral level programs that prepare nurses for faculty roles and that are available online are key components for addressing the nursing faculty shortage.
The NLN has established core competencies for nurse educators. These competencies are intended to be integrated into the curricula of nurse educator programs, faculty role descriptions, and evaluation processes. Core competencies include the following: (a) facilitate learning; (b) facilitate learner development and socialization; (c) use assessment and evaluation strategies; (d) participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes; (e) function as a change agent and leader; (d) pursue continuous quality improvement in the nurse educator role; (e) engage in scholarship; and (f) function within the educational environment (NLN, 2005). Without graduate preparation specific to teaching roles, these competencies are difficult to meet.
Nursing leaders within healthcare organizations have a critical role in addressing the nursing faculty shortage. I encourage nurse employers to adopt a big-picture or upstream-thinking approach. If nurses interested in pursuing graduate studies in nursing education are supported today, the healthcare organizations will have an insurance policy in place for helping to ensure that an adequate number of qualified students can be accepted into, and complete nursing programs in the future. Developing practice/academic partnerships can also benefit healthcare organizations in conducting nursing research initiatives and implementing evidence-based practice.
According to Livesy, Campbell, and Green (2007), “given the increasing severity of the faculty shortage, development of federal policies that adequately fund existing authorities and create additional programs that support the development of nursing faculty is in the public’s best interest” (p. 176). Nursing licensing and accreditation bodies, as well as government at all levels have critical roles in addressing the nursing faculty shortage and supporting nurses in pursuing graduate studies in nursing education. Aiken et al. (2009) noted that only one-third of U.S. nurses receive their initial education in baccalaureate programs. The majority of nurses receive their initial nursing education through associate degree programs. This is concerning, given that associate degree graduates are less likely to pursue graduate degrees than are baccalaureate graduates (Cleary et al., 2009). Aiken et al. described the “mathematical improbability” (p. w 650) that nursing schools will be able to expand enrollment with current patterns of pre-licensure education.
Charting Nursing’s Future, a newsletter from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2010), has discussed innovative partnerships addressing the nursing faculty shortage and has recommended that all nurses be required to complete a bachelor’s program within 10 years of licensure. In Canada, a baccalaureate degree in nursing is already an entry-to-practice standard (CASN/CNA, 2004).
Government initiatives in the US are a step in the right direction in order to address barriers for nurses to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education. For example, Title VIII programs target increased public support to facilitate increased capacity in nursing schools and to encourage more nurses to seek baccalaureate degrees. Title VIII programs are administered through the Health Resources Service Administration Division of Nursing and are a major source of federal funding for nursing education (Aiken et al., 2009; Livsey et al., 2007). There is also discussion to redirect some Medicare funding to graduate nursing education, given that the majority of Medicare funding is currently directed towards the pre-licensure level (Aiken et al., 2009). It is time for all key stakeholders to take action to address the nursing faculty shortage. The future of the nursing profession and the health and wellbeing of our communities depend on it.
To effectively address the nursing faculty shortage, key stakeholders must examine driving and restraining forces that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education. This article has utilized Lewin’s (1952) Force Field Analysis to identify driving and restraining forces that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies in nursing education. It has also provided nurses with a Decision Matrix to use when planning graduate studies and careers in nursing education. To effectively address the nursing faculty shortage, key stakeholders must examine driving and restraining forces that impact nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education. A commitment from key stakeholders is essential to ensure we have faculty to teach future generations of nurses and to ensure optimal health outcomes in the care provided by nurses, the largest and most integral part of the healthcare system.
Heather Cathro, RN, BN, MN
Ms. Cathro works as a Charge Nurse on the Definitive Observation Unit at the Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center. She has experience in the areas of Telemetry, ICU/CCU, Definitive Observation, and as a Clinical Nursing Instructor. She has worked as a RN in both Canada and the United States. Because Heather is concerned about the looming faculty shortage and the impact this shortage will have on the nursing profession, she has become interested in factors that influence nurses’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and careers in nursing education. Ms. Cathro received her Bachelor of Nursing degree from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and her Master of Nursing: Teaching Focus, from Athabasca University in Alberta, Canada. Heather is currently enrolled in a PhD Nursing program. Content from this article was displayed as a poster presentation at the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing Academic Leadership Conference May 2-5, 2011 in Quebec City, Quebec.
The author would like to thank her family and friends for their ongoing support. The author would also like to thank Dr. Karren Kowalski for providing resources on the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence Clinical Scholar Program, and also Lynn Judd, Chair of the Bachelor of Nursing Program, Mount Royal University; and Dr. Diane Tapp, Dean, Faculty of Nursing, University of Calgary, for answering questions about the Clinical Teaching Collaborative. The author would also like to thank Dr. Donna Romyn from Athabasca University, Dr. Lynne Young from the University of Victoria, Dr. Janice Hayes from the University of Northern Colorado, as well as Richard Bloomquist and Dr. Kathryn Campbell from Capella University, as well as Paula McNeil from The Nursing Education Exchange, for allowing the author to reference their respective programs.
© 2011 OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published August 15, 2011
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