The model can enhance scheduling flexibility, expand class capacity.
There is no shortage of people who want to become nurses. There just aren't enough teachers. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that U.S. nursing schools turned away 49,948 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2008 for reasons that included insufficient faculty.
This comes as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the nation will need an additional 587,000 new RNs by 2016. Demographics worsen the situation. AACN reports that the average age of doctoral nursing faculty is more than 53 years, which means that the nation will see a new wave of retirements over the next 15 years.
Money is a factor. Studies by AACN and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners this year found that the average salary of a nurse practitioner is $81,060, while nursing faculty with a master's degree averaged $69,489 annually.
"That is a big part of the issue because as there is a need for more highly educated nurses in healthcare delivery, there is a simultaneous need for highly educated nurses for faculty position," says Fay Raines, president of AACN and dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Alabama—Huntsville.
Clearly, the challenge is great; but there are solutions that healthcare leaders can develop. Raines says clinical-faculty partnerships between hospitals and nursing schools can extend faculty numbers, and thus expand class sizes. "Those really are win-win situations for the nurses who want to teach but also who want to continue their practice, and we are finding that more and more schools and hospitals are involved in those partnerships," Raines says. "The hospital gains ready access to nurses who are graduating. The schools of nursing are able to increase their capacity by having nurses partner with them to teach more students."
Summa Health System in Akron, OH, has been using varying forms of the nurse clinician-educator model for more than a decade, says Barbara A. Brunt, director of nursing education and staff development.
The five-hospital health system, which employs 2,000 at the two hospitals where Brunt is in charge of clinicals, has clinical affiliations with 14 nursing schools in the area, including the University of Akron and Kent State University, for programs ranging from LPN to advanced nursing degrees. One program allows experienced Summa nurses to work two 12-hour weekend shifts, get paid for 36 hours, and qualify as full-time employees, and then use any part of the five-day work week to hire on with nursing schools that pay them to serve as clinical-faculty at the Summa hospitals. About 25 Summa nurses are clinical-faculty, Brunt says.
"It has served us well because it gets experienced staff on the weekend, and for nurses who have small children who need to be there during the week, it is ideal for them," Brunt says. "And even for a full-time nurse who works during the week—our nurses work three 12-hour shifts—there is still an opportunity for them if they want to do clinical faculty work to adjust and ask for a day off to do that. We have a lot of part-timers who work during the week who like to teach, so they will take clinical-faculty jobs."