This article was updated in July 2022.It is no secret that the United States is facing an ever-growing nursing shortage. The U.S. Bureau of Labor projects a need for 1.1 million new RNs by 2022 to address the high number of upcoming nurse retirements and growing healthcare needs (American Nurses Association).
With factors such as an aging population, an aging workforce, population growth and nurse burnout combined, especially during a global pandemic, the nursing shortage today is looking more concerning than ever. While nurses will have their pick of employment opportunities for the foreseeable future, patient access to quality nursing care will simultaneously decline due to reduced access to qualified nursing staff.
A nursing shortage affects communities and individuals acutely. Haddad, Annamaraju, and Toney-Butler (2022)1 report that, “Nursing shortages lead to errors, higher morbidity and mortality rates.” Nurses working in facilities that are not adequately staffed also experience burnout, dissatisfaction and attrition at much higher rates—further exacerbating the shortage.
Qualified nursing faculty is essential
One major contributing factor to the nursing shortage is the lack of qualified nursing faculty members. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing, AACN, report 2020-2021 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing2 states that “U.S. nursing schools turned away 80,521 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2020 due to an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, clinical preceptors, and budget constraints.” When surveyed, a majority of universities listed a lack of qualified faculty as a key reason for the inability to accept all qualified nursing applicants (AACN, 2020). We are losing qualified talent at a time when the American healthcare system needs the clinical skills, leadership, and compassion that nurses provide more than ever.
Serving on a nursing faculty search committee at a regional university, I have witnessed the struggle to hire new nursing faculty. Beyond the barrier to entry of the time and expense of earning a graduate degree, nursing faculty members are frequently expected to have recent and relevant teaching, clinical, and research experience. These high demands mean that faculty applicant pools often remain small. While the RN certification represents a broad scope of nursing knowledge, state boards of nursing require certain levels of clinical experience to teach different clinical nursing specialties (ie: pediatrics, women’s health, mental health, etc.). This means that sometimes, schools of nursing are unable to match faculty candidates with available positions. Additionally, nurse faculty salaries can detract qualified candidates. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners lists an average nurse practitioner salary (considering all settings and specialties) at $110,0003. Meanwhile, the average salary for a masters-prepared assistant professor of nursing was $83,3404. This approximately $27,000 difference, or 28% “pay cut,” makes nursing education a less attractive nursing specialty.