The nursing field and nursing education have experienced tremendous growth over the past several decades. As the healthcare industry faces the demands of an aging population and a potential nursing shortage, the need for nurse educators is becoming increasingly important. Nurses who complete a Master of Science in Nursing Education (MSN) program may be instrumental in nurturing a new generation of much-needed nurses.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 2.8 million licensed nurses in the United States in 2014, and job growth for licensed nurses will likely grow much faster than the average rate at approximately 16 percent through 2024. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be age 65 or older by 2029. As a result, despite the substantial workforce and the climbing demand, there are concerns about future nursing shortages.
The dwindling number of nurse educators only compounds the problem. A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that U.S. nursing schools denied nearly 69,000 qualified applicants for baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2014, due in part to a shortage of faculty. Additional reasons included a lack of clinical sites and preceptors as well as limited budgets.
Two other factors — advancing educator age and compensation — may be contributing to the educator shortage as well. Many college-level nursing faculty members are nearing retirement age, which increases shortage concerns. Anticipated salaries may dissuade some nurses from pursuing a career in education, too. The median annual wage for postsecondary nursing instructors was $67,480 in 2015. Similarly, the median annual wage for licensed nurses was $67,490 for the same year. Without a significant difference in salary, nursing instructor positions may not appeal sufficiently to qualified nurses.
To increase the number of highly educated nurses and the educators who teach them, nursing schools, healthcare facilities and other entities need to address these issues. If nurses pursuing higher education — particularly those at the master’s or doctorate level who are interested in teaching — are unable to enroll in degree programs, then both the educator and nursing shortages are likely to worsen.
Bridging the Gap
While universities take steps to remedy faculty shortages, technological advances may also offer some relief. As accessibility to mobile phones, laptops and tablets has increased, distance education options have grown. Online degree programs have expanded significantly, particularly over the past decade, and they have been instrumental in accommodating more students in degree programs. In response to the lack of clinical sites and preceptors, human patient simulators have become a viable alternative.
Other educational trends offer additional solutions. Universities have started to form partnerships with hospitals and healthcare facilities to establish postgraduate nurse residency programs, allowing nurses to gain critical clinical experience. More community colleges and universities are using a shared curriculum that ensures a smooth transition between associate and baccalaureate programs to encourage nurses to pursue higher education. Finally, accelerated online degree programs have enabled students to complete baccalaureate and master’s programs and move into clinical or nursing education positions more quickly.
A New Path
Both nursing and nursing education have seen tremendous change in recent years, and they will continue to evolve in the coming decades. Although nurse educator shortages persist, online degree programs and technological advances have opened pathways for nurses interested in higher education. These trends are likely to continue, which will introduce more highly educated nurses to the workforce and hopefully close the widening gap between supply and demand.
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Colby, S. L., & Ortman, J. M. (2014, May). The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. U.S. Census Bureau
Findings From The 2014 NLN Biennial Survey Of Schools Of Nursing Academic Year 2013-2014. (2015). National League for Nursing
Nursing Faculty Shortage. (2015, March 16). American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary. (2016, March 30). BLS Occupational Employment Statistics
Registered Nurses. (2015, December 17). BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook
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