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A Look at the Future of Nursing Education

The nursing field and nursing education experienced tremendous growth over the past several decades. As the healthcare industry faces the demands of an aging population, post-COVID-19 burnout and a shortage of nurse educators and nurses, the need for nurse educators is becoming increasingly important. Nurses who complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Education program can be instrumental in nurturing a new generation of much-needed nurses. And with flexible options like the online MSN in Nursing Education program from The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), advanced nursing degree programs are more accessible than ever.

Shortages of Nurses and Nursing Faculty

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were approximately 3,172,500 registered nurses (RNs) in the U.S. in 2022. Further, BLS projects job growth for RNs at 6% from 2022 to 2032 — roughly twice as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations. As the Baby Boomer generation continues to age and retire, more than 20% of the U.S. population will be 65 or older by 2030. Data suggests that figure will rise to 22% by 2050. As a result of this and steep nursing workforce losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, industry associations and regulatory bodies project mounting nursing shortages for years to come.

The dwindling number of nurse educators only compounds the problem. Data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found that U.S. nursing schools turned away over 78,000 qualified applications for baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2022, due in part to a nursing faculty shortage. Additional reasons included a lack of clinical sites and preceptors and limited budgets.

In addition to budgeting constraints, factors like advancing educator age and competition from clinical sites contribute to the educator shortage, according to AACN’s Nursing Faculty Shortage Fact Sheet. In fact, there were well over 2,000 full-time faculty vacancies in nursing schools surveyed by AACN in 2022, representing a faculty vacancy rate of nearly 9%.

Many college-level nursing faculty members are nearing retirement age. Anticipated salaries may also dissuade some nurses from pursuing a career in education. According to AACN, the average annual salary for master’s-prepared nursing professors was $87,325 in 2022. Comparatively, advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who occupy roles that also require an MSN degree make an average salary of roughly $120,000. Even RNs as a whole cohort made a median annual wage approaching that of nurse educators in 2022 — $81,220, according to BLS. With salaries comparable to typical RN roles and substantially lower than APRN roles, 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 must 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 will likely worsen.

Bridging the Gap With Educational Opportunities

While universities take steps to remedy faculty shortages, technological advances may also offer some relief. As accessibility to mobile phones, laptops and tablets increases, distance education options grow, which can be particularly attractive to working nurses. Online degree programs are now plentiful and are instrumental in accommodating more nursing students who need flexibility in their education. Plus, in response to the lack of clinical sites and preceptors — and reflecting the benefits of technology-enriched education — schools like UTA introduced innovative simulations and “smart hospitals” to help students advance knowledge and skills through hands-on and virtual applied learning experiences.

Other educational trends offer additional solutions. Universities 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 incorporate shared curricula that ensure a smooth transition between associate and baccalaureate programs, encouraging nurses to pursue higher education. Finally, accelerated online degree programs enable students to complete baccalaureate and master’s programs and move into clinical or nursing education positions more quickly.

A New Path for Nurse Educators

Nursing and nursing education have seen tremendous change in recent years and 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 will likely continue, introducing more highly educated nurses to the workforce and closing the widening gap between supply and demand.

Learn more about UTA’s online MSN in Nursing Education program.

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