Is there a nurse (teacher) in the house?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Graduate assistant Walter Johnston helps train nursing students at Southeast Missouri State University. But the registered nurse doesn't want to make it a career.

A weekend nurse at Southeast Missouri Hospital, he is seeking a master's degree to take up a career as a nurse practitioner.

"Part of it is money," said Johnston, who has a family to support. Johnston said he can make a larger salary as a nurse practitioner than as a nursing educator.

He's not alone. Nationwide, nursing schools find it hard to attract faculty.

Faculty shortages at nursing schools are limiting student enrollment at a time when the need for nurses continues to grow.

Nationwide, nursing schools denied admission to 32,617 qualified applicants in 2005, primarily due to a shortage of nurse educators, said Gloria Green, interim chairwoman of the nursing department at Southeast Missouri State University.

Budget constraints, an aging faculty and higher salaries for nurse practitioners than nursing professors have contributed to what the American Association of Colleges of Nursing calls an "emerging crisis."

The association's Web site reports that in June 2003, 614 faculty vacancies were reported among some 300 nursing schools nationwide.

The average nursing educator nationwide is more than 50 years old. Thirty-eight percent of the nation's nursing educators are older than 55, Green said.

At Southeast Missouri State, nursing faculty average about 50 years of age, she said.

"What we need are larger schools and more faculty," said Green. "If you can't hire faculty, you can't admit more students."

Southeast has 19 nursing educators and is looking to hire another.

Nursing schools locally also are hampered by a shortage of clinical sites for nursing students to get practical training, Cape Girardeau nursing educators say.

Cape Girardeau's two hospitals and the hospital in Sikeston are heavily used by area nursing students.

Nursing students also get practical training in doctors' offices and clinics where possible. But graduate nursing students who are training to be nurse practitioners are increasingly getting clinical training in doctors' offices. That cuts down on clinical sites for students training to be registered nurses, local nursing educators say.

Missouri State Board of Nursing regulations require clinical sites for nursing students to get hands-on experience.

All of these factors limit enrollment.

The university admits only 35 new nursing students a semester out of the 400 that apply.

Southeast Missouri Hospital's College of Nursing and Health Sciences admits 40 new students every summer out of about 200 applicants. The college enrolls another 20 in the winter.

While the university has a four-year nursing program, Southeast Hospital's nursing college offers a two-year associates degree program.

Nurses with advanced degrees have other options today than teaching, Green said.

"For someone with a doctorate in nursing, they can pull in twice as much in practice as opposed to being an educator," she said.

Nurse practitioners -- nurses who can diagnose and treat patients and dispense medicines -- can earn $110,000 to $120,000, Green said, adding, "I can't compete with that."

Neither can the 15-year-old College of Nursing and Health Sciences, which also finds it difficult to recruit faculty.

Adding to the problem is that some of the nursing college's faculty are retiring.

It's particularly difficult to recruit nurses in specialty areas like obstetrics, said nursing college president Dr. Tonya Buttry.

Nursing schools can't pay enough to recruit such nursing educators.

The college -- which has 13 nursing faculty -- has been unable to find an obstetrics educator to replace a faculty member who is retiring at the end of the spring semester.

The search has been underway since last fall. "We have advertised nationally. We have hit the St. Louis papers. We have had no response at all."

National accreditation requirements require faculty to have at least master's degrees in nursing, adding to the difficulty in hiring qualified instructors, local nursing officials say.

Most of the university's nursing faculty have doctorates. National accreditation standards require faculty to have a degree one step above that of the nursing degree program they are teaching.

To teach a master's nursing program, faculty members must have doctorates, Green said.

For nursing educators like Lisa Moses, who teaches students in Southeast Hospital's nursing school, the job isn't about money.

"I felt like this was a way I could make a difference in patient care," said Moses, who has been in nursing for 21 years, the last six as an educator.

At age 44, Moses is younger than many of the nation's nursing faculty.

But Moses said it isn't an easy job. Nursing educators are more than classroom teachers. They supervise their students' handling of nursing tasks in hospitals and other clinical settings.

Nationally, nursing schools would like to hire more nurses like Moses.

In February 2004, Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow -- a coalition of 43 nursing and health-care organizations -- launched a public awareness campaign to interest more people in pursuing careers as nurse educators.

In March 2004, the nursing schools association launched an online clearinghouse to provide information to nurses considering full- or part-time teaching careers.

But Green and Buttry don't expect the nursing faculty shortage to end soon.

Buttry said schools still need to be selective about hiring nursing faculty. "You want people who have the heart for teaching,' she said.

335-6611, extension 123

On the Net

Nurse salary comparison

(Nationwide median in 2002-2003)

Nursing school (with doctorate)

Nursing program dean: $90,000

Associate professor: $74,556

Assistant professor: $65,212

Private practice

Chief nurse anesthetist: $128,879

Vice president of nursing: $113,000

Nurse anesthetist: $105,890

Nursing director: $93,344

Nurse manager: $69,416

Nurse practitioner: $69,407

Head nurse: $68,194

Clinical nurse specialist: $61,351

Source: American Association of Colleges of Nursing

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