Healthcare Organizations Study Ways to Solve State's Nursing Faculty Shortage
Even with the crucial shortage of nurses, a staggering 2,300 students were turned away from Mississippi nursing schools last year.
The primary reason is the lack of nursing faculty, a problem that could lead to a critical shortage of qualified nurses in the state's healthcare system. Nurses comprise 31 percent of professionals providing healthcare services.
The Mississippi Hospital Association (MHA) is leading a group of professional groups to find solutions to this serious dilemma. Others in the forefront include the Mississippi Nurses Association (MNA), the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce (ONW), and the Mississippi Council of Deans and Directors of Schools of Nursing.
The consortium of healthcare groups has released a white paper, The Shortage of Nursing Program Faculty in Mississippi, in which they state that the failure to address the trends identified in the study could lead to a critical lack of qualified nurses in the state's healthcare system. More importantly, they outline strategic ways of addressing the shortage.
Marcella McKay, PhD, RN, vice president for nursing and professional affairs for MHA, said that while nurses make up the largest single entity in the healthcare field, Mississippi currently has a RN vacancy rate of 7.9 percent with an anticipated increase in demand of 5 percent over the next two years.
"While the healthcare community would normally look to education to assist it in filling those vacancies by graduating more qualified nursing students, the shortage of nursing faculty makes that traditional strategy virtually impossible," she said. "A leading nursing journal calls nursing faculty an endangered species that is one generation away from extinction. While Mississippi's schools of nursing have an 8.7 percent faculty vacancy rate in 2006, that rate is anticipated to rise to 35.5 percent by 2009."
The dean of the Mississippi College School of Nursing, Mary Jean Padgett, PhD, believes this serious problem, without much care and effort, will become even greater in the next 10 years as a large percentage of the current nursing faculty reach retirement.
"Data from various sources indicate that the majority of our current nursing faculty is in the 45 to 60 age range," she said. "Data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing identifies that the average age for all faculty who are prepared at the master's degree level is 49 years. If younger faculty members are not cultivated and recruited, we will have a much more serious nursing faculty shortage within the next 10 to 15 years as our current cadre of faculty will retire."
Padgett, McKay and others agree that the higher compensation nurses can receive in the clinical setting is one of the main issues facing the recruitment of nursing faculty.
"Although there are advantages to being nursing faculty, including academic holidays and for many being on a nine- or 10-month schedule, these benefits do not pay the bills, so nurses are looking at clinical positions because of the higher pay," Padgett said. "A second issue is that the number of master's degree nursing programs that include the nurse educator role have decreased in favor of those providing the nurse practitioner role. A third issue that may not be identified, but I believe contributes, is the number of single parents who are in nursing education who must have an adequate salary to provide for their families."
Improving the compensation of nursing faculty has been implemented, according to Ricki Garrett, executive director of the MNA. The Mississippi Legislature voted a $6,000 per year pay raise for nursing faculty and made a commitment to do the same in 2007.
"This is a good start but many nursing faculty can double their teaching salaries if they leave education and go into nursing practice," she said. "Creative strategies will need to be employed to recruit nurses to the education field while retaining current faculty."
The nursing shortage white paper was commissioned to seek those solutions. In partnership with two national foundations, a five-year, $10 million initiative is beginning across the country to explore solutions to the problem.
Wanda Jones, MS, RN, executive director of ONW, announced the receipt of a grant of $250,000 to fund the Mississippi Critical Nursing Faculty Shortage Initiative. The MHA Health, Research and Educational Foundation, in partnership with ONW and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security (MDES) has been selected as one of 10 foundations nationwide to participate in Partners Investing in Nursing's Future (PIN), a new national initiative to develop and test solutions to American's nursing shortage. It is led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Northwest Health Foundation to encourage local foundations to act as catalysts in developing grassroots strategies to establish a stable, adequate nursing workforce. Additionally, MDES will contribute $125,000 to the cause.
"Organizations selected for the program are exploring an array of initiatives that meet their communities' specific needs, including recruiting and retaining nursing faculty, developing new roles for nurses in the care setting, and empowering nurses to better assume leadership roles," Jones said. "The goal of the grant project is to develop a multidimensional approach to increase and retain nursing faculty that more accurately reflects the ethnicity and gender of our population."
Les Range, deputy director of MDES, said employment projections show Mississippi will need approximately 1,700 new nurses each year until 2012. "Although nursing is the highest growth occupation in the state and provides vital healthcare services, nurses also earn salaries that contribute to local economies," he said. "The average salary is $28,000 per year for licensed practical nurses and $48,000 per year for registered nurses."
Mississippi College's Padgett said she feels the state is still in the early phases of identifying and handling the problem. "Mississippi is in the forefront on this issue. We have a statewide task force that has been studying the issue and identifying ways to rectify this problem," she said. "Several organizations have joined together to work on this issue and I believe Mississippi will be a significant contributor to helping identify ways to recruit more nurses to go into education."
Recruitment strategies include fostering flexible nurse education careers; implementing innovative educational models; securing public policy and funding support; increasing nursing program collaboration; and monitoring progress through the use of targets and measures.