For more than a decade, the nursing shortage has been a major source of concern for the global health care community. Yet, last year in the US, more than 32,000 people who applied to bachelor’s and master’s degree nursing programs were denied. Not because they weren’t qualified, but because there are not enough faculty members at the nation’s colleges and universities to teach them.
When the nursing shortage was first widely recognized, many nursing schools revved up their recruitment efforts in order to ensure enough potential nurses were qualified to fill the anticipated gaps. However, this increase in enrollment has been met with a shortage of qualified faculty.
According to Karen Carlson, Professor and Acting Dean of the UNM College of Nursing, a Master’s Degree in Nursing is required to teach at both the community college and bachelor’s degree levels. In order to teach in the majority of master’s and all doctoral programs in the country, a doctorate in nursing is required.
The problem is there are not enough nurses with these advanced degrees to meet the demand for faculty. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there are several reasons for the shortage of faculty—aging faculty pool, wave of faculty retirements, higher compensation in clinical and private-sector settings, and not enough potential nurse educators graduating from nation’s nursing colleges.
It was this last reason—not enough graduates—that prompted the UNM College of Nursing to focus on providing advanced education opportunities for nurses in New Mexico.
“Research studies indicate that about half of the nation’s nurses who graduate from doctoral programs are employed by academic institutions,” says Carlson. These nurses represent a large portion of the nation’s nurse educators. But, until recently, New Mexico didn’t even offer a doctorate in nursing. The state’s nurses had to travel to universities in other states (the shortest distance was 450 miles away) to earn a PhD.
The doctoral program in nursing was created at UNM in 2003. Today, says Carlson, there are 25 students currently enrolled in the program. These future nurse educators, who will be qualified to teach in master’s and doctoral programs, will help address the shortage of PhD level faculty at the state’s four-year universities and colleges.
But, with 13 of the state’s community colleges in need of nursing faculty, alleviating the shortage at these schools is also critical to solving the overall problem. To do this, the state needs to have more master’s-level nurses who are interested in teaching at community colleges around the state.
In an effort to make this easier for the state’s nurses, the UNM College of Nursing began offering a master’s degree with a concentration in education. Like many of the College of Nursing’s programs, the education concentration is available to students across the state via the Internet.
“Because of the large number of nursing programs located in rural parts of our state, attending courses in Albuquerque is prohibitive due to distance, time, and expense,” says Jean Giddens, Associate Professor, College of Nursing. By providing these advanced educational opportunities in their home communities, there is a greater chance these nurses will remain there—where nurses and nursing faculty are so urgently needed.
Currently, there are 194 students from around the state in the master’s program and more than a third of those have chosen the education concentration.
The crucial role nurses play in maintaining the health of New Mexicans is unmistakable. With the federal government projecting New Mexico’s nursing shortage will reach 57% by 2020, there is reason for concern. But, with the UNM College of Nursing’s efforts to provide innovative and accessible educational opportunities—there is hope.