Technologic advancements, ethical dilemmas, and the pace of change at the heart of health care make it essential for all nurses to engage in lifelong learning. Undergraduate and graduate nursing students—and practicing nurses—should consider becoming academic nurse educators. Nurse educators practice as faculty at colleges, universities, hospital-based schools of nursing, and technical schools. They are required to have a master's or doctoral degree in a defined practice setting and demonstrable standards of excellence, according to the National League for Nursing (NLN), which promotes excellence in nursing and nursing education and represents more than 26,000 nurse educators.
Teaching is a rewarding career. Nurse educators have the privilege of making a difference in students' lives, who in turn make a difference in patients' lives. Nursing school faculty influences the design of curricula and connects with students in ways that can transform their future practice.
Working with students—in the classroom, in the skills-learning laboratory, and in the clinical environment—was what most influenced nurse educators to stay in a faculty role, according to the NLN's 2003 national study of nurse faculty role satisfaction. Faculty also cited enjoying working in an intellectually stimulating environment, having autonomy, contributing to the profession, and having flexibility in their work as factors that contributed to their job satifaction.
Now is the perfect time to consider becoming a nurse educator. Today's nursing shortage cannot be resolved until the shortage of nurse faculty is remedied. According to a 2006 NLN faculty census survey of RN and graduate programs, approximately 32,000 nurse faculty work in all types of nursing programs throughout the United States, yet that number isn't enough. Applications for enrollment in nursing programs have increased over the last 10 years, and many students (28% of applicants in 2005 to 2006, according to the 2008 report by the NLN, Nursing Data Review, Academic Year 2005–2006) are turned away because there are too few faculty, clinical facilities, and resources on college campuses. In addition, three-quarters of the current U.S. faculty population is expected to retire by 2019. And sadly, the diversity of nursing school faculty hasn't changed. According to Kaufman in Nursing Education Perspectives in 2007, almost 90% of faculty members in each type of nursing program are female and white. Clearly, the faculty workforce reflects neither the overall population nor the nursing student population.
Federal and state governments, as well as schools of nursing, have begun to develop scholarships and loan repayment programs to attract graduate nursing students to pursue careers as faculty members. Visit the NLN Web site's Careers page at www.nln.org/careers/nurseeducator.htm to learn more about the faculty role and to contact colleges and universities for program, loan, and scholarship information. To search for nursing programs that provide advanced training for aspiring nurse educators, go to www.allnursingschools.com/faqs/nurse-educator.php. Also, be sure to visit http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/ nursing for information about federal financial aid programs.
As a nurse educator, you'll create high-quality educational experiences that will prepare nurses for a diverse, ever-changing career in health care. Every day is rewarding when you're teaching students to be safe and competent nurses. And your influence on nursing practice will span the generations.