Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation has observed the work of nurses as they care for patients and families dealing with the devastating effects of COVID-19. The public views nurses as heroes and praises them for their selfless contributions. The visibility of nurses provides the public with a greater understanding of their role in caring for patients within hospitals and the promotion of health and safety across various communities.
Missing from the headlines are the efforts of nurse educators and education programs in response to COVID-19. The crisis impacts not only frontline workers but has disrupted the normal flow of academic institutions. In March 2020, academic program leaders had to make difficult decisions — to close in-person learning, pull students from clinical rotations, or explore clinical options to meet learning needs, all while prioritizing the safety of students, faculty, and clinical stakeholders.
1,2,3,4,5Nurse educators quickly moved their courses online to provide a seamless educational process for their students. Many educators had little experience with distance learning and were simultaneously seeking their own professional development and resources in online teaching. Because financial resources to support the purchase of costly software programs were limited, many educators turned to the National League for Nursing (NLN) for access to resources, education, and lessons, all free of charge. Educators across the nation succeeded in designing creative and innovative strategies to provide students with authentic clinical learning experiences using a variety of tools, such as virtual simulation, telehealth, and case-based experiences. Several educators pivoted to developing partnerships with health care agencies and community-based organizations to provide support and resources for COVID-19 testing and the administration of vaccinations, education, and wellness checks for members of vulnerable populations.
In addition to fulfilling teaching responsibilities, nurse educators continue to provide individual support for those students struggling with technology resources, housing concerns, learning challenges, and overall well-being. Nurse educators are among the ranks of unsung heroes as they continue to deliver quality educational learning activities while navigating unfamiliar and unprecedented challenges. The future of the nursing workforce and preparation for practice relies on the quality of nursing education programs. Nurse educators are instrumental in designing and delivering education while supporting students as they prepare to transition into their professional nursing roles.
As the pandemic persists, the nation is now witnessing the devastating effects of a nursing shortage on the overall delivery of health care. News media report nurses are overwhelmed, exhausted, and experiencing burnout, leading some to retire, seek new positions, or leave the profession altogether. As a result, hundreds of nursing positions remain open, leaving many agencies short staffed. Despite disparaging nursing workforce reports, the number of aspiring nurses persists, with applications to nursing schools at an all-time high.
The promising news of ongoing applicant interest and increases in nursing program enrollments continues to be offset by reports of more than 80,000 qualified nursing school applicants being denied admission. Enrollment capacity in nursing education programs is limited by a shortage of nursing faculty, clinical sites, and available resources.
The nursing shortage is complex and multifaceted, with human resource capacity at the core. More than one million registered nurses are expected to retire within the next 10 years, at the same time the nation’s population is aging. Health care needs will continue to grow and increase in complexity; populations are becoming more diverse; and emphasis on acute care is shifting to illness prevention and community care models, which, in turn, expands the need for home care, school nurses, and public health nurses. Preparing a sustainable, agile, resilient, and qualified diverse workforce of the future will require bold, transformative innovations and reimagining nursing education models. The NLN, as the leader in nursing education, is positioned to reenvision the future of education and lead transformative innovations based on evidence-based teaching strategies. The NLN has been instrumental in supporting preparation of advanced practice nurse educators, educational research, and the integration of technology and simulation to promote excellence in nursing education.
Preparing a sustainable, agile, resilient, and qualified diverse workforce of the future will require bold, transformative innovations and reimagining nursing education models. The NLN, as the leader in nursing education, is positioned to reenvision the future of education and lead transformative innovations based on evidence-based teaching strategies.
The magnitude of the nursing workforce crisis and its impact on the health of our nation and global society has the attention of health care leaders and policy advocates across the globe. Five reports have been published recently addressing the state of nursing, the future of nursing, preparation for practice, and faculty roles that have the potential to reform nursing education and workforce development. The world is aware of the value and contributions of nurses to the health of a global society. The preparation of qualified nursing workforce begins with nursing education. The mission of the NLN is the promotion of excellence in nursing education to build a strong and diverse nursing workforce to advance the health of our nation and the global community, operationalized through four core values: diversity, integrity, caring, and excellence. The NLN will continue to lead the advancement of nursing education, research, simulation, and preparation of advanced practice nurse educators.
Following are ongoing NLN initiatives that align with the five reports, named in the reference list below:
- Strengthen education curricula to promote health equity, reduce inequalities, and improve overall health and well-being across diverse populations.
- Recruit, support, and mentor faculty and students from diverse backgrounds to reflect community populations.
- Support seamless progression, diversity, and excellence across all levels of nursing education.
- Provide evidence-based resources and support integration of technology to optimize virtual learning environments, virtual simulation, and artificial intelligence.
- Recognize, support, and value the specialized knowledge of academically prepared nurse educators.
- Support educational research to advance nursing education and develop evidence-based teaching innovations and competency-based models.
Nurse educators, prepared with advanced practice knowledge and skills in teaching and curricular design, are called upon to partner with the NLN to engage in futuristic thinking to reimagine the future of nursing education and build a strong and diverse nursing workforce to advance the health of our nation and the global community.
International Council of Nurses. (2021). Nurses: A voice to lead. A vision for future healthcare. https://www.icn.ch/system/files/documents/2021-05/ICN%20Toolkit_2021_ENG_Final.pdf
National Academy of Medicine. (2021). The future of nursing 2020–2030: Charting a path to achieve health equity
National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice. (2020, December). Preparing nursing faculty, and addressing the shortage of nurse faculty and clinical preceptors
Tri-Council of Nursing. (2021). Transforming together: Implications and opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic for nursing education, practice, and regulation
World Health Organization. (2020, April 6). State of the world’s nursing report — 2020