About this course:
This course explores the challenges of transitioning from the role of a clinical nurse to the role of an academic educator. In addition, this course explores the role, expectations, and responsibilities of an academic nurse educator.
New Nurse Educator Survival Guide
This course explores the challenges of transitioning from the role of a clinical nurse to the role of an academic educator. In addition, this course explores the role, expectations, and responsibilities of an academic nurse educator.
Upon completion of this module, learners should be able to:
- review the challenges of transitioning from a clinical nurse to an academic nurse educator
- discuss the educational and experience requirements for an academic nurse educator
- describe the responsibilities and key attributes of an academic nurse educator
- explore expectations of scholarship, teaching, and service for academic nurse educators
- define the rank, tenure, and academic freedom experienced by academic nurse educators
Nurse educators are in high demand, and many nurses in clinical settings desire to move into the role and share their knowledge with the next generation of nurses. However, nursing schools and universities across the country struggle to hire and retain nurse educators with the desired academic and experiential qualifications to deliver high-quality nursing education. The nursing shortage is among the most significant challenges facing the healthcare system. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing shortages were prevalent due to nurses retiring and the increased demand for healthcare. During the pandemic, the need for nurses surged, placing additional stress on the nursing workforce (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2020b; Lee et al., 2017). The Institute of Medicine (2011) called for an increase in baccalaureate- and graduate-prepared nurses; this call to action created a sense of urgency to recruit and retain even more nurse faculty across all levels of academic nursing education.
According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), there are currently 4.3 million registered nurses (RNs) working in the US across various healthcare settings. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that between 2020 and 2030, there will be approximately 203,200 yearly openings for RNs. They also project that RN employment will rise by 6% during this period, making it one of the top occupations in job growth. Unfortunately, nursing faculty shortages have compounded the nursing shortage, with US nursing schools turning away 80,407 qualified applications from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2019. In a survey of 892 nursing schools across the US, 1,637 faculty vacancies were identified (7.2%). This faculty shortage is due to budget constraints, faculty salaries, workload, aging faculty, and the preference for doctorally prepared nurses in higher education. The pandemic further increased nurse faculty shortages, as many were deployed back to the bedside (AACN, 2020a, 2020b; ANA, n.d.).
Academic institutions are under intense pressure to address the nursing faculty shortage. When institutions cannot hire or retain academically qualified faculty, their reputation, enrollment, and accreditation are affected. To be considered a high-quality nursing education program, various accrediting bodies (e.g., Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education [CCNE]) require sufficient faculty to accomplish the mission, goals, and program outcomes. Efforts to meet these needs can be challenging and costly, with many institutions focusing on recruiting clinical experts into these faculty roles. While these clinical experts may have sound knowledge and skills, they often have little or no formal education in teaching and learning principles. Without the proper mentoring and guidance, these faculty can struggle with their role transition, leading to job dissatisfaction, role strain, and increased turnover. In a national survey of nursing faculty, Yedidia and colleagues (2014) found that 38% had high levels of burnout, and 32% of faculty across all age groups intended to leave their faculty role within 5 years. Compounding this issue is the lack of diversity among nursing faculty. Nursing faculty from minority groups with advanced degree account for only 13% of full-time nurse faculty positions. Since minority groups represent one-third or more of the US population, this disparity in nursing faculty can lead to further healthcare inequities. The IOM and the National League for Nursing (NLN) have identified mentoring new nurse faculty as an avenue for meeting the needs of individual faculty members (Lee et al., 2017; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM], 2021; NLN, 2022).
Just as there is a transition period when a nurse leaves school to enter a clinical setting, nurse educators experience a similar transitional period. Given the inexperience of new nurse faculty regarding teaching and learning principles, many experience role strain. In response to this issue, various graduate nursing programs have been developed over the past decade that focus on the role of nurse educator (e.g., Masters in Nursing Education [MNE]), preparing nurses for the role of an academic instructor. Despite this effort, some nurses still move directly from clinical roles with a master's degree or a doctorate in another specialty area (e.g., nurse practitioner [NP], clinical nurse leader [CNL], or doctor of nursing practice [DNP]) with little or no preparation for the educator role. Nurses considering transitioning to academic education should explore relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for success. Nurse educators must have excellent nursing knowledge and skills and are expected to understand adult learners' needs and develop a curriculum that best meets those needs. Without formal instruction as a nurse educator, nurses often do not understand the culture of academia, including the typical language, rules, belief systems, and rituals. This transition could be eased with formal learning geared toward an academic role, guidance on navigating an academic culture, and being part of a structured mentoring program (Arian et al., 2018; Fritz, 2018).
In a study by Hoeksel and colleagues (2018), the following competencies were identified as essential for nurse educators to foster the growth and development of quality graduates:
- effective communication and leadership skills
- ability to facilitate learning in others
- ability to contribute to creativity and innovation
- ability to contribute to the advancement of education knowledge (scholarship)
- appreciation for resilience in others and themselves
- ability to improve positive patient outcomes and quality of care through change management (Hoeksel et al., 2018)
Similarly, the World Health Organization (WHO, 2016) introduced the 8 Nurse Educator Core Competencies that can be used by nursing programs to ensure high-quality nurse educators who can lead skilled and knowledgeable nurses to care for the needs of communities. These competencies consist of the following (Arian et al., 2018; WHO, 2016):
- Nurse educators should properly understand contemporary educational theories, the principles and models of curriculum design, and the importance of adult learning.
- Nurse educators must systematically demonstrate their skills and abilities to design, implement, monitor, and manage curricula based on contemporary educational models.
- Nurse educators should maintain their knowledge and skills in theory and practice based on the best evidence.
- Nurse educators should develop research skills and use these abilities to identify and solve educational and clinical problems.
- Nurse educators should demonstrate effective communication and promote teamwork and interdisciplinary collaboration in health care and the education system.
- Nurse educators should demonstrate professionalism in practice.
- Nurse educators should
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Nurses can practice in different clinical or educational roles within hospitals, clinics, or the community. An academic setting also offers multiple opportunities for nurses transitioning from the bedside or patient-facing roles. Academic opportunities exist in various settings, such as private, state, for-profit, and not-for-profit colleges with nursing or healthcare programs. Hospitals and clinical settings often have rigorous schedules, and nurses work 12-hour shifts or more as the need arises. Nurses at the bedside often feel emotionally and physically drained from these demands and regard the educator role as one with more flexibility and fewer emotional and physical demands. There are advantages and disadvantages to teaching in an academic setting, and transitioning to this role presents challenges and rewards (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
Most nursing programs have didactic nurse educators who lead lectures or facilitate learning in a classroom setting, as well as more clinically driven nurse educators who may work in skills or simulation labs or manage groups of students at clinical sites, caring for patients at the bedside. The didactic role is typically thought of when hearing the titles nurse faculty or nurse educator. The didactic role may be tenured within the academic institution and part of the team that makes academic decisions about curriculum or testing strategies that promote student learning. Other titles include professor, lead faculty, or nursing faculty (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
The NLN is an organization dedicated to supporting the role of nursing in the US. They offer many tools for nurse educators in classrooms. Most schools provide membership into the NLN as part of a faculty role to facilitate participation in their annual Educator Summit to support professional development for educators. Nursing Education Perspectives is the NLN's research journal that accompanies the membership. In the early 2000s, the NLN sought to define the academic nurse educator's role and developed the certification for nurse educators. The Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam was first administered in 2007. It was established to identify nursing education as a specialty area of practice and a means for faculty to demonstrate expertise in the role. By 2015, they saw the need to define the clinical nurse educator role, creating a second certification specific to this educator role. The Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE-cl) was created for academic clinical nurse educators to demonstrate their expertise and hold the certification recognizing their achievement. A clinical nurse educator may be given official titles such as clinical faculty, adjunct faculty, preceptor, or clinical instructor (NLN, 2022). Both didactic and clinical roles have competencies and a subsequent certification exam that the NLN offers; these are seen as the gold standard in nursing education (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
While a few states allow nurse educators to work in academic programs with a baccalaureate degree, the minimum entry-level requirement for an educator is typically the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. In 2008, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NSCBN) recognized the variances among the state nursing boards in the US and gave the following recommendations:
- Nursing faculty in registered nursing (RN) programs (full-time and part-time) shall have either a master's degree or a doctoral degree in nursing. Their education should include graduate preparation in the science of nursing, including clinical practice and graduate preparation in teaching and learning, including curriculum development and implementation. Other supportive faculty with graduate degrees in related fields may participate in a nursing faculty team to enrich and augment nursing education.
- Nursing faculty in practical nursing (PN) programs (full-time and part-time) shall have either a master's or doctoral degree in nursing. Their education should include graduate preparation in the science of nursing, including clinical practice and graduate preparation in teaching and learning, including curriculum development and implementation. Other faculty, BSN prepared, may participate in a nursing faculty team to enrich and augment nursing education.
- Clinical preceptors shall be educated at or above the level for which the student is preparing.
- When boards of nursing evaluate the preparation of nursing faculty members, it is essential to consider the three roles of faculty: collaborator, director of learning, and role modeling.
- When boards of nursing evaluate the preparation of nursing faculty members, they should assess the processes of faculty orientation. All part-time faculty members, adjunct faculty members, preceptors, novice faculty members, and others should be oriented to the nursing program's curriculum and engaged in formal mentorships and faculty development.
- Boards of nursing are encouraged to collaborate with educators to foster innovation in nursing education (NCSBN, 2008, p. 2)
The educational requirements and expectations for nurse educators are considered during the accreditation process by programmatic accreditors such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or the NLN's program accreditation program, the Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). While this recommendation is in place by NCSBN, state regulations may override these minimum standards based on the population and need for nursing programs (NCSBN, 2008). For example, the Florida Board of Nursing (FBN) mandates an annual report of how each program abides by its standards within the Florida Statutes Title XXXII, Chapter 464, regarding faculty and other program requirements. In the Florida statute, at least 50% of an RN program's faculty must hold a master's or higher degree in nursing, and at least 50% or more of a PN program's faculty must have a bachelor's degree in nursing or higher, which is lower than the NCSBN recommendation. Therefore, nursing program administrators must understand each state's educational program requirements and regulatory expectations for their faculty. These data are collected via the annual report and must be maintained for compliance (The Florida Senate, 2022).
While years of experience are not clearly defined in most states, each nursing program should be aware of the regulations and comply by hiring faculty with the proper experience. Each state requires nurses teaching in an academic program to maintain their current curriculum vitae (CV) or resume and faculty qualification form (FQF) in an annual report, along with student progress data, to ensure these minimum qualifications are maintained (NCSBN, 2008).
Although there is some variation across states, most nursing schools prefer their faculty to have at least a master's degree. As nursing education advances, doctorate degrees are becoming preferred in academic settings. Over the past decade, there have been conflicting recommendations regarding whether a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the preferred degree for nurse educators. However, the PhD is more traditionally recognized in educational institutions. PhD curricula prepare nurse scientists and scholars to generate new nursing knowledge through research. The PhD facilitates original, theoretically based research that is shared through publications and presentations. It requires extensive work that culminates with an oral and written defense or dissertation of the individual's original and theory-based research. A PhD is considered the gold standard of nursing education due to its rigor and scholarly application; however, it takes years to achieve this degree (Yancey, 2020).
The DNP has a more clinical focus and is designed for advanced practice nurses who wish to improve healthcare delivery through systems change and practice without a specific research focus. Rather than a dissertation or oral defense, a DNP candidate typically completes a doctoral scholarly project focusing on high-level change within the healthcare system. During this project, research or evidence-based practice will be applied at the individual or systems level, with improved patient outcomes and care delivery as the overarching emphases. Most nurses attaining a DNP will also have a BSN and MSN with an education or clinical focus (e.g., NP, CNL). Didactic credit is similar for the PhD and the DNP, but the practicum portion is a much longer and more extensive research project in most PhD programs. Furthermore, there are different tracks within many DNP programs. For instance, an NP with a master's degree may complete their DNP focusing on the clinical role. Other DNP programs may offer an executive leadership or healthcare administration track focusing more on administrative and executive roles for an advanced practice nurse. The next generations of nurses will be enriched by employing both PhD- and DNP-prepared nurse faculty, as both offer unique expertise. More specifically, utilizing teaching teams comprised of both PhD and DNP faculty can be a great way to share skill sets and foster mentoring and teamwork (Yancey, 2020).
Responsibilities and Attributes
In a study by Hoeksel and colleagues (2019), the educator role was considered to evaluate and strengthen Washington State University's MSN Educator track curriculum. The study focused on defining the needs of new nurse educators to make the successful transition from clinical nurse experts to novice educators. This study was completed with 14 new nurse educators split into four focus groups, sharing stories about their experiences as new educators. The themes that emerged from this study were the differences in academic culture as compared to clinical culture, "aha" moments related to education, and the importance of safety when managing students. The challenges of serving as a nurse educator were further defined within these three themes. The new faculty discussed classroom management, teamwork, change management, communication strategies, and conflict as particularly challenging concerns. Developing ways to interact with the students that facilitate learning is an important skill for a nurse educator to attain. Often, the textbook ways of managing patients can differ from the lived experiences of clinical nurses. Developing methods of teaching nursing from a "perfect world" perspective is difficult at best. While clinical health care can be far from perfect and full of conflict, switching to an academic setting does not remove those issues. Some of the same conflicts occur within academic settings, even among educators. Effective teams can be difficult to build as nursing practice evolves and nurses within education resist the changes (Hoeksel et al., 2019). Fitzwater and colleagues (2021) have suggested using simulation to facilitate the transition to a nurse educator role.
One area that new nurse educators find especially challenging is legal and ethical issues related to students. Academic policies and federal standards, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), must be understood and applied effectively to avoid violating students' rights (US Department of Education [DOE], 2021). Furthermore, students may have disabilities with associated management plans, known as Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs). An IEP defines any accommodations needed for a particular student's success, and compliance and confidentiality from faculty are crucial. IEPs are developed by a student's healthcare and educational team to ensure the student's disabilities are appropriately managed through specialized instruction or curriculum delivery. A nurse educator must apply each student's IEP in concert with their college's or university's disabilities office. Modifications may include extra time on exams, a quiet environment for exams, assistive devices for hearing or vision use, or modified due dates for assignments (DOE, 2020).
Comfort with technology can enhance a nurse educator's transition. Most schools of nursing use technology for exam administration, skills and clinical charting, online curriculum testing products, high-fidelity simulation mannequins, or other educational tools. Each educator should also know their facility's student resources to support learning and positive learning outcomes. For nurses who have difficulty with technology, the transition to teaching may be even more stressful. Academic communication usually occurs via e-mail, and mastering Microsoft Office products can be vital (Hoeksel et al., 2019).
Finally, new nurse educators should be prepared to acclimate to the culture and language of academia, practice team building, and employ change-management strategies across classrooms and labs. In addition, successful nurse educators fully understand how course learning outcomes, curricular outcomes, and program outcomes must be congruent. Finding a mentor can be an excellent way to acclimate effectively to an academic setting (Hoeksel et al., 2019). Information on mentoring programs can be found on the NLN website (NLN, 2022). To create a nurse educator mentor program, the NLN recommends the following:
- select mentors who are interested in mentoring
- provide mentors with training and support
- match mentors and mentees based on interests and career goals
- provide resources to each mentor and mentee on establishing a meaningful relationship
- establish a mentor program advisor who can perform check-ins and evaluate the effectiveness of the program
- give mentors protected time to work with the mentees
- collect feedback on the mentoring program (NLN, 2022)
Among clinical nurse educators, safety is typically the most significant concern. Clinical nurse educators are responsible for their student's safety and the safety of all the patients they are assigned during the clinical rotation. Nursing staff may help support student learning in tandem with a clinical nurse educator, but the student's actions are ultimately the faculty's responsibility. Pre- and post-conference activities at the start and end of each clinical day can offer opportunities to explore safety concerns and further each student's knowledge of patient care. The Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) competencies can help the new nurse educator become familiar and comfortable with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to quality and safety that should be adopted by successful undergraduate nursing students (Bowman, 2018).
Nurse educators must be adaptable to the diverse generations of students they may encounter in class or clinical settings. Although a nurse educator is evaluative, connecting with nursing students can foster effective learning environments. Collier (2018) analyzed the literature on perceived characteristics that make a clinical nursing instructor effective and identified three dominant themes: competency, the ability to establish interpersonal relationships, and certain personality traits. The approachability of a clinical instructor was the most valued personality trait, and the ability to develop interpersonal relationships was the most valued skill. Other essential characteristics of successful nurse educators include the need to be lifelong learners, pursuing knowledge and change.
Learning from experienced nurse faculty can also be helpful for new nurse educators. Therefore, having a mentor or role model for shadowing opportunities is an effective strategy for transition. One of the most complex parts of nursing education is ensuring that students connect the dots by relating book information directly to actual patient care on a clinical unit. Every nurse educator should be highly knowledgeable, well-educated, and a strong communicator. Expert nurse educators have identified high-quality communication as the key to success in nursing education, along with refined organizational skills (Bowman, 2018).
Scholarship and Service
What is "scholarship," and why is it essential for a new nurse educator? Most academic institutions have three areas of expectation for their tenured and non-tenured faculty. These areas are teaching, service, and scholarship. According to the specific academic appointment for which a faculty is hired, a certain percentage of their time is expected to be devoted to each area for annual performance success. A new nurse educator is likely focused on the teaching aspect of the position, and their first year is immersed in transition, honing teaching skills in the classroom and at the bedside. New educators should focus on reading current literature on best practices for educators, collaborating with mentors or fellow faculty, and performing self-evaluations, peer evaluations, and student evaluations to determine areas of success or opportunities for improvement. New nurse educators will hear terms like pedagogy or teaching philosophy and realize they must develop their style based on a theoretical foundation. Once new nurse educators have established their teaching style and become acclimated to the institution, they should begin working on career goals. Educators should develop 3- to 5-year career goals with professional scholarship and advancement opportunities. When negotiating an assignment workload, nurse educators should consider reserving 1 or 2 days for scholarship activities (Hunt, 2017; Oermann, 2020).
Furthermore, an educator's teaching should be based on the institution's mission, vision, and philosophy for delivering education. Scholarship is related to self-learning, new research, and scholarly presentations and publications. The academic institution drives the scholarly work a nurse educator is involved with; however, conference presentations, research publications, and research participation are expected as part of the nurse educator's role within most schools. Service may be internal within the workplace or external in the community, such as serving on committees and boards or mentoring. This service is done in a volunteer capacity, and there is no compensation (Hunt, 2017). Service, scholarship, and teaching demands may vary depending on an educator's title, such as instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. Additionally, the educational background of the faculty may drive their focus. For instance, a PhD-prepared nurse educator may be more focused on research, while a DNP-prepared nurse educator may be more clinically focused. Instead of developing new research, a DNP-prepared nurse educator may perform clinical practice, author a manuscript, or collaborate on research projects within the organization. Scholarship and opportunities for presentation and publication are sources of job satisfaction for many nurse educators, and institutions should provide opportunities for collaboration and recognition (Arian et al., 2018).
Rank and Tenure
There are multiple titles and ranks within academia relative to nurse educators. According to an educational institution's student numbers, policies, and finances, clinical faculty may be hired as an adjunct, part-time, or full-time. According to program schedules, full-time faculty may be hired on annual contracts ranging from 9 to 12 months. The individual status or "rank" of hire is based on education and experience. A full-time faculty rank may be instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor, and many full-time roles are tenured or have opportunities to be tenured. The contract upon hire will define teaching, service, and scholarship expectations to achieve tenure (Hunt, 2017). Tenure is defined as "a status granted after a trial period that gives protection to a teacher from summary (immediate, without cause) dismissal" (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Tenure provides some academic freedom to faculty, yet nursing faculty must be cautious and take care to avoid imparting their beliefs to students or abusing their power as educators. Nurse educators should focus on evidence-based practice and ethical, legal, and moral delivery of curriculum (Hunt, 2017; Lee et al., 2017).
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