Nursing Schools Face Shortage Too

By Kevin Tankersley

Jarred Wolfe

Lack of educators could create more strain on system

The good news is that more students are applying to get into nursing school than ever before. The bad news? There soon might not be enough teachers to educates those new students.

“In the state of Texas, of active faculty teaching in 2015, one-third of those will reach retirement age in 2025, so we’re losing one-third of our teaching workforce,” said Shelley Blackwood, the director of the associate degree nursing program at McLennan Community College. “So I have to look at the problem from an education perspective, and how to promote teaching as a pathway for growth for our nurses, rather than simply becoming a leader in a hospital, which is fantastic. They have an impossible job, and they do it with such grace. Being a leader, being a nurse practitioner, all of those are fantastic professional growth paths, but so is becoming nursing faculty.”

Some nursing schools are already facing a shortage of faculty members. In a report last year, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing said that while enrollment is up across all levels of nursing education – undergraduate, master’s and doctoral — more than 80,000 student applicants were not accepted “primarily to a shortage of clinical sites, faculty, and resource constraints.”

And nearly 13,000 potential students were denied entry to graduate programs, “which limits the pool of potential nurse faculty,” the report said.

“There are more students than there are instructors,” said Jarred Wolfe, who recently left a position as assistant professor of nursing at Temple College to take a position as a nurse recruiter with the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System. “There are 30 (percent) to 40 percent more applicants than there are spots for students.”

Wolfe and Blackwood both acknowledge that there’s a significant pay gap between working in the industry and teaching.

“A nurse practitioner may start out making six figures, around $100,000,” Blackwood said. “Our leadership (at MCC) is quite generous, but there’s still a significant difference between the starting pay for nursing faculty and the starting pay for a nurse practitioner. Even with the same master’s degree, you have a $50,000 difference in the starting pay.”

Prior to teaching at Temple College, Wolfe, who graduated from Midway High School and has a doctorate from the University of Texas at Arlington, was a nursing manager at the Central Texas Veterans Healthcare System and at Baylor Scott & White prior to that.

“To go from a management position to an instructor position, I took over a $40,000 pay cut,” he said. “That is not doable for most people.”

He moved into education just as COVID was hitting, which “was a blessing in disguise.”

“I was able to work from home with my family. I was able to not have to worry about going in 40 to 60 hours a week and be on call 24/7,” he said. “I know the stress that would have come with COVID would have been a lot, according to a lot of my manager friends, who I’m still very much in contact with. So for me, the benefits outweighed the pay cut.”

And it’s those educational benefits that Blackwood said nursing school administrators must sell to potential faculty members.

“That’s the kind of PR we need out there for our nursing faculty,” she said. “I just had three weeks off at Christmas. And unless you teach a minimester class, you have the summer off. We have some flexibility. And that’s nice to have family time or to write a book or do research or work on a nursing unit.”

Dr Shelly BlackwoodBlackwood, who earned her doctorate from Liberty University, said many nursing faculty members at MCC are “also nurses and nurse practitioners who still keep up those licenses and supplement their income” by working weekend shifts at local hospitals. Then come class time on Monday, they can tell their students what they experience during those weekend shifts, which keeps their teaching current.

“That’s what I tell my faculty, you’ve got street cred when you can tell those stories,” Blackwood said. “So when you’ve actually coded somebody in the ER that weekend, you can talk to students about it.”

The nursing faculty shortage is potentially critical because by 2030, “Texas will face a shortage of all nurse types,” according to a report from the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies. The state will be short of registered nurses by 20 percent; nurse practitioners by 25 percent; certified registered nurse anesthetists by nearly 18 percent; and certified nurse-midwives by 80 percent.

“There are a number of factors that can impact supply, such as ability to draw nurses to the workforce and train them in adequate numbers, and improvements or declines in the economic climate that may drive retirement patterns,” the report concluded.

Blackwood said that MCC is doing its part in addressing that future need.

“We have initiatives in place to increase our recruitment and our retention of students,” she said. “We want to admit as many as possible, qualified students, and provide an excellent education for them. We do have initiatives in place as a nursing program, but also as a college as a whole, to support our students, and we’re changing a little bit of the old way of thinking, from nursing school is trial by fire in a weed-out process, to early identification of students who have needs and need extra support, so that our students progress and complete our program. We want them to complete on time, so they can go out into the workforce.”

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