Health Care Reform Legislation to Counter Nursing Faculty Shortage


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MADISON - With a critical shortage of nursing-school faculty looming nationwide, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) has incorporated into health reform legislation a provision that significantly expands graduate degree loan repayment for nurses who join the faculty of nursing schools.


Currently, nurses can receive loan repayment when they serve as faculty, but the funds flow through only the school, and only when the school participates in the program. The provision allowing for expanded loan repayment originated in a bill co-sponsored by Congresswoman Baldwin, the Nurse's Higher Education and Loan Repayment Act of 2009 (HR1460), and would authorize the direct repayment of education loans on an individual basis in exchange for an individual working as a full-time member of the faculty of any accredited school of nursing. The program would give students up to $35,000.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a need for more than a million new and replacement nurses by 2016. This looming nursing workforce shortage occurs at the same time the country's nursing schools face a severe faculty shortage. Without an adequate number of nursing educators, it will be nearly impossible to meet the country's future needs for nurses.


"Nurses are essential partners in our health care delivery system," says Congresswoman Baldwin. "Our efforts to ensure health care for all must take into account that current workforce shortages will increase dramatically. We cannot educate and retain skilled nurses without first ensuring sufficient numbers of qualified nursing instructors," Baldwin says.


Understandably, UW-Madison School of Nursing Dean Katharyn May is worried. Sixty-eight percent of the faculty at the UW-Madison School of Nursing will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. This is the highest percentage of any college on the UW-Madison campus.


"If we can't produce a large enough number of new nursing faculty, we won't be increasing our undergraduate enrollment, we'll be scaling it back," May says. "Solving the nurse faculty challenge is essential to solving the workforce shortage, and the only way out of the nursing shortage is through nursing education. We need to lower the average age of nursing faculty and nurses entering graduate school. A loan repayment program such as what Rep. Baldwin has introduced will increase incentives for nurses to go back to school earlier in their careers, and that's what we need."


Statistics about the aging nursing faculty population nationwide are daunting:

  • Faculty age continues to climb, narrowing the number of productive years nurse educators can teach.
    According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses (AACN), for master's degree-prepared nurse faculty, the average age for professors, associate professors and assistant professors were 58.9, 55.2 and 50.1 respectively. For doctorally prepared nurse faculty the average age is slightly higher.
  • A wave of faculty retirements is expected across the US over the next decade. The average age of nurse faculty at retirement is 62.5 years, and a large number of retirements is expected within the next 10 years.
  • Higher compensation in clinical and private-sector settings is luring current and potential nurse educators away from teaching. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the average salary of a nurse practitioner, across settings and specialties, is $81,060. By contrast, AACN reported in March 2009 that master's-prepared faculty earned an annual average salary of $69,489.
    Master's and doctoral programs in nursing are not producing a large enough pool of potential nurse educators to meet the demand.
  • According to AACN, enrollment in 2008-2009 research-focused doctoral nursing programs were up by only 0.1% or three students from the 2007-2008 academic year. In 2008, nearly 6,000 qualified applicants were turned away from master's programs, and more than a thousand were turned away from doctoral programs. The main reason cited was shortage of faculty.

Date Published: 10/26/2009

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