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AP: "Faculty Shortage Plagues Nursing Schools"

August 25, 2004 -- On this date a good AP story by Linda Johnson, "Faculty Shortage Plagues Nursing Schools," was widely carried in newspapers nationwide, and a number of papers had their reporters add local information to the story before running it. The critical faculty shortage rarely receives such in-depth attention, and we salute Ms. Johnson, the AP, and the papers that ran the story for their work.

As published in Newsday, the basic theme of the piece was that nursing schools are having trouble attracting and keeping professors mainly because of the much better paying jobs elsewhere, and because of the graying of the nursing faculty workforce. Unlike many articles, this one actually provides specific figures as to the shortage, including what comparative pay rates look like. It notes that two tenured faculty at a New Jersey nursing school recently resigned in order to take jobs paying over $80,000--which is about $30,000 more than their former school could pay them. The piece quotes the department chair: "They can't pay their mortgages on what we're paying." Likewise, a California nursing school division chair notes that while she can pay faculty salaries in the mid-$50,000 range, a new graduate from a two-year undergraduate nursing program can start at about that same rate at local hospitals. The piece also notes that though applications for undergraduate nursing slots have risen in the last few years, graduate enrollment has actually been declining, leading to even more limits on those available to teach the undergraduates. The piece explains that "only" 88 schools offer nursing doctorates--though the very existence of such degrees is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media--and that this spring only 419 students received nursing Ph.D's, down 10% from the prior year. On the whole, the piece offers an unusually comprehensive view of this important issue.

The piece might have explored why the faculty shortage might be a particular problem for nursing education. Professors do make significant financial sacrifices to teach in some other professional fields, and experts might have been asked why nursing is in such particularly dire straits--is it that the nursing faculty salaries are just too low in absolute terms (the "can't pay the mortgage" problem)? Is the clinical shortage so severe that it's distorting the whole profession? Is there something specific to nursing, or the way its educational systems are structured, that discourages potential academics?

Some newspapers used the AP story as a basis to explore how the faculty shortage is affecting their region in particular, providing significant additional reporting. A San Diego Union-Tribune story also published on August 25 and credited to Dean Calbreath (and the AP) described how the shortage is affecting the San Diego area, using data and quotes from local nursing school leaders and those across California. One local nursing professor noted that most graduate students she teaches are already making more money than she is, and the piece pointed out that in competitive regions like L.A. and the Bay Area, nurses may be offered starting salaries as high as $90,000 or $95,000 per year. The article explained that this professor is sticking with teaching because she feels she can ultimately reach more patients that way.

Likewise, the Hartford Courant ran a piece on August 26, modified from the AP story, that drew on local data and quotes to bring the story home to readers. It focused on the nursing programs at Yale and the University of Hartford, which has a masters program specifically designed to train nursing faculty. Yale's interim Dean Katherine Jones reportedly cited the short potential career span of nursing professors as a factor in the faculty crisis, noting that most nurses today don't begin their doctoral studies until their 40's or 50's, after many years at the bedside. The piece might have explored ideas to produce nursing scholars at a younger age while ensuring that they still have sufficient clinical experience.


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