Where have all the nursing professors gone?

Portrait of Florence Nightingale.
Image via Wikipedia

“The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health,” is a weighty tome published/released by the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on October 5, 2010, and is written about by Pauline Chen, MD in her NYT article “Nurses’ Role in the Future of Health Care” (Nov 18, 2010). Dr. Chen’s article has been one of the most e-mailed NYT articles since it appeared last week, and at last count it had a total of 91 reader’s comments. It got people’s attention. I find it interesting that in her article, Dr. Chen links to the IOM report ($51 and you can read it), but doesn’t mention that the exact same report is available for free on the RWJ website (also has its own Facebook page). There is a 600 plus page version and a 4 page “Brief Summary” version, both free.

In the 600 page version, Chapter 4 is devoted to nursing education, and among other things, they address “the aging cadre of nursing researchers and educators.” We are dropping like mosquitoes around one of those electrified zapping machines. And there’s no one to replace us. The IOM/RWJ report states there are 5,000-5,500 unfilled nurse educator positions around the US. In my own school of nursing, within three years something close to 70% of our faculty will be 65 or older (disclosure: I’m not even close to being one of those…). Of course, that doesn’t mean they will retire, but that’s another story. That statistic is public information already, as is the fact that many other faculty in major schools of nursing across the country are ‘getting out’ of nursing education–burnt out, put out, or lured out by better opportunities in health care industry of one sort or another. Many of those are people I consider to be the best, brightest, most creative nursing educators we had. The IOM/RWJ report has many excellent recommendations about improving nursing education, but I wonder how they will get done with what’s left of our nursing professor workforce.

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