First Estimate of Nursing Faculty Shortage Portends Widespread Patient Crisis

Estimate, developed by the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence, is a call for national action


New York City, December 10, 2010 – Each nurse educator position left unfilled could affect the care of as many as 3.6 million patients per year according to the first estimate of the impact of the nation’s persistent shortage of nursing faculty. Nationwide there are nearly 900 faculty vacancies among schools with baccalaureate programs, with thousands more anticipated in the next 15 years as current educators retire or return to practice.

In an effort to shed light on the considerable “ripple effect” of the nurse faculty shortage – an underreported situation that greatly exacerbates the more visible nurse worker shortage – Darlene Curley, MS, RN, Executive Director of the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence and Christine Kovner, PhD, RN, FAAN, Professor at New York University College of Nursing developed the estimate based on a conservative approximation of the average number of students taught by one faculty member and the number of patients cared for by a typical registered nurse.

“The precise scope of the nursing faculty shortage is not calculable, but this cautious estimate demonstrates the real-world impact of this deficit and why it must be addressed decisively and swiftly,” said Curley. “The wide range of nursing practice areas and varying state workforce regulations make this kind of assessment difficult, which is one reason no one had yet taken on the task. But we must have a clear sense of the situation if we as a nation are to effectively resolve our nursing workforce issues.”

The shortage of nurse educators caused approximately 55,000 qualified student applicants nationwide to be denied admission to nursing programs in 2009. By limiting the education of future generations of nurses, the shortage in turn significantly affects the quality and cost of patient care. This situation will intensify as health reform is enacted and in the coming decades when an aging population will need care most.

To reach this first estimate, the Jonas Center, a leader in funding scholarships for nursing doctoral students, and Dr. Kovner drew on existing knowledge of the workforce and several widely accepted assumptions, including:

•A full-time nursing educator in a baccalaureate program may teach roughly 300 students per year, assuming three classes of 50 students each per semester, and two semesters per year;

•Over the course of a 25-year career, that educator will prepare 7,500 nurses;

•An average RN might care for ten different patients over a four-day workweek, 48 weeks per year;

•Over a 30-year career, that nurse will care for 14,400 patients

•Thus, the 7,500 nurses trained by one faculty member collectively touch the lives of 3.6 million patients over the course of a 30-year career.

Nearly 900 nurse faculty vacancies presently exist, according to a recent American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) survey of 556 of the nation’s nursing schools with baccalaureate and/or graduate programs. The schools also cited the need to create nearly 260 additional faculty positions to accommodate student demand.


Jonas Center Ahead of the Curve, But More Funders Needed

Against this backdrop, in 2008 the Jonas Center developed its Nurse Leaders Scholar Program to support the educational development of new nursing faculty and stimulate models for joint faculty appointments between schools of nursing and clinical affiliates. The program currently funds 50 doctoral nursing students at nearly two dozen of the nation’s leading academic institutions and is on track to fund 150 by 2012. The John A. Hartford Foundation and the National League for Nursing are key partners, supporting doctoral students in the areas of geriatrics and the science of nursing education, respectively.

Such initiatives are among the core recommendations of the recently published Future of Nursing report, developed by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to confront challenges facing the profession and spur action at national and regional levels. Only one percent of the nation’s three million nurses hold PhDs and the report calls for doubling the number of nurses with doctorates by 2020.

On December 9th, the Jonas Center and the RWJF convened local and national nursing, policy and health industry leaders to discuss the import of the Future of Nursing report for the New York City area and strategies for action. The event, which featured a keynote presentation by Donna Shalala, PhD, President, University of Miami and former Secretary of Health and Human Service, was the first of a series of regional meetings designed to advance the report recommendations. In this and earlier meetings related to the Future of Nursing, Dr. Shalala – who chaired the report committee – noted that developing nursing faculty is a top priority and key to improving healthcare in the United States.

“The Future of Nursing report has the potential to be among the most influential health policy reports and we’re pleased its recommendations confirm that the Jonas Center has been on the right path with our initiatives,” said Curley. “Our model can be expanded easily, exponentially increasing the number of doctoral-prepared faculty in short order. We look forward to other funders, businesses and legislators joining us in this endeavor.”