Nursing program adapts to changing industry

By Jessi Savino

Despite an increasing demand for nurses, a shortage of nursing professors across the country forced some schools to cut back on student capacity last year, according to recent studies. At Northeastern, a new program looks to help combat the shortage.

Next September, the university plans to offer a new doctorate program in nursing. Michelle Beauchesne, coordinator of the graduate nursing specialty Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program said the program will be helpful in alleviating the shortage of both nurses and nursing faculty, and will help “make nursing more marketable, more respected as a field and create wider opportunities for career growth.”

“[The program] will not only help address the nursing education shortage, but will also help with the image of the entire nursing field,” Beauchesne said.. “[It] will help promote the image of nurses as being highly skilled, educated professionals [and] produce highly skilled nurses who can then also conduct research and fulfill faculty roles.”

A study from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) blames budget constraints, an aging faculty and increasing job competition at clinical sites what it calls an “emerging crisis.”

The study reports that if there are not enough future nursing instructors in the pipeline, there won’t be enough future nurses. Only 13 percent of registered nurses in Massachusetts have master’s degrees, which are required to teach, while 583 qualified applicants to four-year nursing schools in Massachusetts last year were turned down because there was no faculty to teach them, according to the AACN.

Beauchesne said there are several factors leading to the decline in new, younger nurses entering the field.

“A lot has to do with the complexity of care, the hours and the responsibilities of the role,” Beauchesne said. “The nursing profession just is not as attractive to young people coming out of universities wanting exciting professions.”

Margaret Christensen, associate professor in the school of nursing, said money plays a crucial role in the shortage.

“Fewer nurses are going into nursing education because they can make more money in service and practice,” Christensen said.

As a professor, Christensen says she’s feeling the strain of the shortage.

“We have a hard time hiring new faculty because so many schools are also hiring,” she said. “As a result, we work harder … [we] teach more classes, larger classes.”

Increasing the pay of nursing faculty and offering incentives such as a housing allowance would be two ways to help with the shortage, she said.

“Money is a big factor, but not the determining factor,” Beauchesne said. “It has more to do with the increasing workload – those with high skill levels are simply burning out.”

She said the strain of the shortage is felt in all areas of the nursing field and becomes especially hard when one looks at those who are part of both the clinical and teaching aspects of nursing.

“Most of the nursing faculty [at Northeastern] are advanced practice nurses as well,” she said. “They serve as role models to students, and being in the clinical arena has been a really great way to recruit people into the advanced practice program, [but] it’s difficult to fit field work into a traditional academic environment.”

Another issue teachers face is that they have to practice in order to keep their certification, Beauchesne said.

“That’s a challenge – how do we have the time and energy to keep up our clinical skills and also keep our responsibility to the students?” she said.

Aside from the new doctorate program, attending Northeastern already gives nursing students an edge, Beauchesne said.

She said the co-op program provides students real-life nursing experience and allows them to explore and discover the wide variety of roles in nursing. The accelerated undergraduate program allows students to move toward their career at a faster rate. The program, known as Direct Entry, combines the undergraduate and graduate programs so that as soon as a student has passed the registered nurse exam he or she can work towards a master’s degree.

However, Beauchesne said the university is at a crossroads.

“Northeastern is striving to increase scholarship and research responsibility, and keep its commitment to excellence in teaching, and so it’s trying to recruit new faculty, but the market is extremely competitive because all schools are having this shortage,” she said.

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