It doesn’t take a PhD to figure out why the nation’s nursing schools urgently need to develop more faculty members in general and more minority faculty in particular—you just have to do some simple math.
First of all, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN)’s most recent survey of instructional and administrative faculty in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs, the average age of full-time doctorally prepared faculty in 1999-2000 was 50 years. This breaks down into an average age of 49.5 for assistant professors, 52.8 for associate professors and 55.7 for full professors. As today’s baby boomer nurse educators continue to retire at a rapid rate, not enough new faculty are coming in to replace them.
Secondly, despite the ever-growing racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population, the vast majority of nursing school faculty is still overwhelmingly white. The AACN survey reports that 91.2% of all full-time nurse educators are Caucasian, while only 5.4% are African American, 1.3% are Hispanic, 1.4% are Asian, 0.4% are Native American and 0.2% are Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Furthermore, of the 8.8% of nursing faculty members who are minorities, just 9.3% are full professors and only 32.4% are tenured.
Clearly, there is a tremendous need for more nursing faculty of color, especially at institutions that are actively trying to attract a more culturally diverse student population. As a result, positions in the field of teaching and academia are becoming an even more attractive career alternative for minority nurses than ever before. Because colleges and universities across the country are fighting over the precious few minority faculty who are out there, these educators can generally have their pick of universities, areas of the country in which to live and fields of study.
A career in education can be both an extremely challenging and highly rewarding experience. How can you tell if becoming a faculty member is right for you? Here’s what some minority nurses who have chosen this career path have to say.
The first thing to keep in mind about academic careers is that faculty duties involve more than just teaching. Nearly all colleges and universities also require their educators to conduct research and perform service to their school, the nursing profession and the community.
To be successful in academia, nurse educators need to do more than just the basics, believes Cynthia Flynn Capers, RN, PhD, dean of the University of Akron College of Nursing in Akron, Ohio. “You must have a real love and commitment to teaching and learning," she says.
"Nursing schools expect you to join nursing organizations and attend meetings that will give you a voice in the profession,” continues Capers, who is African American. “And while serving as an officer or committee chair for these organizations is not required, most nursing schools consider it an added plus.”
Nursing faculty are also expected to assist their college or university by joining campus committees, participating on task forces and advising and recruiting students.
Pao-Feng Tsai, RN, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, serves on the department’s research committee. "I can choose from a variety of committees," she says. "I need to participate at both the college and university levels. In addition, I must attend professional conferences and be a manuscript reviewer. If possible, I also hope to become an officer in a professional association."
While Tsai spends both time and energy on the service aspect of her faculty position, it occupies far less of her attention than the other two components—teaching and research. "I probably spend a total of one to two weeks a year on service," she comments.
But for faculty members at some other educational institutions, service is a bigger part of the picture. "Every week, I do some service activity," explains Betty Chang, FNP, DNSc, FAAN, professor at the UCLA School of Nursing in Los Angeles. "In our faculty, everyone has at least two committee assignments at the university, but I'm a senior faculty member, so I'm on even more committees."
In addition to committee work at the university, Chang is active on an American Academy of Nursing committee, where she reviews manuscripts. "If you are part of an organization, you cannot help but be involved," she says.
Even though teaching and research take most of her time, Chang feels her service activities are extremely important as well. Her advice to nurses considering an academic career is: Be prepared to work hard. "I work at my office and at home, seven days a week and many evenings," she explains. "In the summers when I am not teaching, I am conducting research and publishing the findings."
On top of all this, faculty members are also expected to do community service, says Capers. “Typical community service includes giving health education seminars, serving on boards and using your expertise to benefit the health of the community.”
Although their career clearly involves a lot of hard work, most nurse educators are passionate about the important impact their work has on the nursing profession. “Teaching is more demanding than I first thought it would be,” states Duck-Hee Kang, RN, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “but it is also more exciting. I get excited when my students get excited. I help them learn to set high goals and always aim for quality work.”
For those students who hope to follow in her footsteps and become educators themselves, “I tell them that being a faculty member is a commitment to the nursing profession,” Kang asserts. “They start learning how to teach by observing teaching styles and volunteering to work with a faculty member. This helps them learn that teaching is more than just what goes on in the classroom—it also includes all the preparation that happens first.
"I just knew teaching was for me," she adds. “It’s a way to make a contribution to the coming generations by using my experience and helping students learn.”
At Coppin State College School of Nursing in Baltimore, one of the nation’s Historically Black Colleges, Dr. Earlene Merrill, assistant dean of nursing, recently participated in a training session focused on the challenges of teaching students in the 21st century. "We talked about creating an exciting classroom setting to keep students motivated and involved," she says.
More so than in previous generations, today’s student nurses want to be self-directed and to make their own decisions, Merrill believes. This creates a challenge for faculty members, who must develop a teaching pedagogy that helps students become both self-directed and successful.
"Teaching is much more difficult than it looks," she points out. "It entails more work than many suspect when they begin.”
Merrill also emphasizes that nurse educators have to know how to maneuver through the academic setting to obtain the resources they need, such as teaching supplies, secretarial help or manageable class sizes. “Sometimes administrators do not understand what educators need,” she says. “I tell my students that in teaching, patience is rule number one and persistence is rule number two.”
In recent years, the health care industry’s severe shortage of hospital nursing staff has also begun to negatively impact the development of future nursing faculty. In some cases, schools of nursing have been forced to put more emphasis on their clinical nursing programs, while academic tracks that prepare students for teaching careers were neglected or even cancelled altogether
Miguel da Cunha, PhD, a professor in the Department of Nursing to Target Populations at the University of Texas School of Nursing in Houston, saw this happen at his institution. "We had three different tracks at the master's level: administration, teaching and clinical," he explains. "There has been such a need for clinicians that we cancelled the teaching and administrative tracks for awhile. But now there is a reemergence of interest in education and we are reinstating them."
When students ask him about becoming a faculty member, da Cunha is encouraging but realistic. "There are not many perks or company cars," he tells them. "Our perks are what we get back from the students and our own personal satisfaction.”
Da Cunha compares academics’ triple duties of teaching, research and service to a lopsided three-legged stool: In terms of professional recognition, teaching is the short leg. “Research tends to get all the glory," he maintains.
He has reason to know both sides. Originally in research, he switched to the classroom in the 1970s. Since then, da Cunha has earned three John P. McGovern Outstanding Teaching Awards.
He personally defines outstanding teachers as people who love their profession, are committed to continuously learning and who share their knowledge and techniques in peer review journals. "Teaching and scholarship have to be complementary," he says.
Advising, too, is a necessary component of a successful academic career, da Cunha adds. "Advising is an important part of teaching—it is mentorship. Teaching is not limited to what you do in the classroom. Advising means guiding students through their education process. I keep in touch with my students throughout their program, advising them on strategies to improve their achievements. That’s part of the joys of teaching. Students keep me rejuvenated."
Mentoring and advising is particularly important for minority students, who can sometimes feel isolated or slip through the cracks in predominately white nursing schools. Minority professors can serve as empowering role models for students of color, letting them see that they too can become successful nurses, educators and researchers.
Leonie Pallikkathayil, RN, DNS, winner of the University of Kansas Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Professorship, is associate professor at the University of Kansas Medical Center School of Nursing in Kansas City and is extremely active in research. One of her most recent projects was a study funded by the National Institutes of Health on fatigue in healthy individuals.
Pallikkathayil advises master's-level students who plan to become nurse educators to “do a master’s thesis or a research project,” to prepare them for the research component of a faculty member’s duties. “It’s important to get first-hand experience in the research process,” she says. She also recommends that students work with faculty as research assistants to “get experience in being part of a team and to observe different aspects of research work.”
Being a successful researcher, and therefore a successful nurse educator, requires several key qualities, Pallikkathayil believes: “It takes energy, enthusiasm, imagination, creativity, patience and persistence. Plus, you have to be able to balance the demands of teaching, research, service and practice requirements and still have a life!"” She also stresses the ability to deal with disappointment, because of the amount of rejection that goes along with research. “You won't get funded each time you apply for a grant,” she explains.
Nursing professors are often quick to recognize a student’s inclination toward research. When Bertha Davis, RN, MS, PhD, FAAN, assistant dean for research at Hampton University's School of Nursing in Hampton, Va., encounters a student who is a critical thinker and shows curiosity about why and how things happen, she knows he or she would make a great researcher.
"When research-oriented students create care plans or research papers, they are really detailed about rationales and they question information,” says Davis, who is also a professor at the historically black university. “They look for alternative points of view in the clinical setting. When students possess those qualities, I want to see them continue their education."
Educators such as Davis are eager to develop more minority nurse research professors, because of the enormous need for culturally sensitive research on diseases and health risks that disproportionately affect people of color. “I believe all faculty members should review their notions about cultural appropriateness to help create culturally competent research practices,” Davis states.
However, she cautions, “Just because a faculty member is a minority does not mean that they are sensitive to all people in their culture. There are many subcultures, and we have to learn what research subjects’ specific environments are like."
Back when Maria Warda, RN, PhD, was a health care administrator, she discovered she had been preparing to move into a career in academia—without even knowing it. Her experiences in a variety of work environments and countries, and the joy she felt in helping new nurses develop themselves professionally, made her want to use this passion to teach nurses in a college or university setting.
"That's when I decided to return to school for a doctorate," says Warda, who is now assistant dean of diversity enhancement and academic services at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing. "I believe good faculty members must have a passion for lifelong learning, as well as a real commitment to enhancing the learning experiences of their students."
Teaching can be particularly rewarding for minority nurses, adds Warda. "Minority nursing faculty members have different perspectives [than majority faculty]," she says. "It's important for us to bring those perspectives to the classroom and share them with students."
A common objection to careers in academia is that faculty members earn lower salaries than nurses in clinical or administrative positions. But is this perception really true?
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reports that college and university nursing professors with doctorates earned an average of $68,779 for the 1999-2000 academic year. What’s more, that figure represents an increase of 3.8% from the previous year.
Even on lower rungs of the academic ladder, faculty earnings compare more favorably with clinical nursing salaries than you might think. Here is the AACN’s breakdown of salaries by rank for the academic year 1999-2000:
$68,779 (With Doctorate) $62,294 (Without Doctorate)
$56,585 (With Doctorate) $46,734 (Without Doctorate)
$48,738 (With Doctorate) $41,870 (Without Doctorate)
$44,359 (With Doctorate ) $39,487 (Without Doctorate)
The AACN study also found that administrative faculty generally earn more than instructional faculty.