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Shifting the Shortage –
School of Nursing remedies the nursing faculty shortage


November 2004

by Natalie Gutierrez

When Jennifer noticed her 80-year-old fatherís fatigue, anxiety and confusion worsening, she called on Laurie Dodge, R.N., M.S.N., gerontological nurse practitioner and clinical instructor of family nursing care at the Health Science Center for help.

"Other health care providers who examined my father said his behavior was typical of someone his age," Jennifer said. "But I didnít believe it and neither did Laurie."

Dodge ordered a series of tests that revealed Jenniferís father had hypothyroidism, hyperglycemia and patterns of nocturia that contributed to his fatigue and confusion.

"Laurie cared enough to take the time to find out what was really wrong with my father," Jennifer said. "She didnít just write off his symptoms as being typical of old age. She is an excellent example of what the nursing profession is all about – caring, compassionate and thorough."

Dodge specializes in adult and gerontological nursing care and is the coordinator of the Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Program at the Health Science Center. She maintains both clinical practice and teaching responsibilities. Unfortunately, the numbers of nursing faculty members like Dodge have declined tremendously.

  Graduate nursing student Kristin Sagebiel (left) examines 61-year-old patient Ramiro Garcia as Laurie Dodge, R.N., M.S.N., supervises.
Graduate nursing student Kristin Sagebiel (left) examines 61-year-old patient Ramiro Garcia at the University Physicians Group (UPG) clinic as Laurie Dodge, R.N., M.S.N., supervises.
"Not only are we facing a shortage of bedside nurses nationwide, but we donít have enough qualified nursing faculty members to teach incoming nursing students," said Robin Froman, Ph.D., dean of the School of Nursing. Dr. Froman said that last year in Texas alone, more than 6,000 students were denied entry into nursing schools because of the lack of nursing faculty to teach them. Nationwide, that number was nearly 16,000. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the nurse faculty vacancy rate in 2003 was 8.6 percent, which is an increase from the 7.4 percent vacancy rate reported in 2000. Most of the vacancies were faculty positions requiring a doctoral degree.

"In the United States we will need 1 million nurses in the workforce by 2010," Dr. Froman said. "It is a frightening fact that as the 78 million baby boomers retire, their health care needs will increase, but the number of nurses who will be available to care for them is steadily declining." Dr. Froman said there are two major factors contributing to the problem – retirement and salary. An article published in Nursing Outlook reported that the average age of doctorally prepared faculty is 53.3 years, which will lead to a wave of retirements within the next 10 years. Dr. Froman said the average salary of a masterís-prepared nurse practitioner working in a hospital emergency room is $80,697, while a masterís-prepared nurse professor earns $60,357, making nursing faculty salaries non-competitive.

School of Nursing faculty members at the Health Science Center are taking action to address the problem. In September Dr. Froman took part in The University of Texas System Deansí Summit in Austin. The summit was called by Kenneth Shine, M.D., the UT Systemís executive vice chancellor for health affairs. Deans from all the nursing schools in the UT System were invited to discuss proposed solutions, including increases in funding to all schools of nursing; increases in faculty salaries; incentive funding for graduate nursing study programs; loan repayment/incentive programs; accelerated and alternate entry programs; and centralized application and admissions processes for nursing schools in Texas.

Dr. Froman said the School of Nursing also has teamed with the Southern Regional Education Boardís Electronic Campus Initiatives to offer two online graduate-level nursing education courses to students in 16 states and the District of Columbia. "We are helping to prepare students not just in Texas, but all over the country to be future teachers of nursing," Dr. Froman said. The courses will be offered in spring 2005.

Finally, Dr. Froman said she will continue to recruit and support nursing faculty members like Dodge, because they are the schoolís most precious resource. "At only 34 years of age, Laurie is one of our youngest faculty members and an excellent role model to our students," Dr. Froman said. "Students see her energy and passion and are inspired."

Dodge said one of the most rewarding things about teaching nursing is watching students succeed.

"It gives me a great sense of pride to see students develop into compassionate, caring leaders who will be there for the sick and elderly in the future. Thatís why I do what I do."

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Updated 7/30/14