Last summer, I was approached on campus by an African-American nursing student who said to me: “I have been waiting to meet you. I didn’t know your name or what you looked like. But I was looking for someone [on the faculty] who looks like me. And if I didn’t find you, the university administration would have to answer to why.”
This incident dramatically illustrates the frustration many minority students feel concerning the shortage of minority faculty in the nation’s schools of nursing. While minority student enrollment in college and university nursing programs continues to increase, this growth has not been matched by minority faculty hiring.
Students and teachers alike recognize the importance of providing role models for both minority and majority students in an academic environment of diverse cultures and ethnicities. In particular, the lack of professional role models for students of color within an increasingly diverse U.S. population threatens to result in educational deficits for our minority youth—deficits that could damage America’s future prosperity and our ability to compete in the educational arena with other industrial countries around the world.
Several factors have been identified as contributors to the minority teacher shortage. One of the most troubling and significant of these is a general decline of interest in the teaching profession, partly as a result of non-competitive faculty salaries and slower rates of academic promotion. Furthermore, because the median age of full-time nursing faculty in 1998-99 was 50 years, early retirement programs are taking their toll on the faculty supply.1, 2
Clearly, greater efforts to recruit and retain minority nursing faculty are urgently needed.3 However, a solution to the crippling shortage of minority faculty is unlikely to be achieved without some major adjustments in thinking and methodology on the parts of both nursing school faculty search committees and nurses of color who hope to pursue teaching careers.
The Four Cs
Based on my own experience as a black faculty member teaching at a predominantly white institution, I believe the keys to success in recruiting and retaining minority nursing faculty can be summed up by “the four Cs”—commitment, concern, collaboration and creativity.
Nursing schools must demonstrate commitment and concern about tackling the shortage of minority faculty by providing leadership and sufficient revenues to launch a successful recruitment campaign. Current minority faculty can also provide this commitment from a personal standpoint. A few years ago, when I was the only black faculty member at my institution, I resolved that instead of just complaining about the situation or being passive, I would actively commit myself to improving minority faculty recruitment efforts: I volunteered to chair the university’s faculty search subcommittee.
The third C, collaboration, means there must be active involvement, networking and joint efforts between all concerned parties—not just the search committee but also faculty members, administrators and student representation.
Creativity is perhaps the most overlooked factor in the entire process. Successfully recruiting minority nursing faculty requires both a clearly defined, targeted plan for search efforts and the use of innovative strategies to locate and advertise for minority candidates. This means using not just the traditional sources, such as the Chronicle of Higher Education and AACN journals, but specifically targeting places where minority faculty are likely to be looking for positions—such as local minority media, minority professional organizations and minority colleges.
Creativity also plays a key role in the retention of minority faculty once they are hired. Minority faculty should be offered more opportunities to serve as chairs of committees instead of just committee members. They should also be incorporated into decision-making processes affecting all facets of college life. This can be achieved through a thorough orientation process that promotes collegiality, support and commitment.
Finally, schools of nursing must provide mentoring and growth opportunities for minority faculty members. This can be done by empowering them to assume leadership roles within the institution, by providing opportunities for research and publications through research support programs within the nursing department, by providing clinical or field placements at ethnically diverse institutions and by encouraging seminars that foster cultural sensitivity.3
Bringing the Right Tools to the Table
The other crucial lesson I learned from becoming personally involved in the minority faculty search process was that many of the candidates who apply for faculty positions —and especially the minority candidates—are simply not prepared for careers in academia. This is largely because many would-be nurse educators possess substantial experience as clinical nurse specialists or clinical educators but lack the specific criteria that nursing schools typically use to determine qualified faculty.
Nurses of color who hope to successfully make the transition from the clinical setting to academia must be acutely aware of how faculty search committees will be evaluating their background—and must be fully prepared to meet these criteria. Here is what you will need to bring to the table:
• Education in the area in which you want to teach. Search committees look for education in the form of a terminal degree (PhD, EdD, DNSc, MSN, etc.). The more closely your degree is related to nursing and the specialty area required for the position, the more highly you will be evaluated. If you want to be a professor of nursing, do your doctorate in nursing. If you want to teach a certain nursing specialty, make sure your master’s degree is in that specialty.
• Teaching experience. Don’t expect to land a job as a university professor unless you have some type of experience teaching college-level students. I often recommend starting out as an adjunct, or even teaching in a diploma or associate degree nursing program, to get your feet wet in this crucial area.
• Solid clinical experience. Faculty search committees look for extensive, full-time clinical experience—rather than part-time or short-term experience—that is concentrated in the candidate’s nursing specialty.
• Published scholarship and research. Many minority faculty candidates are especially lacking in this type of experience. Look for opportunities to build a track record by writing and publishing articles in peer-reviewed nursing journals, presenting poster or podium sessions in peer-reviewed forums and conducting independent research.
• Professional and community involvement. This component is critically important. It is not enough to simply belong to your state nursing association or a professional group such as the National Black Nurses Association. Faculty search committees evaluate candidates on the number of professional organizations they belong to, as well as the leadership positions they have held in those organizations. Similarly, active involvement in community service is seen as another key indicator that the candidate is a well-rounded, committed individual.
1. American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1989.
2. American Council on Education, 1997.
3. Washington, L. Joyce (1999). “Expanding Opportunities in Graduate Education for Minority Nurses,” Journal of the National Black Nurses Association, 10(1), 68-80.