Recruiting and Retaining Minority Nursing Faculty

Margaret Moss, RN, DSNMargaret Moss, RN, DSN

When Dr. Margaret Moss, RN, earned her doctorate in nursing science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, she became part of a very small and select group: minority nurses who hold terminal degrees.

Moss is one of only 14 American Indian nurses in the entire country who hold doctoral degrees and the numbers for other minority groups aren’t much better. These statistics mean that nursing programs looking to increase the diversity of their faculty face keen competition for professors like Moss. With such a small pool of qualified candidates to draw from, nursing schools that hope to recruit minority and male faculty–and even more importantly, to retain them–must be active, committed and, above all, sincere.

According to the minority nursing professors interviewed for this article, the number one rule faculty search committees should keep in mind is: Hire for ability, not color or gender. In fact, they caution, focusing your search activities on ethnicity or gender alone will drive away minority applicants instead of attracting them.

“Show an interest in the person’s knowledge rather than just the color of their skin,” advises Moss, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing in Minneapolis. She stresses the importance of being familiar with the candidate’s accomplishments, experience and expertise and being able to discuss them intelligently. If a candidate gets the impression that you only want him or her because of race or gender, don’t expect a “yes” to your offer.

“People can see right through that and they won’t accept it,” Moss says.

Kevin Mallinson, RN, PhD, AACRN, an assistant professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., agrees. “If a school wants to attract male faculty members, for me that would mean they wouldn’t make an issue out of the fact that I’m male,” he argues. “I don’t want a search committee saying, ‘we really want a man here.’”

Mallinson joined the faculty at Georgetown in August 2003. The fact that he was a man was not an issue in the recruiting process, he says. But that hasn’t always been the case. He recalls sitting in on a meeting at another nursing school where the program’s recruiting success was measured solely on the number of men and people of color who were hired as faculty members.

Instead of demonstrating that the institution values diversity, comments like that undervalue the contributions of the minority faculty recruited, Mallinson believes. “It made us feel as though we weren’t recruited because we were great researchers or because of our teaching background,” he says. “We were only recruited for our color or gender.”

The Comfort Factor

While you don’t want to make candidates feel that having X number of minority or male professors is of paramount importance to your program, you do want them to feel comfortable about joining your faculty. For many minority professors, that means not being one-of-a-kind.

“In all the nursing programs I had been in as a professor or a student, I had never encountered an American Indian faculty member,” Moss recalls. The fact that the University of Minnesota had two other Native nurses on the faculty drew her to the campus.

Even though she herself is Caucasian, Sandra Edwardson, RN, PhD, dean of the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, realizes the importance of helping new minority faculty members establish cultural connections so that they don’t feel like they’re alone in a crowd. “I know it’s a pretty lonely existence to be the only person of your race at a school,” she explains.

At her program, Edwardson encourages faculty search committees to be creative in linking minority candidates to the community off-campus. “Here in Minnesota, we have an uphill battle in trying to recruit faculty of color, particularly if they’re coming from warm southern climates,” she says. “In addition to linking them with individuals on campus, we try to make sure they have some social time during the recruiting process to spend with representatives of the local minority community of which they may become a part. That way, they understand what it’s like to live in this northern, homogeneous city. That’s a strategy that has worked fairly well for us.”

Edwardson also encourages other deans at the university to make plans that will help new minority faculty members connect easily with other people of their race, ethnicity or gender on campus, regardless of what academic department they’re affiliated with.

“Another strategy to deal with the potential isolation is to bring together minority students and faculty with other people of color here in the academic health center and even the university at large,” she notes. “They may not be in the same discipline, but they can still share their problems and successes. It’s a good way for mentoring to happen.”

Target Your Marketing Plan

Diane Oates, president of Academic Diversity Search, Inc., a Webster, N.Y.-based firm that specializes in connecting minority candidates with academic institutions, has one word of advice for majority nursing schools that hope to attract minority faculty members: talk. Talk to minority nursing associations often. Talk about your program, your current faculty and their accomplishments, and your plans for the future.

Sallie Tucker-Allen, RN, PhD, FAANSallie Tucker-Allen, RN, PhD, FAAN

“The most important thing that universities can do is make sure they are talking to the audiences they want to reach,” she advises. “You’ve got to work to get the word out to the right audience.”

That means advertising in journals and publications that are read by minority nursing faculty and graduate students, Oates says. It also means getting out of your office and seizing opportunities to meet potential candidates face-to-face at nursing conferences and meetings.

The search for qualified minority faculty members should go on even when you don’t have an open position, she adds. “You’ve got to be looking constantly. Talk to everybody you can about your program.”

Be honest if you’re not currently looking for faculty, but be open to planting seeds of interest that could pay off in the future. The young minority or male master’s candidate you meet at next weekend’s conference could be the country’s leading pediatric nursing researcher 10 years from now.

Fill your Rolodex with the names of potential candidates and keep in contact with those you meet. It may be just passing along an article of interest or sharing news about a grant opportunity. When the time comes for you to fill a position, tap into that network and let your contacts of all races know about an opening.

As a founder of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty, Sallie Tucker-Allen, RN, PhD, FAAN, has seen this networking approach work many times in that organization. “If positions are open, we spread the word [to our members],” she says. That’s advertising you can’t buy.

Improving Your Image

Nursing is a small world, and news–both good and bad–travels quickly. If your attempts to attract a more diverse faculty through networking and advertising aren’t working, perhaps your institution has a bad reputation for not being welcoming to minority faculty in the past. Recruiting minority and male faculty will be particularly difficult if the school has had an all-white or all-female teaching force for years, or if it’s perceived as being too large and impersonal.

Tucker-Allen, who is director of the Methodist School of Nursing in Peoria, Ill., and former assistant dean of Chicago State University’s nursing program, says minority professors will avoid any college or university perceived as operating with a “revolving door,” an unwritten but still enforced policy at some schools.

“They bring you in, but they make no effort to support you and have no intention of tenuring you,” she explains. “In six years, you’re gone and someone else comes on board. On the books, the program has always had a minority faculty member.”

Once a program has gained such a reputation, attracting minority faculty can be difficult, even if the school is now making an effort to correct the situation by shedding its old policies and embracing diversity. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

“There has to be a visible commitment starting at the top,” Tucker-Allen emphasizes. “It must start with a commitment from the dean and the president of the university because they control the funds and have to be willing to invest the money needed.”

Oates adds that this commitment to faculty diversity must not only run up the school’s chain of command but also run down it. Faculty members at all levels must buy into the diversity initiative and be willing to welcome, support, mentor and learn from new faculty members that happen to be of a different race or gender.

“People that report to the dean must understand how important diversity is,” she says. “They need to know why diversity is what’s best for the university and the students. You have to show them how it will make the program stronger.”

One way to do that, says Tucker-Allen, is to keep the diversity recruiting process open to everyone. Get both majority and minority faculty members and administrators actively involved in your efforts.

Once you’ve sold your diversity initiative inside your institution, go to great lengths to spread the word off-campus to the national nursing community. “Be prepared to tell minority nurses in academia what your program has to offer them and what sets you apart from their perspective,” Oates says.

If you’re not sure what that perspective is, ask. If necessary, bring in a consultant, preferably someone who is a member of the targeted minority group. According to Tucker-Allen, one mistake too many nursing schools make is bringing in outside consultants that do not represent minority populations.

“White faculty members and white consultants will not give you the solution,” she believes. “They are not going to say the same things that a black or Hispanic consultant would say.”

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Some minority nursing educators who have been on both sides of the academic hiring process think nursing schools might do better to abandon all the talk in favor of some high-profile action.

“If you’re serious [about attracting minority faculty], look at salaries, especially if you want to lure faculty members from other schools,” says Tucker-Allen. “Most black nursing faculty have traditionally taught at historically black colleges and they are probably tenured. They’re not going to leave that unless there’s a really good carrot at the end of your stick.”

Money may be the carrot of choice for many candidates, but it’s not the only one. Tucker-Allen suggests that nursing programs offer incentives such as the opportunity to do post-doctoral work and receive funding for research projects. “You have to look at the [candidate] pool and see what people really want,” she stresses. “Even though someone may have tenure in their current position, the person may be amenable to change if the right conditions are there.”

Established minority faculty members can also be lured away by nursing schools that have demonstrated a strong and sincere interest in minority health issues.

“In general, [minority] faculty researchers are interested in health disparity issues,” Moss explains. “Programs that target those issues are attractive.” One of the deciding factors in her decision to join the University of Minnesota, which has a Center for Nursing Research on Elders, was knowing that her own area of research interest–health care for American Indian elders–would be able to expand and be supported there.

Since such research projects are long-term and require financial support, a school’s encouragement of this type of faculty research conveys that the program is serious about eliminating health disparities and serving minority communities. It also helps assure newly hired minority faculty members that their expertise will be highly valued. Universities that fail to fully utilize the specialized knowledge and interests of minority faculty risk losing them.

But at more and more schools, the quest for a diverse nursing faculty that reflects the increased racial, cultural and gender diversity of the student population is creating unprecedented opportunities for minority educators interested in shaping the future of the next generation of nurses. As Mallinson says, “When it comes to being a faculty member and being a male, I could go anywhere. The world is open to me and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
 

Suggestions from the NLN

The National League for Nursing’s Task Group on Recruitment and Retention of Students has been charged with developing guidelines for recruiting and maintaining a diverse student population in nursing. While the Task Group is not yet ready to release formal guidelines, Chief Program Officer Theresa M. Valiga, RN, EdD, FAAN, notes that one key factor in attracting more minority and male students to nursing schools is the presence of a diverse faculty population. She offers these suggestions for recruiting and retaining minority nursing faculty:

1. Make sure there is a commitment on the part of the university to provide adequate support (time, money, staff) for the recruitment process.

2. Develop a recruitment communications package containing information about the university’s minority community, including statistics on the number of minority students and information about area housing, churches and schools.

3. Develop and include information on employment opportunities for spouses.

4. Share information and schedules for local minority cultural events and festivals that would be of interest to the targeted minority population(s).

5. Form an advisory board composed of members of the minority groups being recruited.

6. Establish an environment of open communication among administrators and other faculty. A forum in which minority faculty can interact with each other can also provide an avenue of acceptance.

7. Provide mentors, both internal and external, for recruited minority faculty members.

8. Help faculty and staff recognize and embrace cultural differences.
 

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