Parental support for first-generation college students

For incoming freshmen, attending college can feel like entering a maze. But for first-generation students, that maze can have added twists and turns, as they may not have a role model or rule book to follow when starting out as a first-year student.

In turn, while parents are proud of their college-bound daughter or son, they too are unfamiliar with the road they are about to travel. Yet, parents can still offer ample support for students just by showing up at family orientation events, asking questions from the program staff, and seeking out other parents to share information, guidance, and direction.

In the Rutgers College of Nursing Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program, parents are strongly encouraged to be a support base to their students. The EOF program has a Family Orientation Day where not only parents, but the entire family is invited to attend. Family Orientation Day provides an overview of what students are expected to do in the intensive six-week Summer Readiness Program. The College of Nursing has the only EOF program exclusively for nursing students in the state of New Jersey.

In 2011, parents were given a firsthand account from a parent whose daughter completed the summer program the previous year. She and her daughter spoke to the audience and answered questions. Additionally, the mother stayed through the entire day to privately speak to parents, many of whom indicated this was especially appreciated. Having a parent whose child went through the program offered them a sense of relief and comfort, making it easier to leave their daughter or son on campus.

At the end of the Summer Readiness Program, the students “graduate” to become members of the College of Nursing (Class of 2015). The students participate in a celebration entitled “Culture Kitchen,” where students and/or parents prepare a dish from their culture. It is truly a feast! Students represent many countries, and sampling the cultural cuisine is a cherished memory of the Summer Readiness Program. This past year’s program was especially gratifying because one parent insisted on being a part of the team in setting up the buffet table and working with the students and staff! It was important for her to become actively involved and not sit on the sidelines.

Perhaps the most moving part of the Culture Kitchen program is watching the students reflecting on their summer experience and seeing the proud faces of their parents. Students benefit from their parents’ support and involvement, and parents are encouraged to be a part of the students’ college experience. The EOF Program wants parents to feel welcomed; we understand the daunting process of wanting their child to be educated along with the difficulty of “letting go” so their daughter or son can progress into adulthood and become a distinguished nurse.

Navigating the Faculty Track

Navigating the Faculty Track

Harvey “Skip” Davis, RN, PhD, switched from full-time student to full-time nursing educator this year after completing his doctorate last summer. Then, he says, his education began in earnest.

“The transition has been daunting at times,” the San Francisco State University assistant professor admits. “The amount of actual work required between teaching, serving on committees and my research has been the biggest surprise. Teaching a class is actually the easiest thing I do.”

In addition, Davis is the only person of color on the nursing faculty and one of only two men.

That situation is all too common at many of the nation’s nursing schools, but it’s slowly beginning to change. Today, more and more academic institutions are aggressively seeking out racial, ethnic and gender minority nursing faculty, just as they’re trying equally hard to diversify their student populations.

For minority nurses who are just starting out as faculty members, getting on the right career path in academia requires navigational skills that Magellan would have envied. Should you choose a tenure- or non-tenure-track position? Would you be happier at a historically minority-serving institution? Will your college support your research efforts?

Completing a graduate degree is, of course, the first step toward getting on the faculty career track. After that, many different doors are open to you. Entering the right one is critical, not only for your professional advancement but also for your personal fulfillment. Just be sure to keep your expectations realistic.

Alone in a Crowd

Because nurses of color and male nurses are still extremely underrepresented in the ranks of nursing school faculty, many minority junior faculty starting out their careers at majority schools are likely to find themselves in a position similar to Davis’. While you would think that the enlightened, intellectual halls of academe would be free from prejudice and discrimination, the unfortunate reality is that this isn’t always the case. Davis knew this and he set out to find a university that would welcome him not only as a nurse educator but also as an African-American man. His first priority, however, was to become part of a high-quality educational institution, and SFSU’s reputation among area health care providers for graduating well-prepared nurses was the initial attraction. He looked at several schools, though, to make sure his gender wouldn’t hamper his career progress.

“Male faculty members need to ask questions to make sure you avoid [schools that aren’t welcoming to men],” he explains. “I’m pretty straight to the point. I ask if there’s a feminist philosophy. Do that and listen to the various responses you receive from members of a search committee. You’ll be able to figure out quickly if men are welcome.”

While it’s advice heard often, nursing education leaders recommend that minority faculty members who are victims of bias speak up and work within the institutional framework to address the issue. Begin with your supervisor or, if that’s not feasible, with the equal opportunity officer of the division or the college.

Minority professors looking for a completely prejudice-free campus, though, are unlikely to find it. “Sometimes you may feel that no matter how much you do, it’s never going to be enough to achieve the status of your non-minority colleagues. Just do the best you can do, give it 100% and then let it go,” advises Barbara Broome, RN, PhD, CNS, assistant dean and chair of community/mental health nursing at the University of South Alabama College of Nursing in Mobile. She is also president of the Association of Black Nursing Faculty.

The faculty lounge is not the only place on campus where minority professors may encounter insensitivity based on race or gender. Roxanne Struthers, RN, PhD, has the luxury of being one of three American Indian nursing faculty members at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. Still, she often faces an entirely Caucasian classroom.

“The student body is often very monocultural and that’s hard sometimes for faculty,” she says. “It’s important to know how to teach about [other cultures] and how to be proactive to help students understand. They’re not going to get it from their classmates.”

Struthers, an assistant professor in nursing and an adjunct professor in the university’s American Indian Studies department, encourages other minority faculty to take advantage of their captive audience and view it as an opportunity to educate majority students about minority cultures. One way to do that, she adds, is simply by making yourself available and listening to questions with a nonjudgmental attitude. “Encourage questions even though they may not be politically correct or may even seem uncomfortable or out of the ordinary.”

Struthers also refuses to let student attitudes influence her own. “One of the things I notice about students,” she says, “is that because I am a member of a minority group and they are not, they have a tendency to act as if I’m invisible. They go on and on talking about everything under the sun as though I’m not even there. It’s as though they think I’m not on their level. I just delve into class when that happens. I don’t say anything and I don’t let myself get frustrated.”

Historically Minority Schools: A Haven for Minority Faculty?

Teaching in a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) or a Tribal College or University (TCU) may seem like the perfect alternative for professors of color who want to avoid the potential for prejudice they might find at a majority school. But while choosing this option may increase your comfort level on campus, it doesn’t completely banish the specter of discrimination. Majority nurses are often unaware of the rich academic and social traditions of historically minority institutions and may incorrectly perceive those schools–and their faculty–as second-rate.

“There’s a misconception that because a school is historically black, there’s always an open admission policy or that students come here because they can’t make it in a majority institution,” says Alma Dixon, RN, EdD, MPH, dean of nursing at Bethune-Cookman College, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Florida. “That’s simply not true.”

Most students, she argues, are drawn to HBCUs because of their academic excellence, the nurturing environment and the strong traditions. In fact, many students choose to attend them because of the positive experiences their parents had as students at historically black colleges.

“Certain sororities and fraternities are well-recognized within the black community and are only present on black campuses,” Dixon emphasizes. “People come here to share in that experience and tradition. That’s why I want my son to go to a historically black college.”

Teaching at a traditionally minority nursing school offers many rewards, but also presents its own unique challenges. Because these institutions are typically smaller schools, one of the biggest challenges, says Dixon, is staying financially sound. While no one becomes a nursing professor to get rich, faculty members and administrators at financially strapped universities often must stretch to make sure the budget can cover the entire semester.

“At a historically black college, you’re always mindful of money, “ Dixon explains. “You are always aware of what things cost. My colleagues at several state institutions are facing this now for the first time. You have to carefully weigh which conferences you’re going to attend. Traveling needs to be very cost effective, so that may mean two faculty members sharing a room or driving instead of flying.”

An indirect benefit of tight budget constraints is a constant focus on student retention. Dixon says that’s common to all private institutions, not just historically minority schools.

“In private institutions, you are always aware of how tuition translates into revenue,” she adds. “There’s a greater focus on retaining students and that creates a challenge in and of itself: keeping students while still maintaining your commitment to academic excellence.”

Getting the Right Fit

Teaching at a university that’s not a good fit for your interests and your style can be far more uncomfortable than wearing shoes that are a size too small. Dixon believes the most important thing to do when shopping around for a teaching position is to first do a thorough self-analysis.

“You have to know what you’re looking for and what your interests are,” she says. “Then, if you’re comparing different faculty positions, you need to know what the mission of the school is and how that plays out. Research may be stressed at one college, service at another.”

Most schools value a combination of teaching, research and service, but not necessarily in that order. You need to look at how your working hours will be allotted to determine which of those three will be most important.

“At our school, teaching is more important than service and research,” Dixon continues. “Here, you’re expected to have so many teaching hours and so many office hours. If you have a research project that’s going to take up three days every week, it would never work at this school because of the teaching and nurturing demands.”

Antonia Villarruel, RN, PhD, FAAN, associate professor and director of the Center for Health Promotion at the University of Michigan School of Nursing in Ann Arbor, says it’s important to make sure you know all the details about the school’s faculty evaluation system before walking into the classroom.
“I am fortunate to be at a place where being a director is not just an added responsibility. It’s considered part of my workload,” she comments. “That’s an indication of the school’s commitment to my research.”

Indeed, one of the reasons why Villarruel, a past president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, accepted the position at the University of Michigan is because the school allows her to grow in her specialty areas, which are preventing HIV infection in Latino youth and health promotion. “If a university tells you they value research and then gives you a very heavy teaching load, it’s going to be tough for you if you want to do research,” she says.
Dixon also advises beginning faculty to watch out for red flags that may signal hidden problems at the school. One example would be a low passing rate on the NCLEX-RNâ exam.

“This is a hard thing for us to talk about,” she says, “but you need to find out what the student success rate is. If the school is struggling with constant program reports to the board of nursing, that’s going to be an intense cloud hanging over the institution. I would want to know about problems like that before I signed on. At least going in I would know where the focus is. I would expect a lot of my energy to be consumed in making sure students pass that exam.”

Tenure: The Brass Ring?

Davis has just completed his first year in a track that will eventually lead him to tenure, that magical milestone sought and treasured by most faculty members.
“It’s a big rite of passage,” says Villarruel. “Every faculty member has a ‘tenure story’ to tell. The destination is the same but the journey is different. Everyone has encountered different roadblocks and figured out different paths.” She encourages minority faculty to share their stories as a way of learning from each other.

Most tenure tracks are seven years long. To reach tenure, professors are usually required to show excellence in the areas of teaching, scholarship and service to the university.

Teaching excellence can be measured in several different ways, the most common being the dreaded student evaluations. Some schools also evaluate faculty on the basis of student performance on standardized tests and use peer evaluations.

Scholarship means a track record in research and it is usually measured in two ways. First, faculty members are encouraged to bring grant money for research projects into the university. Second, they’re expected to publish their research results.

“Some people say that the research project isn’t finished until the articles are published,” says Villarruel. “You can have a wonderful project but if the world doesn’t know about it, it’s a moot exercise.”

Service can be measured in many ways and can mean different things at different institutions. “At some schools, it can be service to a professional organization,” Villarruel explains. “At others, it has to be service at the university. So it’s very important to know how you will be evaluated.”

While tenure is still highly valued, it has lost some of its glitter in recent years. Today, tenured professors no longer have reason to relax and stop worrying about having to prove themselves.

“In the past, tenure did bring a certain sense of job security and a certain amount of prestige,” says Villarruel. “Now, universities do post-tenure reviews and evaluations. You still have to do research and publish and continuing performing at the expected level.”

If the pressures associated with becoming tenured seem too stressful for you, or if you’d rather skip the research and service aspects of faculty positions, Broome suggests you consider a non-tenure track.

“Be aware of all the different roles and options that are available to you in academia,” she counsels. “Going into a non-tenured track allows you to focus only on teaching and clinicals.”

Broome does, however, caution new instructors to realize what they are giving up by not pursuing a tenure track. Non-tenure teaching tracks offer very limited, if any, research or publishing opportunities. Teaching loads will be very heavy, reducing time available to participate in other aspects of university life. Non-tenured faculty may also be paid less and be the last to be considered for professional development opportunities.

Aiming Higher

While many nurse educators thrive on daily classroom interaction with students, for others the classroom is just the beginning. A career in academia can offer minority nursing faculty many opportunities to advance into administrative and leadership roles, including department chair, dean, curriculum developer and education policy-maker.

“I love teaching, but I wanted to do more,” says Broome. While she has only been an assistant dean for a little over a year, she’s very pleased to have moved up to a position that allows her to have some influence on the future of nursing education.

“It’s good to be involved in helping to make changes that will benefit students,” she continues. “I also have the opportunity to be supportive of faculty and I am in a position to be an advocate for them.”

Broome advises junior faculty hoping to climb the academic career ladder to do so in small steps. One the most important breaks in her career came when she relocated to the University of South Alabama to assume a chair position.

Both Broome and Dixon credit previous clinical managerial positions with helping them develop the leadership skills needed to succeed in academia’s higher levels.

“Having a leadership position in a hospital gave me a clear view of the practicing environment of nursing, and I’ve never lost sight of it,” Dixon explains. “You do need a strong clinical experience [even in an academic setting].”

She also advises nursing faculty members to leave the security of the nursing department and venture out into other areas of the campus. For example, she says, get involved with university-wide faculty senates, seek out committee assignments that match your interests, and network with non-nursing faculty.
However, just as administrative experience and leadership skills can help you rise to a new role, making a few critical mistakes will block your path. One of the biggest “don’ts,” says Broome, is burning your bridges behind you.

“Nursing is a very small world,” she cautions, “especially when that world is narrowed down to minority faculty members. There are still so few of us that you will practically get to meet most of them during your career. Never forget where you came from. It’s been said that you meet the same people on the way down that you passed on the way up, and I think that’s true.”

Getting Along

In the business world, the process of fitting in with your employer’s company philosophy, goals and style is known as “navigating the corporate culture.” Similarly, every academic institution has its own personality and it’s the wise faculty member that learns its rules early. Perhaps even more important is learning how you function inside those rules, which are often unwritten.

Playing politics, though, can derail your career and your enjoyment of training future nurses.

“Don’t get caught up in things that may not pertain to you or in things you cannot control,” says Villarruel. “As a faculty member, you have enough on your mind.”

Broome advises junior faculty members to find other instructors with whom they can build networks of support. Alliances, after all, aren’t just limited to reality TV shows.

“Faculty circles do have cliques,” she says. “There are certain people you will be able to work well with regardless of color and you should seek those people out and form alliances to further your work.”

Still, if you are a racial or gender minority faculty member teaching at a majority school, it’s empowering to be able to network with colleagues who look like you. But since this is not always possible, all of the educators interviewed for this article stress the importance of becoming involved in minority nursing associations.

Davis encourages young faculty members not to overlook the opportunity to learn from nurses who are different from you. He says he’s grown and benefited from the support of many female nurses. “The reality is that this is a woman-dominated field,” he adds. “You will find many willing mentors who are women and have different things to offer. Just listen and take what you think will work for you.”

Photo by Phil Roeder

Passing With Flying Colors

Fact #1: Registered nurses comprise the largest portion of the health care work force in the United States.1 Fact #2: Of the nearly 2.7 million licensed RNs in this country, only 13% come from racial or ethnic minority backgrounds.2 Fact #3: Twenty-five percent of the total U.S. population—i.e., one out of four Americans—is non-Caucasian.3 Fact #4: Within the next 25 years, the ethnic and racial minority population of the U.S. is projected to increase at a faster rate than the nation’s Caucasian population.1,4

These statistics dramatically illustrate America’s urgent need to develop a more diverse nursing work force that is able to provide culturally and linguistically competent care to our increasingly multicultural population. This means not only increasing the number of minority nurses but also ensuring that nurses of all races and ethnicities are thoroughly prepared to care for patients from widely diverse backgrounds and cultures.

One place to start is by making sure that our nursing schools’ curricula truly reflect the cultural differences of our country’s wide spectrum of racial and ethnic populations. Although curricula may contain accurate cultural terminology, they often lack the qualities that enable students to understand different cultures and their health care needs. When revising curricula to incorporate a multicultural perspective, it is crucial to include in-depth information on cultural factors,6, 7 such as:

• environmental control (e.g., the practice of folk medicine or use of traditional healers) 8
• biological (physical and genetic) differences among cultural groups, which can include not only body build, skin color and hair texture, but also healing responses, susceptibility to disease and nutritional variations8
• social organizations, such as families, that shape an individual’s cultural development, beliefs and responses to major life events
• space and time orientation (e.g., some cultures are future-oriented and concerned with long-range planning while others focus on the present).

In addition, communication is an integral part of nursing practice. To communicate effectively with patients from diverse cultures, nurses must have knowledge of different languages, verbal and nonverbal behaviors, use of silence and attitudes about eye contact. They must understand not only what is communicated but also how it is communicated.

Evening Up the Score

While much has been written about incorporating cultural competency into nursing school curricula, one area that has received little attention is faculty-generated classroom testing. Because test scores play a significant role in student evaluations, it is important to utilize test questions that are as culturally unbiased as possible.

Educators must keep in mind that nursing students come from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds and may lack the necessary experience to perform well on tests if these cultural differences are not taken into account. In fact, a faculty’s failure to recognize the potential for bias in classroom testing can adversely affect minority students’ ability to succeed in the nursing program.

This inability to do well on tests is not due to lack of intelligence, but instead may result from a lack of necessary learned behaviors, or from differences in thinking patterns between cultures.9 For example, the Native American student has learned by stories, legends and role modeling.9 This nonlinear way of learning allows for more than one right answer,9 as opposed to the multiple-choice testing format customarily used in nursing schools. As a result, Indian students may have difficulty not only in learning but also in expressing their knowledge and understanding test questions.

Fortunately, most students are capable of learning test-taking skills if they are given the opportunity. It is the faculty’s responsibility to provide this opportunity—for example, by making tutoring available, within or outside of the nursing department, to help students identify and strengthen areas that need further development, such as writing, studying and time management. Providing these options for minority students does not mean lowering standards; rather, it means that mechanisms should be in place to enable faculty to refer students for additional help if it is needed.

A Culturally Sensitive Approach to Testing

What can nursing schools do to ensure that faculty-generated tests are not inadvertently biased against minority students? One solution is to use culturally sensitive standardized test questions. While these may be hard to find, one helpful resource is the National League for Nursing (, which is striving to make standardized tests culturally sensitive by reviewing them for potential bias. Another recommendation is to have culturally diverse groups of students and faculty evaluate potential test questions.

Within the larger context of providing a culturally sensitive learning experience for all nursing students, it is important to use clinically focused scenarios and class exercises that relate to multicultural issues, and to select textbooks, journal articles and reference materials that reflect cultural diversity. The following texts are recommended for their culturally diverse content:

• Spector, R.E. (1996). Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness (4th edition). Stamford, Conn.: Appleton & Lange.
• Kelly, M.L. & Fitzsimons, V.M. (2000). Understanding Cultural Diversity: Culture, Curriculum, and Community in Nursing. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones & Bartlett.
• Bennett, C.I. (1999). Multicultural Education: Theory and Practice (4th edition). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Finally, inviting culturally diverse guest speakers to discuss culture-specific behaviors and customs can be excellent way to help both students and faculty broaden their understanding of cultural differences.


1. Moses, E.B. (1992, March). Nursing Facts: From the American Nurses Association.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Health Professions, Division of Nursing (2000, March). Preliminary Findings, National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses.

3. U.S. Census Bureau (2001, March). Census 2000 Brief: Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin.

4. U.S. Census Bureau (1995, August). Selected Social and Economic Characteristics for the 25 Largest American Indian Tribes: 1990.

5. U.S. Census Bureau (1997, October 31). Facts for Native American Month (November 1-30).

6. McCarthy, M. (1996). “Travelers From Many Lands: The Impact of Culture.” In Carson, V.B. & Arnold, E.N. (Eds.), Mental Health Nursing: The Nurse-Patient Journey (1st edition). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders.

7. Strasser, J., Maurer, F.A., & Kavanagh, K.H. (1995). “The Relevance of Culture and Values for Community Health Nursing” (ibid.)

8. Spector, R.E. (1996). Cultural Diversity in Health and Illness (4th edition). Stamford, CT: Appleton & Lang.

9. Crow, K. (1993). “Multiculturalism and Pluralistic Thought in Nursing Education: Native American Worldview and the Nursing Academic Worldviews.” Journal of Nursing Education.

Be Prepared

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.


The Faculty Fast Track

An urgent shortage of nursing faculty isn’t just something to worry about in the future. It’s here now.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 32,000 qualified students in 2004. Most of those schools cited a lack of faculty as the reason these students could not be admitted. Add in a wave of nursing faculty retirements that’s expected to sweep the nation over the next 10 years and the implications for the future of nursing become very serious indeed.


In light of these alarming statistics, a growing number of nursing graduate programs across the country are offering education-focused master’s degrees–ranging from Master’s in Nursing Education to MSN degrees with a nursing education certificate or option–designed to move nurses from clinical practice into teaching positions quickly. Of course, these types of programs are not exactly new. But what’s newsworthy about them these days is that many schools have recently begun to offer them for the first time as a direct response to the faculty shortage.

Traditionally, nurse educators have taken a long, sometimes daunting path to the faculty ranks. It involved hours in the classroom, both as a student and as a teaching or graduate assistant. A master’s degree was just the beginning: Potential educators were expected to eventually complete a PhD or EdD, terminal degrees conferred after more time in the classroom, extensive research and public service.

Most nursing programs today still require or prefer doctorally prepared faculty, especially for teaching at the baccalaureate level and above. But with the current hemorrhaging of the nursing faculty supply, there’s no denying that a fast-track approach to producing more nurse educators is becoming more and more of a necessity.

From Nurse to Teacher

Heather Griffin, an African American nurse who was born in Jamaica, is one of those students who will soon be making the transition from clinical nurse to nursing educator. She will graduate in May from William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., with an MSN degree with a concentration in nursing education. And she’s already fielding offers to become a faculty member.

Griffin returned to school for her master’s after working as a nurse for 15 years. One reason was purely physical. She says she felt it wouldn’t be too many more years before the eight-to-12-hour shifts she regularly worked would take their toll on her back and legs. But her biggest motivation had more to do with her heart and head.

“I always liked teaching and working with nursing students,” she explains, “and this opportunity presented itself. I remember how scared I was when I was a new nurse. I want to support new nurses.”

Choosing a master’s program with a focus on nursing education allowed Griffin to concentrate on her new passion–teaching. While she hasn’t ruled out getting a PhD, it isn’t in her immediate plans.

“The next step in my educational advancement was to pursue a master’s degree,” she emphasizes. “It took me a long time to decide to return to school. Part of the focus in a PhD program is research and, at the time that I decided [to go to graduate school], that did not appeal to me.”

Diversifying the Faculty

As the nursing profession gears up to aggressively recruit and train a new generation of nursing educators to replenish the dwindling supply, it hopes to pull from candidates too often overlooked in the past–minorities and men. Both populations have long been severely underrepresented at the faculty level.

“Our programs need to reflect the demographics of society,” says Kem Louie, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the graduate nursing program at William Paterson University and past president of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Nurses Association. “Ethnic and [racial] minority populations are increasing and it’s important that [minority] nursing students see role models in those that teach and those that practice.”

Many of the current crop of master’s-level nursing educator programs are specifically reaching out to nurses from diverse backgrounds. For example, the College of New Rochelle (CNR) School of Nursing in New Rochelle, N.Y., which launched its new Nurse Educator Master’s Program last fall, has a large population of African American and Hispanic students.

The mission to attract more nurses from underrepresented populations to teaching careers must begin at the undergraduate level, believes Mary Alice Higgins Donius, EdD, RN, who will become the new dean of the CNR School of Nursing in July. She is currently an associate professor in the School of Nursing at Sound Shore Medical Center.

“We have to identify those students who might be interested in nursing education and reach out to them,” Donius says. “[Nurse educators] need to talk to students about why we like [teaching] and how they can plan a career in nursing education.”

The emergence of online distance-learning courses has helped make graduate school more accessible for many types of students, including more minorities, men and people living in rural communities. Clarkson College, based in Omaha, Neb., is a pioneer in providing online education for health care providers. The college offers an MSN program with an option in nursing education, as well as a post-master’s certificate in nursing education.

“The school is totally online and we have students located all over the country,” notes Marla Erbin-Roesemann, PhD, RN, associate professor and director of the college’s graduate program. Students in the nursing education master’s program visit the campus physically only once or twice during the program. They perform required clinical rotations and preceptor teaching in the communities where they live.

The college makes sure support services are available to help students who need assistance with projects and problems. “Students do get support through their professors and often look to community members for support as well,” Erbin-Roesemann explains. “If they need additional help, it’s handled online. We have counselors on campus. We also have a director of diversity who can talk to students.”

Nurse Educators for Tomorrow

One of the newest master’s degree programs created in response to the nursing faculty shortage is being offered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Nursing. Funded by a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), this online program likewise hopes to increase the number of nurse educators from underrepresented populations–nurses of color, men and rural nurses.

The program, known as Nurse Educators for Tomorrow (NET), has an unusual two-pronged focus. It trains nurses to become clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners with added post-graduate courses that prepare them to be educators as well. Students must complete the standard 36 hours required by most master’s programs, plus nine additional hours in nursing education, including courses covering online teaching and curriculum development.

“Graduates are prepared to function in either setting–as practitioners and/or educators–so it’s a win-win situation,” says Nadine Nehls, PhD, RN, professor and associate dean for academic programs at the nursing school. On the clinical side, students may specialize in either pediatric or medical-surgical care.

The program’s recruiting efforts are assisted by a community liaison, says Gale Barber, MA, assistant dean for graduate studies. This person does community outreach and is actually housed at a rural site in order to put her closer to prospective students.

How has NET succeeded in its first year? Nehls reports that the program has attracted a large percentage of students from rural areas, but so far no minority or male students. The school is closely examining its recruiting plans with an eye toward developing strategies that will more effectively reach these targeted populations.

“This year, we’re going to do more targeted recruitment,” explains Pam Scheibel, MSN, RN, a clinical professor in the program. “We’re looking at alumni lists and trying to make individualized, tailored outreach to these students.”

Even though the program is taught online, one of the major obstacles to attracting more culturally diverse students seems to be simple geography. Madison just doesn’t have a large minority population, says Barber.

Adds Scheibel, “Several [minority] students who have come here and had good experiences during the recruitment process eventually decided to go to school in another area where there’s more [diversity]. Some also choose schools that are able to offer larger scholarships.”

This year, the school’s recruiting efforts will accentuate the program’s online format, helping students realize that the location of the campus is really not that relevant. “Students can stay in their own communities and do their clinical and teaching experience there,” Barber emphasizes.

Master’s vs. Doctorate

Pursuing a career as a master’s-prepared–rather than doctorally prepared–nursing educator is not for everybody. Nurses who are considering making the move to academia need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of both options and must evaluate them closely against their particular career goals.

For example, Heather Griffin knows that without a terminal degree, one of the biggest benefits offered by a university–tenure–will not be available for her. The tenure system, exclusive to the academic world, means that a faculty member can’t be fired or downsized except under the most extreme conditions.

“Tenure gives you a sense of permanency and shows that you have paid your dues. You really can’t be asked to leave,” Louie explains.

The lack of a terminal degree will also limit the career advancement options available to a nurse educator. “Having only a master’s degree is going to limit where and how far you go,” says Donius. “A master’s degree in nursing education is a very valuable credential in preparing people for [certain] roles in teaching and nursing. In higher education, though, a master’s degree does have a more limited scope. Nurse educators with master’s degrees are used at the associate degree level and in clinical, off-site settings. If you really want a career in [academic] nursing education, a doctorate will be required.”

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a very rewarding faculty career without that terminal degree–especially if, like Griffin, what you really want to focus on is teaching.

“According to the Board of Nursing, nurses with a master’s degree can teach in academic programs, which gives a more focused concentration in the role of educator,” Louie points out. “The doctoral degree generally provides a research focus or more specialization in the practice of nursing. Many universities have clinical or non-tenured faculty positions which may or may not have a time limit and can be renewed without a doctoral degree.”

It is very important for newly minted nurse educators to make sure their goals match those of the educational institution they join, Louie advises. “Nursing faculty need to conform to university expectations.” Ultimately, she adds, “I believe nurses who want a career of teaching other nurses will eventually continue toward their doctoral degrees.”

The Money Factor

Salary considerations are another factor nurses contemplating a move to teaching must weigh against their career aspirations as well as their personal goals. Many experts believe faculty pay may well be one of the biggest reasons for the shortage in the number of professors. A recent study by ADVANCE for Nurse Practitioners revealed that the typical salary for an NP working in an emergency room was around $80,000. That’s $20,000 more than the average nursing professor earns.

“A lot of our students [in the nursing education concentration] do not go into education [when they complete the program],” says Erbin-Roesemann. “They go back to nursing because of the money. Educators earn less than staff nurses.”

And educators with only a master’s degree will earn less than their doctorally prepared counterparts. Louie cites a 2002 report by AACN that showed the median salary for all nurses with doctoral degrees to be around $75,000. Those with master’s degrees earned about $15,000 less.

However, she points out, “[Faculty] pay can vary greatly across the country and depending on the type of nursing program, whether it’s a private or public college, and the regional location.”

Getting In

You’ve weighed all the pros and cons and you’ve decided that a master’s degree program with an emphasis on nursing education is the right option for you. What are your chances of actually getting in?

While methods of delivery have changed, entrance requirements have not. Like most other master’s programs, nursing education programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA, professional and academic references, an essay explaining why you want to enter the program, plus the dreaded GRE®, formally known as the Graduate Record Examination®. The GRE is an assessment test that measures skills in mathematics, comprehension, analytical reasoning and other areas.

“Each [of these entrance requirements] is only one part of an application,” says Nehls. “[In the admissions process,] we look at the whole application.” She adds that the once-common philosophy that years and years of experience were needed to be a good teacher has faded somewhat.

None of the schools interviewed for this article require any previous teaching experience, although many students currently enrolled in their nurse educator programs had worked as preceptors or mentors in clinical settings. At Clarkson College, students may enter the program without any work experience, but are expected to get some quickly.

“Most of our students do have a couple of years experience,” Erbin-Roesemann clarifies. “Students can come right into the master’s program without any work experience but they do need at least one year of experience before starting their option courses. They can get that experience while taking core courses.”

Helping Minority Students Succeed

As the number of underrepresented minority students in graduate school increases, nursing program administrators are taking steps to make sure those students succeed.

We don’t like to talk about students needing help in graduate school, but sometimes it happens,” says Louie. “Many students, particularly if English is not their native language, may need help with writing. Some students have problems with statistics.”

The graduate program at William Paterson University provides a nursing support coordinator who serves as the “go to” person when students have academic problems or trouble with an assignment. “The coordinator is not a professor, so the student is not intimidated,” Louie explains. “The coordinator can work with the professor to see exactly what is expected. The coordinator’s role is to find someone on campus who can help. We do refer students to other resources in any department at the university.”

Funding Future Faculty

For many nurses, lack of financial resources can be an obstacle that keeps them from returning to school to pursue master’s degrees. That’s why many of the current efforts to address the nursing faculty shortage are offering special scholarships, loans and other types of financial assistance for students who make the commitment to become nursing educators.

Heather Griffin, an African American nurse who is currently completing an MSN degree with a concentration in nursing education at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., was able to take advantage of the federally funded Nurse Faculty Loan Program (NFLP). William Paterson is one of a limited number of universities to receive these funds through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Griffin will be able to cancel 85% of the loan she received by completing the degree and working for five years in an approved educational role.

“I was fortunate enough to go back to school full-time and that made me eligible for the loan,” she says. “It is helping me pay for part of my education. [Going back to school] is difficult when you have other financial responsibilities.”

While this loan program is currently available at only two nursing schools, most colleges and universities do have private resources that fund scholarships and assistantship programs for graduate students. Ask about this when choosing a school. Some funds are awarded based on need, some based on merit and some based on potential.
In some parts of the country, financial assistance designed specifically for future nursing educators is available at the state level. The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, as part of its Nursing Education Loan Scholarship (NELS) Program, offers a Nursing Teacher Stipend Program for MSN and PhD students who agree to teach at an accredited nursing school in Mississippi upon graduation. Candidates must be Mississippi residents attending a school in that state.

In Pennsylvania, nurses who are interested in going back to school to teach nursing can receive financial assistance from the Nurse Scholars Program, a partnership between Independence Blue Cross and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. The program will underwrite scholarship funding for qualified students attending an accredited nursing graduate program in five southeastern Pennsylvania counties. It also gives future nurse educators the opportunity to receive grants and scholarships toward their graduate degree directly from the qualified nursing schools they attend.

One national scholarship program created to increase the supply of doctorally prepared nursing educators is the Monster Healthcare-American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Nursing Faculty Scholarship. Launched in August 2005, this program provides $25,000 scholarships, plus part-time clinical employment and health benefits, to students enrolled full-time in a baccalaureate-to-doctoral degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice program who intend to pursue faculty careers. Upon graduation, recipients must serve in a teaching capacity at a nursing school for a minimum of one year for each year of scholarship support received.