In today’s climate, nursing is everywhere. It’s in the news and social media, but the coverage is rarely positive. Nursing has been America’s most trusted profession for years, but COVID-19 changed the perception of nursing.
No longer are nurses viewed as the safe harbor for patients who were battered by the winds and wrath of an industrial health care complex. Instead, nurses are publicly placed on trial for system errors and named in lawsuits for medical malpractice. What does the future of nursing look like in America? No one knows for certain, but I do know who can reframe the perception of nursing, and that is the nurse educator.
Soul of Nursing
The nurse educator is truly the master of the soul of nursing. Still, they are rarely esteemed for the critical work accomplished. The nurse educator takes the raw material of an eager student and pours endless knowledge and skills to form the building blocks of a nurse. There is not a single nurse in existence who has not passed through the skilled hands of a nurse educator. The educator can genuinely alter the perception of a new nurse before the nurse even realizes they have been altered. The nurse educator can transfer tolerance and understanding through their formative teachings, prejudice, and judgment. The responsibility to develop the future of the entire profession rests on a select few, rarely acknowledged, who guard our profession with love and passion.
It is passion that drives the nurse educator. It surely is not the ability to earn a high income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average nurse educator earns an annual income of $78,000. For a job that requires an advanced degree, any nurse educator could be better served with more lucrative uses of their degree, such as a nurse practitioner or joining an organization’s nursing leadership. It’s not the hours that drive the nurse educator. Is getting Christmas off a perk? Absolutely! Is waking up to 13 texts from a student who could not upload an assignment a benefit! Absolutely not. As a nurse educator, the breaks from classes are spent reworking material, developing new experiences, and continuing to grow professionally. It is truly a passion and a calling that drives the nurse educator.
Need for Nursing Faculty
Why should every nurse be aware of the need for nursing faculty? According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, a faculty vacancy rate of 8.8% nationwide has remained. This has resulted in a horrendous outcome of over 91,000 qualified applicants being turned away from nursing programs. Turning away applicants continues to exacerbate the nursing shortage. With the current projection from NCSBN of close to one-fifth of the nursing workforce looking to exit in the next five years, every applicant to a nursing school is a building block to the solution.
Know Your Influence
So why consider nursing education? The nurse educator is an artist. They take a piece of unformed clay and place pressure to mold and change the clay into a beautiful vase. With every student, educators leave a tiny part of themselves to transform a corner of the world. As a bedside nurse, I touch a few lives every shift. But if, as an educator, I have taught the floor of nurses, my reach is far greater than I will ever know. Knowing that your influence can affect the health care of a region, state, or nation is a pride and privilege few know. Nursing education is a beautiful profession that is far too often overlooked but should be dutifully considered.
Frontier Nursing University (FNU) named Dr. Paula Alexander-Delpech, Ph.D., PMHNP-BC, APRN, as its Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO).
Previously, Dr. Alexander-Delpech served as the Interim CDIO since January and guided the planning and programming for FNU’s 12th annual Diversity Impact Conference held in June.
Dr. Alexander-Delpech serves as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and the Faculty, Staff, and Preceptor Development and Retention sub-committee of the DEI Task Force.
Performing at the Highest Level
“Dr. Alexander-Delpech has performed at the highest level as our Interim CDIO,” says FNU President Dr. Susan Stone, CNM, DNSc, FAAN, FACNM. “We know she will continue to provide the direction, passion, and leadership necessary to further the essential work of FNU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She has tremendous energy and has brought forth a number of new initiatives to build upon our existing DEI efforts, which are so important to the future of healthcare.”
Nurse Educator DEI Faculty Fellowship
Dr. Alexander-Delpech presented “The Development of A Faculty DEI Fellows Program” at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Diversity Leadership Institute. Under her leadership, FNU plans to launch a Nurse Educator DEI Faculty Fellowship program this fall. Eight faculty members will be selected as Fellows and will attend a 12-week DEI training and then be assigned at least four more faculty whom they will coach for 12 weeks.
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion oversee the development of five new student interest groups (SIGs), which hold their first meetings in June. The five SIGs are International Students in Nursing, LGBTQIA+ Students in Nursing, Men in Nursing, Military/Veterans in Nursing, and Students of Color in Nursing.
Delivering Equity and Diversity in Healthcare
“It has been a pleasure working with Dr. Alexander-Delpech,” says FNU Dean of Nursing Joan Slager, DNP, CNM, FACNM, FAAN. “She is passionate about creating opportunities for our faculty and our students to grow in their expertise in teaching about and delivering equitable healthcare.”
“I am so honored to accept the role of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Frontier Nursing University,” Dr. Alexander-Delpech says. “We always think about DEI as it pertains to our curriculum or profession, but when people start talking about it in their personal lives, that means people are making changes. The ripple effect is happening. At FNU, we are ahead of the game. When we talk about DEI work, FNU has surpassed a lot of other universities.”
During the last three months, I had the opportunity and privilege to participate in a work program that collaboratively raises standards for learning and teaching, leading students to the highest levels of engagement and success. This was an eye-opening experience, allowing me to evaluate my own teaching practices in higher education and giving me additional tools to be more adventurous as I continue on with my role in academia.
Here are my five takeaways from the experience:
1. Make sure your students are actively learning enough.
Current evidence in higher learning no longer supports the effectiveness of sole lectures in the classroom setting. Instead, increase use of Active Learning Strategies (ALS) in the classroom setting to offer improved student learning and outcomes. Examples of ALS include: Minute Paper, Think-Pair-Share, Small and Large Groups, Role Playing, Storytelling, etc. One of the biggest student complaints with ALS is the idea that students are teaching themselves. When properly implemented, ALS helps to initiate learners and faculties into effective ways to help learners engage in activities that encourage deep learning.
2. Traditional “lecturing” still has a place in the classroom.
Many educators are considered the “experts” and offer a wealth of knowledge when they step foot in their classrooms. Most of us are familiar with traditional lectures in the classroom setting, where we had a professor “lecture” for hours in front of the classroom. However, many can argue that these professors are not necessarily “Sages on the Stage” but rather “Bores at the Board” for the majority of the time. Do not forget that higher education encourages educators to be more “Guides on the Sides” and become facilitators of student learning as they guide them from the sideline. Whichever method you choose to do in the classroom, you must be humble enough to accept if certain practices require tweaking for improvement.
3. Preparing the adult brain for learning: Evidence has shown that deep learning requires the adult brain learner to be primed.
But how does one prepare the brain to be at the optimal state in which the learner is alert and focused on learning? Several techniques have been noted to help students learn best, including but not limited to: Breathing Exercises, Nutrition, Music, Aroma, and Visualization. All these techniques work in various ways, but more importantly can help in how the adult brain is able to process information. How are you helping prepare your students for learning?
4. Technology belongs in the classroom.
Imagine a classroom without technology… For most of us, this can be very strange, as we are surrounded by technology on a regular basis. And our students are ALWAYS using technology, whether they are using laptops or tablets to take notes or their own personal devices (mobile phones) to stay in touch with their social media world. We must embrace that technology is here to stay, and figure out better solutions in including them in the classroom setting.
5. As educators, we must also be willing to learn (from peers and our own students).
Just because we have completed our studies and are now educators does not preclude us from learning new things. We must never cease to inquire and acquire knowledge. If anything, being an educator challenges us to be the best that we can possibly be for the students that we serve.
What has been your experience with student learning, both good and bad? Please share your own experiences, as I want to better myself as an educator. To be able to meet the students from where they are at, and take them on their own educational journey!
Have you ever thought about changing career paths and teaching up-and-coming nurses? For those of you who have, we wanted to provide you with some information about what it’s like to teach, including the challenges and the benefits.
Michelle DeCoux Hampton, RN, PhD, MS, Professor and Doctor of Nursing Practice Program Director at Samuel Merritt University School of Nursing in Oakland, California, took time to talk with us about her experiences in teaching.
Following is an edited version of our Q&A:
What does your job entail? Do you specialize in specific topics that you teach? How many courses do you teach each semester?
I started in 2005 as a full-time faculty member teaching psychiatric mental-health nursing, health assessment, and synthesis for students throughout our accelerated bachelor’s program in nursing. Later, I began teaching an online course in research in the Master’s program and then the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program.
In 2013, I became the Director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program, and now I teach evidence-based research and several of the DNP Project courses that are geared toward providing mentorship to doctoral students as they complete their scholarly projects.
In my administrative role, 75% of my time is administrative work involving admissions, student advisement and progression, faculty support, as well as curriculum review and improvement, among other responsibilities. In my full-time teaching role, I taught about two courses per semester.
Why did you choose to teach?
My interest in teaching stemmed from my enjoyment of education from the student perspective and my many positive experiences with faculty and mentors.
I first tested myself as the Director of Staff Development in a skilled nursing facility to see how I would like being “on stage” before I ever applied for a teaching position at a university. I was able to learn a lot about adult education and enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the facility staff through our orientation and continuing education programs.
I advised many of our staff nurses about how to go about continuing their formal education and found it was one of the most enjoyable parts of my role in staff development.
What are the biggest challenges of your job?
Compared to being a staff nurse, one of the biggest challenges in teaching is that there is often no one to fill in for you—at least not at a moment’s notice. You often find that you work when you’re ill, on semester breaks to prepare for the next semester, and on your vacations. The flexibility is nice in a lot of ways, but the tradeoff is that you’re never really off the grid.
What are the greatest rewards?
One of my favorite parts of my job is to work with my doctoral students on their DNP Projects—usually an evidence-based practice implementation project. These students evaluate best practices through critical appraisal of the research literature, design practice change programs, implement changes that involve policy and procedure changes of the staff in a variety of health care settings, and evaluate the outcomes. Through each of their projects, they have provided improved health care to individual patients, communities, and within organizations. Seeing these projects develop from an idea to influencing real people’s lives is incredibly rewarding, and it never gets old.
What would you say to someone considering this type of work?
To me, the best teachers that I’ve known and worked with take a service-oriented approach to education—providing what the student needs to progress to the next level, to continue growth. This takes good observation skills, flexibility to change your approach based on where your student is and what his/her needs are, and a willingness to keep learning. The field of education, beyond what we need to know as nurses, continues to evolve and we have to evolve with it.
Is there anything else that is important for nurses to know?
In my early years of teaching, I felt like I needed to know everything—to answer all of my students’ questions on the spot. This expectation of myself produced a lot of anxiety and self-doubt for me.
Over time, I relaxed a bit more and accepted that even if students wanted me to have all the answers, that was not possible 100% of the time. Feeling confident in the knowledge that I had and my ability to research answers that I couldn’t answer right away effectively, enabled me to say that I didn’t know, but would find out or even enlist the support of other students to find the answer. It was a turning point for me. I don’t think I would have been able to sustain a career in education long term with my previous mindset.
My mother always encouraged me to play with dolls of a variety of shades. She particularly would always want me to play with dolls that had the same complexion as myself. I never quite understood this until recently.
I remember waiting for my women’s health professor to arrive. I expected her to be an older woman and not a minority as most of my other professors were. When she showed up, I only recognized she may be our professor because she wore a white jacket. Then she walked up to us and introduced herself as our professor. She was younger than I expected and of the same ethnicity as myself. For some reason, until then, I had never seen myself as being a nurse educator. But, seeing her standing there and doing such a good job teaching my classmates and I, I suddenly considered nursing education as a route I may take.
When working among a diverse nursing faculty as I do, I hope that we can do the same for our students from diverse backgrounds. Perhaps by seeing someone who looks like themselves, maybe we can inspire our students to go beyond what they ever imagined. I had only thought I would graduate and be a nurse, but this young woman I mentioned was a nurse practitioner and an educator. She made me think suddenly that I could aspire to a similar career.
I wish I could see her today to tell her that her work with me inspired me to be the woman I am today: a minority nurse educator!
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