The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing

Original Article 

Transition to Nursing Academia: A Positive Experience

Laurel A. Miner, PhD, MS, MSN, RN, CRNA

Abstract

The global nursing shortage has affected nursing faculty, as well as clinical nurses. Nurses practicing in the clinical setting are often recruited into vacant faculty positions. Educational training or experience may be lacking in recruited clinical nurses, which may contribute to the stress of transitioning into the faculty role. The scientific literature is fraught with negativity surrounding the transition experience into nursing academia. This qualitative study used semistructured interviews of eight clinical nurses who transitioned successfully into baccalaureate nurse educators. Four common themes were revealed, including Mentoring and Support, Collaboration, Camaraderie, and the additional Positive Aspects of flexibility, independence, and giving back to the next generation. This information will be valuable to nurses who are transitioning or considering moving into academic roles from clinical nursing positions. Academic nursing departments will also find the information valuable in the pursuit of healthy work environments and potential retention strategies for novice nurse educators. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(8):349–354.]

Abstract

The global nursing shortage has affected nursing faculty, as well as clinical nurses. Nurses practicing in the clinical setting are often recruited into vacant faculty positions. Educational training or experience may be lacking in recruited clinical nurses, which may contribute to the stress of transitioning into the faculty role. The scientific literature is fraught with negativity surrounding the transition experience into nursing academia. This qualitative study used semistructured interviews of eight clinical nurses who transitioned successfully into baccalaureate nurse educators. Four common themes were revealed, including Mentoring and Support, Collaboration, Camaraderie, and the additional Positive Aspects of flexibility, independence, and giving back to the next generation. This information will be valuable to nurses who are transitioning or considering moving into academic roles from clinical nursing positions. Academic nursing departments will also find the information valuable in the pursuit of healthy work environments and potential retention strategies for novice nurse educators. [J Contin Educ Nurs. 2019;50(8):349–354.]

The international nursing shortage has affected both clinical nursing practice and nursing faculty. The national nurse faculty vacancy rate is estimated to be 7.9% (Rosseter, 2017). More than 64,000 qualified nursing students were turned away from nursing schools in 2016 due to a lack of nursing faculty (Rosseter, 2017). Many reasons exist for the nursing faculty shortage, but the result is that more needs to be done to entice experienced clinical practice nurses into the role, and having a plan in place to retain new nursing faculty in academic positions is also necessary. The transition period into nursing academia from clinical practice has a decisively negative tone in the scientific literature (Birks, Budden, Stewart, & Chapman, 2014; Brett, Branstetter, & Wagner, 2014; Cangelosi, 2014; Cranford, 2013; Richez, 2014). Novice faculty members typically describe the transition into academia as stressful and assert that a key factor is that their new professional role is difficult to define (Poindexter, 2013). The negative connotations of the transition period have resulted in a lack of retention in the nursing faculty role (Duffy, 2013). Identifying the positive aspects of the transition experience may enable the formation of guidelines or a structured process for successful transition into academia. Incorporating these guidelines may create a more positive work environment, potentially reducing faculty turnover in newly hired and existing nursing faculty.

Background

Several themes are prevalent in the literature surrounding the transition to academia from clinical nursing, including the nursing faculty shortage, role transition, role expectations, and retention (Duffy, 2013; Nardi & Gyurko, 2013; Poindexter, 2013). The nursing faculty shortage has led to clinical nurses filling vacant faculty positions without formal education or teaching experience (Poindexter, 2013; Richez, 2014). The lack of formal educational preparation is associated with increased stress for some clinicians when considering a career in academia (Cranford, 2013; Poindexter, 2013). Role transition is stressful because of high expectations that may not be adequately communicated surrounding the nurse educator role and the resulting confusion of the novice (Poindexter, 2013). Role expectations of an academic position may be formally written, but often they can be nonexistent or vague. Frustrations result when there is a lack of structure and communication of the expectations from the administration or supporting faculty (Cangelosi, 2014). These negative feelings and even incivility toward administrators and other faculty members can result from the feelings of stress experienced by the novice (Birks et al., 2014). Negative feelings and stressed emotions can lead to intentions of vacating the new role. Cranford (2013) suggested that some new faculty intend to vacate the role within 5 years from transitioning due to the stress experienced.

The theoretical framework guiding this study was Mezirow's transformative theory (Mezirow, 1978). Mezirow's original 10 phases of transformative theory were later updated by Nohl (2015). Nohl consolidated the transformative steps into five phases and modernized the theoretical model to be applicable to the current academic environment. Bridges' transition model was also used to support this research because the phases described in the model more closely mimic the transition period into nursing academia (Bridges & Mitchell, 2000). The three phases in Bridges' model are described as ending, losing, and letting go; the neutral zone; and the new beginning (Bridges & Mitchell, 2000). Both the modified Mezirow theory and the Bridges model are important in explaining the transition from clinical provider to educator and point to how effective change during this process can lead to the growth of the individual.

The purpose of this study was to identify the positive aspects of the transition experience in order to add to the scientific literature and to suggest successful strategies for those moving from clinical nursing into academia. Despite a long history of clinical nursing transitioning from the clinical area to the academic arena, research has suggested that the process remains arduous and stressful. Gaining a deeper understanding of the positive aspects of the transition may lead to clinical practice nurses more fully embracing and remaining in their new faculty role.

Research Question

The question asked in this study is: How do full-time baccalaureate novice nurse educators, who have transitioned to full-time nurse educators in a baccalaureate program within the past 3 years from clinical practice, describe the positive experiences of their transition period?

Method

The study was designed around basic qualitative methodology as described by Merriam and Tisdell (2016). Institutional review board approval was obtained from the researcher's and the participants' respective review boards. Novice nurse educators were defined in this study as working in the nurse educator role for 3 years or less. Interviews consisted of semistructured questions to guide the dialogue and provide the primary method of data collection (Table 1). Observations made by the interviewer supplemented the data collected. A field test occurred with three experts who provided feedback on the quality of the semistructured interview questions. Interviews commenced with the participants by the researcher. Data analysis occurred using the constant comparative method. Categories emerged from the analysis and themes were developed by the researcher.

Guiding Interview Questions

Table 1:

Guiding Interview Questions

Sample and Setting

The sample was selected using purposive techniques. Inclusion criteria were established that consisted of full-time faculty teaching in a baccalaureate nursing program, an earned master's or doctorate degree, and retention of the academic job for 3 years or less. In addition, the potential participant had to be located within driving distance of the researcher in the northeastern United States, speak English, and not be employed in the same institution as the researcher. Participants were added to the sample until no new information was gleaned or until saturation was reached. The final sample consisted of eight participants who worked as nurse educators in baccalaureate nursing programs in the northeastern United States. The years of experience as practicing clinical nurses ranged from 4 to 32. Participants ranged in age from 26 to 60 years and had transitioned to the faculty role within 3 years or less prior to the time of the interviews.

Procedure

Data collection was completed with interviews by the researcher using semistructured questions developed as guidelines during the interview process. Data analysis was initiated after the first interview, which was transcribed verbatim by the researcher. Subsequent interviews were likewise transcribed, and the constant comparative method of data analysis was used to develop the relevant categories and themes from the pool of data. Trustworthiness of the data was maintained by audio recording of the interviews with the participants' permission (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Mitigation of ethical considerations occurred through verification of the audio recording data and by maintaining a reflexivity journal to ensure that the researcher's personal opinions did not influence the data collected (Cope, 2014; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Transcripts of the interviews were read as the audio recordings played to ensure that the words were accurately depicted in the transcripts. The reflexivity journal was maintained by the researcher throughout the interview process to record thoughts and perceptions to ensure that personal bias was not influencing the collected data.

Findings

Four main themes emerged from the data: Mentoring and Support, Collaboration, Camaraderie, and The Positive Attributes of the Nursing Faculty Role (Table 2). Mentoring of the new faculty member was identified by all participants as a positive influence in their successful transition. In addition to mentoring, the support shown by other faculty members was an important consideration in the professional development of the novice nurse educator. To a lesser extent, the support from each participant's administration was encouraging to the new employee. The main support of the novice nurse educator came from the mentoring relationship, whether assigned or personally chosen by the novice. One participant commented that the “atmosphere was absolutely positive and welcoming” and that she was “surrounded by support” from the faculty and the administration. She further remarked about faculty comments directed toward her, such as “We appreciate what you are doing for us” and “Wow! What a great job!” All participants commented about the lack of appreciation in the clinical setting and the welcoming feeling present in the nurse educator role.

Development of the Findings into Themes

Table 2:

Development of the Findings into Themes

The fact that these participants self-described a positive and successful transition does not negate the stress that was reported at some point during the transition period. A means of stress management was described by the participants as collaboration with other faculty members in their assigned courses. The common response was that by pairing with a seasoned faculty member, the novice was able to concentrate on day-to-day course management, rather than course development, which requires more sophistication and a greater demand on time and energy. “Discussing shared experiences, or frustrations, or triumphs, or whatever, with experienced faculty who have been there themselves is an encouraging atmosphere,” remarked one participant. The knowledge of who to trust with questions or concerns and where to seek resources were invaluable collaborative aspects toward the positive transition of these participants.

All participants commented on a sense of belonging as an important part of the positive transition experience. Participating in social events or engaging in professional pursuits with coworkers, students, or administration provided the novice with the feeling of being in the right environment and making the right career choice. All participants commented that the academic setting was warmer and more welcoming than the clinical environment. One participant described the environment as one that she “loved.” She further stated that it was “nice to have people to go to [who] were very friendly” from the time she started and that “it was important that people smile at you and make you feel welcome.” She also commented on the fact that her coworkers continually asked if she needed anything or what could they do for her. She stated that she felt like she “was in the right place because of the friendly atmosphere.” Participating in activities designed to further the relationships of coworkers, students, and administration fostered self-confidence and a sense of belonging for the new nurse educator.

Other positive aspects of the nurse educator role were identified as flexibility, autonomy, and professionalism. In comparison to the clinical nursing role, the nurse educator's schedule can be adjusted to accommodate life events. Faculty often are able to work remotely, but this is not an option for the clinical nurse. One participant reflecting on the flexibility of her academic hours and the autonomy she experienced in her new role also appreciated the “independence and trust existing among the faculty.” Finally, all participants described the feelings of an environment of professionalism and their increased importance in guiding and molding the next generation of nurses.

Discussion

The findings were examined in light of Mezirow's transformative theory (Mezirow, 1978) and Bridges' transition model (Bridges & Mitchell, 2000), as shown in Table 3. Mezirow's (1978) theory has limited application as it was originally applied to women returning to college after experiencing a disconcerting precipitating event. Nohl's (2015) modification of the transformative theory was more applicable to the findings of this study. In Nohl's approach to transformative theory, a disconcerting precipitating event was not necessary. A person could desire a change and pursue the available opportunity. The participants in this study did not voice having a precipitating event. Rather, all commented on a long-held desire to teach in the nursing profession in the academic setting.

Examination of the Findings According to the Theoretical Framework and Model

Table 3:

Examination of the Findings According to the Theoretical Framework and Model

Nohl (2015) simplified the phases of the transformative theory from Mezirow's (1978) original 10 to five. In phase one, there is an initiating event, although it does not have to result from a crisis or other event with negative connotations. The participants in this study supported this phase with their lifelong desire to teach. Phase two encompasses an experimentation of the new role (Nohl, 2015). Mentoring played a key role in phase two. The novice was being socialized to the professional role of nurse educator with the support of the mentoring relationship. Phase three embraces collaboration, which was a theme discovered in this study. Collaboration entailed a working relationship where the novice did not have to reinvent the wheel. Learning day-to-day course management can be a challenge for the novice, and through collaboration the novice was able to focus needed energy on this important part of education. Sharing of course materials, guidelines on grading and advising, communication requirements, and meeting department responsibilities are all activities that support the novice in the professional behaviors of the new role. Phase four involves new ideas leading to the growth of the individual. Camaraderie shared by the faculty members enabled the growth and development of the individual and the faculty as a whole. The transformative process ends with feelings of stability in phase five (Nohl, 2015). None of the participants in this study expressed that feelings of stress outweighed the positive experiences of the transition period into academia. When asked, none of the participants indicated an intent to vacate the role in the near or distant future.

The findings of this study are also aligned with the transition model of William Bridges (Bridges & Mitchell, 2000). Stage one of the model, which includes the ending, losing, and letting go period, is described as a period of turmoil as the individual is forced to move out of a familiar environment (Bridges & Mitchell, 2000). One participant described this period as “fall out of the sky and land in your chair.” But at the same time, this time period was further described as “joyful” and “exciting” and she “would not want to be anywhere else.” In the second stage, the neutral zone, the participant feels nostalgic for what was given up in order to move forward into the new role. The participants diverged from the model in this second stage and reported that their perspective was primarily one of looking forward and not in hindsight. All participants commented on the satisfaction with their decision to vacate the clinical role and pursue the academic career. The third stage, the new beginning, was reported by all participants and reinforced the importance of role acceptance.

In summary, previous research has suggested that role transition and role expectations are key sources of stress for the novice nurse educator moving from the clinical setting into the academic role (Birks et al., 2014; Duffy, 2013; Poindexter, 2013). The literature regarding transition from clinical nursing into academia is sparse in recent years. The findings from this study suggest effective approaches in support of the novice during transition to the new role, with an emphasis on the need for socialization to the academic role. Mentoring by a more experienced faculty member enables the novice to have a trusted confidant to direct questions and seek guidance for any situation that may arise. The mentoring relationship can be assigned for the novice or it can be self-selected. Initial collaboration with more seasoned faculty allows the novice to focus more on course management rather than course development. Camaraderie encourages the activities that further socialize the novice to the role and lead to feelings of satisfaction surrounding the new position. Additional positive aspects of the role were identified as flexibility, autonomy, feelings of importance regarding the role, and fulfilling a lifelong dream to teach. Many of these aspects could not be attained in the clinical role. The cumulative effects of these positive themes were identified as key elements in persuading the novice educator to remain in the academic role.

Implications for Nursing Education

The findings have implications for nursing faculty and nursing departments in baccalaureate settings, as well as for clinical practice nurses contemplating transition to the faculty role. Nursing education departments can benefit from the findings of this study by understanding the need to highlight the positive aspects of the professional role during the transition process of the novice nurse educator. Structured guidelines can be developed to guide the novice into the professional role of nurse educator using the findings from this study. All participants found that mentoring and the support of fellow faculty contributed to feelings of a positive transition experience. Knowing that support and mentoring are aspects of a positive transition experience would suggest value for the development of orientation processes and formalized mentoring programs targeted for the novice nurse educator. Collaboration and the sharing of materials should also be a consideration to further enable the novice to successfully transition. Activities supporting camaraderie between faculty would also help to enable socialization to the professional role. Including team building and a sense of togetherness would further support the novice faculty member. Highlighting the positive aspects of the nurse educator role in orientation programs is important in fostering awareness of positive elements in the new role. This study's findings may be used to assist in the development of retention strategies for nursing faculty members.

Limitations

The use of a purposive sample limited the inclusion of a more diverse participant pool. The participants were recruited from the northeastern United States and may not be a true representation of the whole population. Thus, the findings may not be generalizable to university faculty outside of the institutions included in the study. Including participants in the sample who did not have a positive experience transitioning into the nurse educator role may have helped to validate what made for positive experiences by the participants in this study.

An additional criterion in the selection of the sample was the ability to self-describe the events of the transition period. Memories of the transition period may be hampered by the passage of time. This study is limited by the reliance on the participant's “self-reported data that cannot be verified through other sources” (Connelly, 2013, p. 325). Participants may have a selective memory when recalling facts surrounding the transition period (Connelly, 2013).

Personal experience with transitioning into the nurse educator role by the researcher could have led to bias. A reflexivity journal was maintained to ensure the data collected were not influenced by the researcher's personal opinions (Cope, 2014; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). Potential researcher bias was also mitigated through the use of verification of the data by audio recording.

Conclusion

The nursing shortage has led to vacant faculty positions that may be filled with clinical nurses who lack formal education in preparation for the faculty role. Change can be daunting, and facing a new career in an unfamiliar environment is challenging, especially without preparation and support. Studies suggest that transition to the nursing faculty role is stressful and difficult. No setting is without its struggles, but the findings of this study suggest that transition is not always surrounded by negative connotations. The participants in this study benefitted from mentoring and support from the seasoned faculty. Novice faculty members gathered together and bonded over their shared experiences. Collaboration and camaraderie with other nursing department members facilitated the socialization to the professional role. Independence, empowerment, and flexibility contributed to the happiness the participants expressed regarding their decision to transition to the nursing faculty role. The current study developed out of the importance of focusing on the positive aspects, not the complaints, of the nursing faculty role. Focusing on the positive aspects of transitioning may encourage the novice nurse educator to remain in the professional role.

References

  • Birks, M., Budden, L.M., Stewart, L. & Chapman, Y. (2014). Turning the tables: The growth of upward bullying in nursing academia. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 70, 1685–1687. doi:10.1111/jan.12317 [CrossRef]
  • Brett, A.L., Branstetter, J.E. & Wagner, P.D. (2014). Nurse educators' perceptions of caring attributes in current and ideal work environments. Nursing Education Perspectives, 35, 360–366. doi:10.5480/13-1113.1 [CrossRef]
  • Bridges, W. & Mitchell, S. (2000). Leading transition: A new model for change. Leader to Leader, 16(3), 30–36.
  • Cangelosi, P.R. (2014). Novice nurse faculty: In search of a mentor. Nursing Education Perspectives, 35, 327–329. doi:10.5480/13-1224 [CrossRef]
  • Connelly, L.M. (2013). Limitation section. Medsurg Nursing, 22, 325, 336.
  • Cope, D.G. (2014). Methods and meanings: Credibility and trustworthiness of qualitative research. Oncology Nursing Forum, 41, 89–90. doi:10.1188/14.ONF.89-91 [CrossRef]
  • Cranford, J.S. (2013). Bridging the gap: Clinical practice nursing and the effect of role strain on successful role transition and intent to stay in academia. International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, 10, 99–105. doi:10.1515/ijnes-2012-0018 [CrossRef]
  • Duffy, R. (2013). Nurse to educator? Academic roles and the formation of personal academic identities. Nurse Education Today, 33, 620–624. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2012.07.020 [CrossRef]
  • Merriam, S.B. & Tisdell, E.J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Mezirow, J. (1978). Perspective transformation. Adult Education, 28(2), 100–109. doi:10.1177/074171367802800202 [CrossRef]
  • Nardi, D.A. & Gyurko, C.C. (2013). The global nursing faculty shortage: Status and solutions for change. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 45, 317–326.
  • Nohl, A.M. (2015). Typical phases of transformative learning: A practice-based model. Adult Education Quarterly, 65, 35–49. doi:10.1177/0741713614558582 [CrossRef]
  • Poindexter, K. (2013). Novice nurse educator entry-level competency to teach: A national study. Journal of Nursing Education, 52, 559–566. doi:10.3928/01484834-20130913-04 [CrossRef]
  • Richez, M. (2014). Resilience-building strategies for nurses in transition. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 45, 54–55. doi:10.3928/00220124-20140124-12 [CrossRef]
  • Rosseter, R. (2017). Fact sheet: Nursing shortage. Retrieved from http://www.aacnnursing.org/Portals/42/News/Factsheets/Nursing-Shortage-Factsheet-2017.pdf

Guiding Interview Questions

How would you describe your transition experience from clinical practice to the academic role?
Describe your orientation process to the classroom and the academic setting.
What precipitated your transition into academia from clinical nursing?
Describe the positive experiences of your transition period.
If you felt stress during your personal transition period, how did you manage the stress?
Describe any professional or personal supports and encouragement during the transition process.
Describe what motivates you to remain in your current role.

Development of the Findings into Themes

ThemeSignificant Findings
Mentoring and Support

Availability of a trustworthy source to answer questions and guide decision making

Undefined role can be confusing; grateful for guidance from seasoned faculty

Mentor assisted in professional development.

Support was “always there.”

“Stopping by to say hello and offer assistance in any way”

Departmental inner workings (e.g., using voicemail, information technology support, setting up office) were supported by mentor relationship.

Collaboration

“Why reinvent the wheel”

Coteaching for at least the first year

Sharing of course materials, syllabi, welcome letters to students, grading guidelines, committee assignments, and problem solving

Sharing provided the novice with “a sense of belonging to the department.”

Feelings of belonging to the group from the beginning

Camaraderie

Discussion of experiences among novice nurse educators; “monthly dinner outings”

Gestures of kindness and offers of help

Participation in faculty and/or student events

Fundraising activities such as bowling allowed faculty and students to interact in a positive manner.

Socialization to the professional role

Feelings of the collective “we”

Positive Aspects of the Faculty Role

Flexibility in scheduling

Life events occur, and courses or office hours can be adjusted to meet the need.

Salary

“Feelings of importance when guiding the next generation of nurses”

Compared with the clinical setting, the academic environment was viewed as positive and contributed to better work–life balance.

Examination of the Findings According to the Theoretical Framework and Model

Mezirow (1978)Nohl (2015)Bridges & Mitchell (2000)Current Study
Ten phasesFive phasesThree phasesDesire to teach
Disconcerting event; negative focusNegative connotation not necessary; initiation may be desire for change; noticed action or incidental eventChange event must be acknowledgedNo negative initiating event; desire for change initiated transition
Self-examination and feelings of guiltExperimenting with new roles or circumstances may be positive or negativeEnding, losing, and letting go = resistance; realize need to let go of feelings of belonging to the old circumstancesMentoring enabled professionalization and socialization into the faculty role; eased the day-to-day functions of the role; provided support for professional development
Plan of action; try new rolesCollaboration with others in similar circumstancesNeutral zone = bridge between old and new; encourage new thought processesCollaboration and camaraderie supported development of new role; coteaching to build self-assurance
Self-confidence; redefine one's lifeStabilityNew beginning = acceptanceFeelings of self-confidence in the teaching role and desire to remain in new position; expressed no desire to vacate role
Authors

Dr. Miner is Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing, Department of Anesthesia, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Laurel A. Miner, PhD, MS, MSN, RN, CRNA, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, School of Nursing, Department of Anesthesia, Victoria Building 360E, 3500 Victoria Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261; e-mail: minerla@pitt.edu.

Received: October 10, 2018
Accepted: March 12, 2019

10.3928/00220124-20190717-05

Sign up to receive

Journal E-contents