Journal of Nursing Education

Research Briefs 

Transformative Experience: Developing Competence in Novice Nursing Faculty

Shirley S. Cooley, PhD, RN, CNE; Jennie C. De Gagne, PhD, DNP, RN-BC, CNE

Abstract

Background:

The nursing faculty shortage has led to an increasing number of master's-prepared clinical nurse experts becoming nursing faculty to teach prelicensure nursing students, often without adequate preparation for the complex specialized role of an academic nurse educator.

Method:

A hermeneutic phenomenological qualitative study was designed to gain insight about novice nursing faculty's experience in academia, to examine their perceptions of facilitators and barriers to the development of nurse educators' practice competence, and to identify transformative learning experiences related to novice faculty development. The data consisted of audio recordings and verbatim transcripts of interviews, along with journal data describing day-to-day experiences as novice nurse academics. Data were analyzed using Moustakas' seven-step process.

Results:

Facilitators and barriers, along with characteristics of transformative learning experiences, were identified. An essential combination of facilitating factors, mentorship, and internship programs was discovered.

Conclusion:

Internship programs are a necessary link in creating academic environments that contribute to the development of competence in novice nursing faculty. [J Nurs Educ. 2016;55(2):96–100.]

Abstract

Background:

The nursing faculty shortage has led to an increasing number of master's-prepared clinical nurse experts becoming nursing faculty to teach prelicensure nursing students, often without adequate preparation for the complex specialized role of an academic nurse educator.

Method:

A hermeneutic phenomenological qualitative study was designed to gain insight about novice nursing faculty's experience in academia, to examine their perceptions of facilitators and barriers to the development of nurse educators' practice competence, and to identify transformative learning experiences related to novice faculty development. The data consisted of audio recordings and verbatim transcripts of interviews, along with journal data describing day-to-day experiences as novice nurse academics. Data were analyzed using Moustakas' seven-step process.

Results:

Facilitators and barriers, along with characteristics of transformative learning experiences, were identified. An essential combination of facilitating factors, mentorship, and internship programs was discovered.

Conclusion:

Internship programs are a necessary link in creating academic environments that contribute to the development of competence in novice nursing faculty. [J Nurs Educ. 2016;55(2):96–100.]

The growing nursing faculty shortage in the United States and globally has led to an increasing number of master'sprepared nurse clinicians—experts in their practice domains—entering the ranks of academic faculty to teach prelicensure nursing students (Allen, 2008; Cash, Doyle, von Tettenborn, Daines, & Faria, 2011; McCourt, 2011; Siela, Twibell, & Keller, 2008). However, these new faculty often lack sufficient knowledge and preparation for the complex and multifaceted role of the nurse academic (Anderson, 2009; McDermid, Peters, Jackson, & Day, 2012; McDonald, 2010; Suplee & Gardner, 2009; Wyte-Lake, Tran, Bowman, Needleman, & Dobalian, 2013). The essentials of education for the prelicensure nursing student require intense development in many areas, including knowledge and information acquisition, clinical data analysis, clinical decision-making skills, and numerous patient management activities of the professional nurse (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2008). Thus, the education of future nurses is an immense and complex undertaking that requires precision instruction, guidance, and support (McDonald, 2010; National League for Nursing [NLN], 2002). However, the typical preparation for the role of academic nurse educator is often inadequate and does not meet the demands of the job (McDonald, 2010; Morin & Ashton, 2004; Suplee & Gardner, 2009; Zungolo, 2004). Hence, the purpose of this single-site qualitative study was to describe the experience of the novice nurse educator in an effort to understand the challenges of and facilitators to the development of competence in the nurse educator role for those who teach prelicensure nursing students.

Literature Review

The research is limited regarding orientation programs for new nursing faculty. However, available data had significant deficiencies in the scope, content, and time allocation for nursing faculty orientation programs (Morin & Ashton, 2004; Santisteban & Egues, 2014; Siler & Kleiner, 2001; Wyte-Lake et al., 2013). Surveys of novice faculty about their orientations revealed insufficient instruction for the role and the job responsibilities of nursing faculty (Anibas, Brenner, & Zorn, 2009; Manning & Neville, 2009). Furthermore, the most beneficial aspects of orientation for new faculty contained the elements of longevity, lasted at least 1 year; provided long-term mentor support, combined with on-the-job guidance; and gave faculty the opportunity for self-assessment of their knowledge and skill levels (Baker, 2010; Morin & Ashton, 2004; Santisteban & Egues, 2014).

Study participants identified in the literature characterized the new role of faculty as exhausting, overwhelming, causing notable anxiety, and requiring extensive new knowledge while often lacking in adequate guidance and people resources (Anderson, 2009; Dempsey, 2007; Manning & Neville, 2009; McDermid et al., 2012; Siler & Kleiner, 2001; Zungolo, 2004). Those studies showed that the transition, was particularly stressful and challenging because of the large amount of new work and responsibilities, as the nurses did not expect the educator role to be so different from what they had known. Importantly, however, a literature review identified one factor as instrumental in easing the transition to academia—the resource of a faculty mentor. The mentor served to mitigate key barriers in clinical nurses' development as nursing faculty and became a vital asset in the transition (Baker, 2010; Cangelosi, Crocker, & Sorrell, 2009; Schriner, 2007).

Faculty mentoring involves a collaborative, collegial relationship between an experienced supportive faculty member and novice faculty in which the seasoned faculty provides professional guidance, as well as social and emotional support, for the purpose of assisting the new faculty in becoming competent in the faculty role (Blauvelt & Spath, 2008; NLN, 2006). The mentoring relationship offers ongoing, valuable interactions between the mentor and mentee; it serves to create an environment of respect and learning that favors mutual professional growth while simultaneously promoting the goals of the profession and of the institution (Billings & Kowalski, 2008; Morin & Ashton, 2004; NLN, 2006). The existing literature substantiates the importance of faculty mentoring as an essential element for novice faculty development.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical basis for this study was Kolb's (1984) experiential learning theory. In experiential learning theory, a four-stage learning cycle was described, consisting of (a) the concrete experience, (b) reflective observation regarding the experience, (c) abstract conceptualization developed from the reflection, and finally (d) testing of the new knowledge gained from the experience (Kolb, 1984). Kolb emphasized the essentiality of practical experience to the learner's knowledge development.

Method

In response to the identified concerns and related factors, a hermeneutic phenomenological qualitative study was conducted to address the question, “What is the experience of novice nursing faculty in academia?” Specifically, the investigation sought to learn about the barriers and facilitators to the development of competence in the role of the academic nurse educator. In addition, the authors sought to understand the conditions that facilitate transformative learning, in which following an activating event that disrupts one's usual pattern of thinking and worldview, the individual transforms to become critically self-aware and open to the views and perspectives of others (Cranton, 2002, 2006; Mezirow, 1997; Taylor, 2008).

Study Participants

Novice nursing faculty were operationally defined as master's-prepared nurse clinicians who have taught theory and clinical components to prelicensure nursing students for less than 3 academic years. A purposive sample of seven faculty teaching in a private, religious-based, 4-year college participated in the study. All the faculty participants were female and White. Most of their backgrounds immediately prior to entering academia were in clinical practice. However, one of the participants came from a nursing management background.

Data Collection and Analysis

The data sources were in three formats. In-depth, face-to-face audio recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim. Second, the participants provided journal notes about the day-to-day work experience as an academic nurse educator. After the journal phase was completed, the third data form, the summary interviews, took place either in person or via the telephone for member checking and verification of the data and the researchers' interpretation. Those sources yielded a rich set of information identifying notable barriers and important facilitators to the development of competence as a nurse academic. The data were analyzed using a nonlinear seven-stage process of intense, prolonged engagement, as described by Moustakas (1994). Specifically, the analysis consisted of (a) identifying every pertinent statement to the phenomenon, (b) selecting representative statements that conveyed the varied meanings regarding the experience, (c) labeling and categorizing statements according to their themes, (d) verifying congruence with the overall ideas, (e) formulating a contextual description of each individual transcript, (f) considering alternate explanations and perspectives for the individual transcripts, and (g) constructing a description that conveyed the essence and meaning of the experience as portrayed by each participant (Moustakas, 1994). These individual textual descriptions became the basis for the formation of a composite picture of the meanings and the essential nature of the experience of the novice nurse academic as portrayed by the study participants (Moustakas, 1994). Approval by the organization's institutional review board was obtained prior to the commencement of this study.

Results

The faculty participants provided a detailed account of the overall experience as a novice nurse educator. They characterized the experience as having a wide range of challenges, and as “exciting” and “yet terrifying” and “a little overwhelming,” but “intriguing.” They identified the barriers and facilitators to their transition into academia. In general, they depicted an experience that was lacking in both key information and supportive guidance.

Barriers to the Development of the Nurse Educator's Competence

The participants identified several barriers that functioned to prolong their status as novice nurse educators. Insufficient time to perform the varied tasks surrounding teaching responsibilities was a consistent concern among the faculty, who remarked, “I'm trying to grade papers, but I do not seem to have enough time to prepare my lesson plan” and “The time the students want from you is more than anticipated.” They also spoke about a huge knowledge deficit surrounding the academic responsibilities of teaching prelicensure nursing students. Their lack of knowledge included concerns about test development and item analysis, where to go to get handouts printed and copied, and the most effective ways to teach the students to achieve the best learning outcomes. The participants expressed that there was a scarcity of people—resources or mentors—to guide them in their new role of an academic. Specifically, they stated that guidance and support was lacking for the teaching activities in both the classroom and clinical settings. Their comments about their new teaching role included, “I felt like I had to figure it out on my own,” “I didn't know if I were doing it [clinical teaching] right or wrong,” and “If you want me to be successful, you need to give me that resource…being mentored.” All of the participants recognized that having a faculty mentor was a vital resource to a successful transition to academia. One participant had the experience of having a caring, competent mentor to guide and support along the way. Her experience provided the model for the ideal transitional experience from clinical expert to nurse academic.

The participants identified two additional barriers that were slightly less prevalent than the others. They verbalized a lack of confidence in their teaching performance because of their inexperience. In addition, they expressed a notable discrepancy in what they expected to learn as new teachers and what they actually received in the way of guidance and instruction. This inconsistency was perceived as a hindrance to a smooth transition as a novice in the role of nursing faculty. Overall, their reflections on the barriers depicted a sense of being alone in unfamiliar circumstances of great responsibility with limited people support. Figure 1 illustrates the identified barriers to the development of academic nurse educator competence.

Barriers to the development of novice nurse educator competence.

Figure 1.

Barriers to the development of novice nurse educator competence.

Facilitators to the Nurse Educator's Competence

The faculty participants identified several facilitators to their development into competent academics. Their professors in the formal coursework in their master's programs had provided them with a foundation in teaching that included information about teaching learning theory, assessing and evaluating the learner, and teaching methods for the classroom and for the clinical experience. They also learned the role with some practical application. All of the participants received advice, guidance, and support from varying sources, including faculty colleagues, program administrators, observant friends, and family. However, the amount of professional formal guidance in the academic work tended to be sporadic, limited, and lacking in precision for the varied situations that they confronted as new faculty. Only one participant experienced and described the ideal mentor support; she noted that she had “the perfect role model” for learning the work of an academic and a readily accessible guide and teacher throughout her teaching practicum.

In addition, the participants used the student evaluations of their teaching performance to help them identify and understand where and how they needed to improve. One participant commented, “I totally changed some things and improved on how I did some things.” One faculty said, “I always look at the negative evaluations because they are more important to me as an educator…. How do I make myself better?” They recognized the value of feedback from the learner to guide their professional development as nurse educators. The participants' consistent review of student comments allowed them to be self-evaluative and presented them with the opportunity to become better educators. The novice faculty learned to develop themselves in self-reflection and increased their sensitivity to hear from the learner, understanding the necessity of change to achieve the best outcomes, both in their teaching practice and in developing their students.

As an added point, in our prolonged engagement with the data, reviewing and analyzing the transcripts, recordings, and diaries, the authors observed that each of the participants had the personal characteristics that enhanced their development into becoming competent in their academic work. The qualities identified included (a) dedication to the nursing profession and having a sense of obligation and responsibility to the students, (b) diligence to teaching students well and responsibly, and (c) understanding the long-term and far-reaching impact of their instruction. The faculty participants did not choose to leave the academic setting, but rather they decided to learn how to become effective in their teaching practice to enable competence in student outcomes. These personal attributes distinguished them as individuals who understood the value of service and helping others to learn for the greater good of the community and humanity. Figure 2 illustrates key facilitators identified in this study.

Facilitators to the development of novice nurse educator competence.

Figure 2.

Facilitators to the development of novice nurse educator competence.

In analyzing the participants' transformative learning events, the authors found characteristics common to the transformative learning situations. One aspect was the context or setting for the transformative learning: all of the events occurred in a circumstance in which there was a strong relationship with another person, such as a close friend, or an important relationship with a group of people. The other observed condition of transformative learning was that it occurred as part of a major educational event or teaching–learning activity, such as being part of an essential nursing course or key content area. Understanding the settings in which transformative learning may occur is important to creating environments in which both faculty and students may become more open, receptive, and inclusive of the perspectives of others, thereby valuing the richness of diversity among people.

Discussion

The barriers and facilitators to the development of the nurse academic, as identified in this study, are consistent with the literature describing the experience and the challenges (Anderson, 2009; Dempsey, 2007; Manning & Neville, 2009; Siler & Kleiner, 2001). However, the current study adds to the evidence by ascertaining the best linkage of two essential facilitators in developing the nurse educator's competence: an extended mentorship for new nurse faculty, with a devoted mentor to guide and direct the on-the-job learning. All the participants spoke about the need for an ongoing mentoring program to manage the knowledge gap and receive practical instructions (Kolb, 1984) as they transitioned to academia. Without this critical support, they stated that they felt tremendous uncertainty about the work of the nurse academic. This study's findings that new faculty lack knowledge, support, and time are consistent with the literature (Anibas et al., 2009; Dempsey, 2007; Manning & Neville, 2009; McDonald, 2010; Schriner, 2007; Siler & Kleiner, 2001). However, one participant was the beneficiary of the ideal situation of having a competent, compassionate mentor as her faculty preceptor for the teaching practicum, who later became her mentor, course lead, and friend in her new role as nurse academic. Her experience was the exemplar of what novice faculty need. The two elements combined proved essential to her new educator role and worked to establish her on an effective path to developing competence as a nurse academic teaching prelicensure nursing students. The pairing of these key factors upholds Kolb's (1984) experiential learning theory, which is the framework for the current study, in which Kolb asserted that theoretical knowledge is incomplete without real-life practical application.

The faculty participants' narratives of their experience in transition to academia and their descriptions of their transformative learning events provided insight about the type of settings and conditions that may facilitate the development of competence in the academic nurse educator's role. In studying this phenomenon, the authors were able to validate the experience of the novice nurse educator to academia and identify the linkage of key essentials to an effective transition toward becoming competent as a new academic. Furthermore, the authors identified conditions that may help to create environments in which transformative learning may occur.

Conclusions and Implications for Nursing Education

Novice nursing faculty who teach prelicensure nursing students face significant challenges as they transition to the world of academia. Their experiences in this new unfamiliar setting are likely novel, often unexpected, requiring a wealth of new knowledge and needing much time, support, and guidance for successful management and outcomes. This study contributes to the extant literature on the requisite preparation and educational support necessary for novice faculty and adds knowledge by identifying two conditions common to transformative learning experiences, in a setting of a major teaching–learning activity or event, and with participants who share a meaningful relationship of value and respect. Recognizing the conditions that favor transformative learning, which is the stimulus for an individual becoming more inclusive and considerate of others' perspectives, nursing programs with new faculty need to create environments in which transformational learning may occur. The current study has also shown that the most effective facilitators to developing teaching competence is the combination of the quality compassionate mentor to guide the novice faculty over time through an internship program for new nursing faculty. Accommodations have been implemented at the research site to provide ongoing mentoring support for new faculty, using a dedicated faculty support person and identifying and pairing additional faculty within courses to serve as mentors. Provisions such as these are essential to maintain the high standards of teaching excellence to prepare a competent professional nurse workforce capable of promoting and maintaining the health and well-being of its patients. Further study of this phenomenon should consider provisions for telephone and e-mail access to mentors when questions arise. Senior faculty who have modified or reduced their workload as they move toward retirement may serve as ideal experienced and dedicated mentors to guide, support, and counsel, with internships for current and future generations of nursing faculty within favorable environments in which transformative learning may occur.

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Authors

Dr. Cooley is Associate Professor, Mount Carmel College of Nursing, Columbus, Ohio; and Dr. De Gagne is Assistant Professor, Duke University School of Nursing, Durham, North Carolina.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Shirley S. Cooley, PhD, RN, CNE, Associate Professor, Mount Carmel College of Nursing, 127 S. Davis Ave., Columbus, OH 43222; e-mail: scooley@mccn.edu.

Received: June 09, 2015

Accepted: November 18, 2015

10.3928/01484834-20160114-07

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