The profession of nursing continues to face not only a growing hospital nursing demand but also a nurse faculty shortage (Rosseter, 2017). A west Texas university has one of the largest cohorts of telecommuter nursing faculty in the state. This unique position was found to be extremely beneficial in recruiting faculty into this university's open positions. For example, although some universities struggle to have a few quality faculty apply for open positions, when this west Texas University advertised five telecommuter full-time positions, the incoming applications exceeded 100. The primary purpose of this descriptive study was to explore and define the experience of nursing telecommuting faculty related to career satisfaction, thoughts and feelings related to work-life, and sense of connectivity to a school of nursing. After the results were obtained, the investigators believe these findings may assist other nursing programs considering the telecommuter role in the future.
By 2030, the Texas Center for Nursing Workforce Studies (TCNWS) projects a nursing shortage for all types of nurses (TCNWS, 2016). “The supply of registered nurses (RNs), nurse practitioners (NPs), certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and certified nurse-midwives (CNMs) will fall short of demand for those nurse types each year from 2015 to 2030” (TCNWS, 2016, p. 1). Nursing schools will be unable to meet the demand with the addition of the onset of the Baby Boomers' health care needs. The inability of colleges of nursing to meet prospective student interest is largely an issue that has been reported annually in organizational reports on faculty shortages (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2017; National League for Nursing, 2013).
One of the difficulties with confronting faculty shortages is the ability of each school of nursing to maintain their current workforces. The combination of an aging nursing faculty and lower salaries compared with practice settings can create both a recruitment and retention battle. The evolution of this telecommuter faculty role has been a successful method for addressing both recruitment and retention concerns in nursing universities. Telecommuting in this study is defined as a work-at-home arrangement or a remote access arrangement contracted between a university and a nursing faculty for at least all or the majority of the workweek on a regular basis. Whether transitioning from a full-time on-campus position at this university to a telecommuter role or having been hired in as a new faculty, having experience in online teaching environments was deemed essential. In addition, having telecommuter policies in place that have been revised over the years was also necessary and essential. At the time of this study, the platform Sakai was used for all online courses and all faulty received training if they were not familiar with this platform.
The following are the three requirements of telecommuters for this university:
- Full tripartite role: In this model, faculty are expected to engage in a full load of online teaching (depending on which nursing program, but generally 9 to 12 credit units per semester over a 12-month contract), community, local, state or national service such as nursing organizations, committees, or leadership roles, and scholarly activities such as research, evidence-based practice activities, or poster presentations at nursing organizational conferences.
- Multiple faculty tracks: This faculty telecommuter model has been applied to faculty in any of the following designated positions: tenured, tenure seeking, or nontenured; instructor to professor. Yearly evaluations are performed on all faculty and faculty can apply for promotional opportunities as telecommuters.
- Full role and responsibility of an on-campus faculty: As such, this includes chairing committees, producing research, course coordination, policy committees, faculty senate representation, and more, up to the level of a program director. Attendance at major faculty meetings is expected and is facilitated by the meeting software, Zoom.
Online learning has been extensively studied over the last decade; however, research on the telecommuter role is not as readily available. Many studies address the telecommuter role in organizations and businesses. Few studies examine the role of nursing telecommuter faculty. Telecommuting was first introduced into the workforce in the 1980s as a solution to environmental air pollution by decreasing the number of drivers on the road (Nayab, 2011). During this time, the technology was not always dependable and often was frustrating for those working at a distance. Online programs were just emerging in the early 1990s and the notion of telecommuting was uncharted in education (Koerner, 2011; Shea, Pickett, & Li, 2005). Online education provided an opportunity for schools to expand and reach learners at a distance while also reducing physical space for learning (Shea et al., 2005).
Faculty as Telecommuters
Tustin (2014) sought to investigate perceptions of part-time telecommuting senior faculty in relation to students, managers, and in-house faculty within one university in South Africa. Surveys were created for each of the groups to assess the benefits and impact of telecommuters on a variety of measures such as satisfaction, enjoyment, challenges, workload, perceptions, work-related symptoms, and student satisfaction. Some of the findings included: (a) telecommuters enjoyed fewer interruptions and being comfortable while working, thereby demonstrating increased productivity; (b) the major challenges noted were network connectivity issues and lack of social interaction with peers; (c) telecommuting faculty reported being more productive and happier with lower levels of fatigue and frustration; and (d) managers reported more positives than negatives related to telecommuters but noted difficulty in measuring work performances of telecommuters. Telecommuting faculty was deemed a positive trend as long as the effects on all potentially affected groups are considered and explored.
One personal experience shared by a telecommuting department of education administrator and faculty working with adjunct off-campus faculty was published (Schulte, 2015). Although not nursing specific, strengths such as autonomy, flexibility, fewer distractions, lower commuting and wardrobe costs, and institutional cost savings were shared. Disadvantages included communication strain, lack of contact with peers, confronting the perception from on-campus faculty that online faculty were not working as hard, and missing on-campus social activities and events. The author stressed the need for strong and comprehensive policies for off-campus faculty.
Nursing Faculty Telecommuters
In 2006, Texas launched a campaign to increase the number of newly licensed nurses in preparation for the shortage. In addition, in 2010 the Future of Nursing (Institute of Medicine, 2010), sponsored by AARP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, called for an increase in the number of RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates to aid in reaching 80% BSN-prepared workforce by 2020. Both of these initiatives led one Texas school of nursing to accept this challenge for increased nursing graduate production and strategically plan for growth. One initiative launched for maximizing faculty capacity was the adoption of full-time faculty in telecommuting roles. This initiative has aided enrollment growth and allowed leadership to reenvision the faculty role. Through planning for appropriate technology, communication, policy updates, and new policy development, telecommuting faculty add value to every aspect of the mission (Chapman et al., 2015).
Beginning in 2012, most published nursing articles focused on techniques and strategies for transitioning from in-person to online (Sword, 2012), the lessons learned in creating an online program (Hoffman & Dudjak, 2012), and a variety of online strategies to implement with students; these were summarized in a systematic review by McCutcheon, Lohan, Traynor, and Martin (2015). Techniques for creating an interactive online course were presented in 2014 (Schnetter et al., 2014).
With respect to the online distance nurse educator role, Pearsall, Hodson-Carlton, and Flowers (2012) presented barriers and strategies toward implementing these roles. A two-phase online study was conducted comparing two samples: hiring decision makers and experienced faculty. Six hundred thirty-two faculty with the designation of Certified Nurse Educators by the National League for Nursing were offered the opportunity to participate, with a response rate of 23% (n = 198). The four most common perceived barriers included the struggle with traditionally teaching in person, perceived role change, college and philosophical constraints, and performing all faculty roles off campus. The four most common strategies for successfully implementing distance full-time faculty included the need for technological and administrative support, collegial support, ensuring intellectual challenge of distance education, and increasing job satisfaction.
Authors from a similar institution with a long history of distant faculty engaging in the tripartite role described a 2-year pilot project based on one tenured faculty member's transition from full-time on-site to an off-campus distant location (Goodfellow, Zungolo, Lockhart, & Turk, 2014). The authors discussed the evolution of a Distant Faculty Model that included planning, teaching (including chairing dissertations,) scholarship (including research), service on committees, maintaining a presence, evaluation of the model, and lessons learned. Overall, the 2-year experience was deemed successful for this one tenured faculty who was able to meet and exceed the tenure and promotion criteria from a distant location. The tenured faculty mentioned presented her experience of moving from a tenured traditional on campus faculty role to a distant educator due to family obligations (Wood, 2016). Her experiences, perceived barriers, communication challenges, teaching strategies, and policy considerations were presented from her own perspective.
Westphal, Marnocha, and Chapin (2016) explored a midwestern university's nursing faculty workforce issues as a means of understanding factors affecting retention. The Faculty Satisfaction Survey (Bittner & O'Connor, 2012) was sent to full- and part-time employed faculty. In particular, the concepts of job satisfaction and intent to leave were major variables assessed within this tool. There were different motivators noted between full-time and part-time faculty with respect to job satisfaction. Independence, autonomy, and meaningfulness of the work were the motivators for part-time faculty. Full-time faculty viewed feeling safe in the work environment and variety in the work as the two major motivators. As noted in other studies of nursing faculty, salary, compensation, working conditions, and supervision were major variables affecting these full-time educators and decisions to remain or leave current faculty roles (Westphal et al., 2016).
Wingo, Peters, Ivankova, and Gurley (2016) interviewed and reported on the views of three different stakeholders involved in delivering nursing education online: nursing faculty, administrators, and instructional designers. This qualitative study compared and contrasted the major similarities and differences within these three key groups within three southeast U.S. schools of nursing. Some of the areas with differing views or gaps included (a) availability of nursing faculty online to students—how much time, weekends and holidays, and type and quality of the available time; (b) offering additional financial compensation to faculty teaching online; (c) type and availability of training and support for online nursing faculty; (d) online teaching workload concerns especially when attempting to achieve promotion or tenure goals; and (e) policies and procedures surrounding issues of teaching online.
There is a paucity of research available on the role of the distant or telecommuter nursing faculty. Realizing that this university afforded a very unique and innovative opportunity to share perceptions, including strengths and weaknesses of a good-sized telecommuting faculty, the investigators chose to research elements of this position using a descriptive approach to add to the body of knowledge in this area.
Imogene King's interacting systems framework and theory of goal attainment (King, 1999) provided the theoretical foundation for this study. The constructs of perception, communication, and interaction underline all actions and interactions and ultimately support goal attainment for the faculty selecting this model for their faculty position. In addition, the theory of work adjustment (Dawis, 2005) added the foundation of career development and satisfaction in terms of person-environment correspondence—that is, congruence between person and environment is linked to job satisfaction. As telecommuting is a relatively new virtual environment, these theoretical concepts added to the understanding of the world of telecommuting nursing faculty.
A mixed-methods design was selected using qualitative content analysis and quantitative statistics (Sandelowski, 2000). After obtaining institutional review board approval, the study was conducted using a convenience sample of telecommuting nursing faculty. The survey, which consisted of demographic questions, rating scales, and open-ended questions, was transmitted online to participants in May 2017. A list of all full- and part-time telecommuters was obtained by investigators from an assistant dean of finance and administration. One week before e-mailing the survey, the prospective subjects received an e-mail alerting them of the upcoming survey and Qualtrics® link. Two $50 stipends were offered as incentives to encourage greater participation, and two participating faculty were anonymously selected and received stipends. All full- (N = 35) and part-time (N = 6) telecommuter faculty who were employed in May 2017 were offered the opportunity to respond to the survey, thus meeting inclusion criteria. The investigators removed themselves from the study as participants, thus meeting exclusion criteria.
The investigators had no access to the Qualtrics data produced by the survey. The statistician extracted the data from the site, deidentified the data, and shared the deidentified data with the investigators. If a participant could be identified by what he or she wrote, the identifying information was removed and the identifying sentence was excluded from final data analysis. The only risk for this study was the potential loss of confidentiality, but the investigators minimized the risk by not providing participant identity with the survey results.
To qualitatively process their thoughts and feelings concerning the telecommuter role, content classification began by using a summative approach proposed by Hsieh and Shannon (2005) to analyze question responses. Two researchers read the transcripts multiple times to gain a sense of meaning and use the data from the open-ended responses to identify themes and broad categories for the data (Collins, Owen, & Champion, 2016). Next, coding allowed the investigators to organize large quantities of data from participants' responses into content categories. This aided in exploring the data for patterns and themes expressed in text or emerged through analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005). Next, relationships among categories were identified through the use of a devised coding scheme cited by Collins et al. (2016). Emerging patterns of key terms and phrases led to content analysis and the final revision and consensus of themes and subthemes. This study, including preliminary results, was presented during a monthly nursing faculty research lunch meeting, and all faculty including telecommuter faculty were invited. Qualitative themes were confirmed during the question-and-answer portion of this presentation, which served as a check on our selected themes.
There was a 51.2% response rate (N = 21) for the demographic date section of this study, which included 19 female and two male faculty, and a 58.5% qualitative response rate (N = 24). Forty three percent (n = 9) of the participants were between the ages of 61 and 70 years, compared with 57% under the age of 60 years (n = 12), and 76% (n = 16) of the participants were married. One participant reported being of Mexican descent, compared with 20 participants reporting being non-Hispanic. Fifty-seven percent (n = 12) of the participants were doctorally prepared.
Eighty-one percent (n = 17) of the participants have previously worked on campus in either a full-time or part-time faculty role before selecting the telecommuter role. Nineteen percent (n = 4) of the participants reported working as a telecommuter for 5 to 10 years, whereas another 19% (n = 4) of the participants reported working as a telecommuter for 13 to 23 months. These two categories of length of employment in the telecommuter role reveal a sample equally divided between those new to the role (under 36 months) and those participants with years of experience in the role, with the majority of respondents (62%, n = 13) having been in their positions between 2 to 5 years. In addition, 43% (n = 9) spent between 6 and 15 hours caring for family weekly, whereas 24% (n = 5) of the participants each spent either under 5 hours or more than 21 hours per week in family caretaking roles.
Rating scales were used for respondents to estimate their perceived levels of stress, workload intensity, sense of autonomy, and scholarly productivity on scale of a 0 (very low) to 10 (very high) points. Table 1 reports the means of these four areas. Table 2 reports the results of correlations between age, caretaking time, stress level, workload intensity, sense of autonomy, and scholarly productivity for this sample. Faculty age was negatively statistically correlated with weekly caretaking time, indicating that younger faculty were engaging in higher weekly caretaking hours. In addition, stress level ratings were statistically correlated with both workload intensity ratings and scholarly productivity ratings.
Rating Scale Topics, With Average Means Ranging From 0 (Low) to 10 (High)
Correlations Between Age, Caregiving Time, Stress Level, Workload Intensity, Sense of Autonomy, and Scholarly Productivity
The following process occurred between the two co-investigators to review and identify themes presented in this study. First, all comments were downloaded from Qualtrics and separate copies were e-mailed to both investigators. Second, each co-investigator read and reread the comments separately, while color coding meaningful statements. Third, from the color-coded statement, initial themes were generated. During the fourth phase, the co-investigators compared the generated themes and shared the color-coded statements. This led to the fifth phase, where themes were discussed and either were synonymous or blended together to create final consensus and agreement, thus enhancing trustworthiness. The primary themes were as follows.
Need for Social Engagement. Twenty-three varying comments were expressed regarding experiencing a sense of isolation and feeling lonely or alone in the telecommuter role. One participant noted, “At times, it is lonely. I miss the day-to-day camaraderie I would have with fellow faculty.” Another response was, “I miss walking around and visiting people about an academic issue or about what is happening in their lives.” Thirteen respondents specifically stated they missed office life and seeing peers, including having a physical presence at the activities and meetings on campus. A respondent summed this up, stating, “I feel very isolated and left out of campus life and activities.” Another respondent stated, “I mostly miss being present. I miss seeing my colleagues regularly, and I miss feeling like I'm a part of what's happening on campus.”
Overall, if faculty members could find social activities near their home or effectively transition to the use of technology to meet their social needs, they expressed the positives of being in a telecommuter role as outweighing the negatives. One respondent shared, “Occasionally events take place on campus that I cannot be a part of but the benefits outweigh this minor issue.” Those who embraced using online video-conferencing software support (such as Zoom) as a means of communicating also seemed to feel more comfortable in this role. One respondent captured this, noting an “initial adjustment of being socially disconnected with other faculty, but Zoom helped.”
Independence. The theme of independence experienced as a telecommuter came across strongly as one of the major benefits to this role. Whether this role allowed a faculty to be close to aging parents or grandchildren, or to remain living in a city beneficial to a spouse, the freedom associated with this role was considered a strength. Two subthemes emerged in the writings: flexibility and autonomy.
Flexibility. Eight respondents mentioned how important flexibility was in this role and shared why this was so. One example was, “I enjoy the flexibility of having my office at home.” Some shared the importance of creating their own schedule, being able to enjoy working outside, and achieving work–life balance. Many shared how much they enjoyed flexibility while being available to assist with aging parents. Simply stated, one faculty wrote, “Flexibility to deal with family health issues while still maintaining a full-time workload.”
Autonomy. Five respondents specifically mentioned the word autonomy, and four others alluded to the concept of autonomy using the term freedom. One respondent stated the sentiment most expressed in the following: “I have autonomy and the ability to work as a leader in my current position and I appreciate this with more time to focus on course, committee work and scholarship.” Another example included, “Telecommuting has given me my freedom back.”
Technology. The use of technology to support the telecommuting role was frequently referred to in the survey responses. Fifteen responses cited technology as helpful to the implementing the telecommuter role. Specifically, subthemes emerged related to the assistance of both campus information technology support and Zoom technology as the two keys needed for telecommuting success. Information technology support was seen as readily available from campus by the telecommuter and was viewed as excellent in providing the service needed by the distance faculty. Finally, Zoom video-conferencing software support was noted on seven occasions by responders as an important tool for the telecommuter. One participant noted, “Video and technology [were] very helpful in helping me to get used to incorporating interaction with my peers” and another noted, “I had an initial adjustment to being socially disconnected with other faculty, but Zoom helped.” Overall, the availability and active use of Zoom created a sense of connectedness and was viewed positively by respondents.
Productivity. The respondents made 22 comments concerning their own productivity as a telecommuter. All comments indicated a belief that telecommuting increased the faculty members' productivity. The theme of productivity was noted in the following statements by several respondents: “Less stressful & more productive,” “More productive, more focused because of [fewer] interruptions,” and “More meaningful meetings with bosses, more organized and more in touch with my work.” An interesting pattern emerged when reading the transcript responses on productivity. Workload and scholarly activity were noted as impacting productivity. For instance, a few respondents shared the heavier the teaching load, based on programmatic needs, the harder it was to initiate research projects or produce scholarly work.
Fulfilling Career Goals. Just as some respondents shared workload impacted scholarly activity, 23 of 24 respondents felt they were able to fulfill their individual career goals while telecommuting. One notable respondent's comment captured the essence of many, stating, “I have been able to engage nationally in professional organizations, engage students in high-level projects, and conduct research and scholarly activities.” Several respondents felt the autonomy and flexibility increased their ability to fulfill career goals. All but one respondent felt they were meeting career goals and that telecommuting aided this by empowering them, forcing them to be self-motivated, and allowing them to engage in shared governance in a meaningful way from home. One unique respondent found fulfilling career goals to be difficult for a telecommuter, stating, “I believe my goals would aim higher if I were on a campus. I think we are slightly at a disadvantage being remote.”
From one Texas university school of nursing with a commitment to telecommuters, 58.5% responded to the qualitative questions of this survey, with 51.2% responding to the demographics. The demographic data reported to be most significant were age, with the majority under age 60, and doctorally prepared. Also significant was that 80% had previously worked as a faculty member in either a full- or part-time role. As noted in Tables 1–2, age and caretaking time were negatively statistically correlated, with younger faculty reporting more caregiving hours. Younger faculty were balancing a telecommuter role along with raising children. Although several faculty mentioned taking care of aging parents or a spouse, the estimated hours were not as long as those of the younger faculty. Workload intensity and scholarly productivity were both significantly correlated with stress level. Those faculty who experienced their workload as greater also registered higher stress levels. Similarly, those faculty who were working on scholarly productivity concomitant with heavier teaching obligations experienced higher stress levels as well.
The need for social engagement was a strong theme that permeated the majority of overall responses. However, the use of and embracement of technology to overcome feelings of isolation appeared to modulate this need for social engagement. Those respondents who readily utilized technologies such as Zoom felt that this was a reasonable substitution for in-person dialogue. Further, the advantage of having independence and autonomous control over one's schedule at home provided a less stressful environment, as well as outweighed the feelings of isolation and loneliness. When discussing scholarly productivity, the majority of respondents felt they were more productive, with fewer interruptions, in the telecommuter role, especially when writing professionally and working on research studies. Finally, when reflecting on personal career goals, all but one respondent felt they were meeting or exceeding their personal expectations while in the telecommuter role.
From the shared responses of nursing telecommuter faculty, the nursing faculty telecommuter interactional model for success was created (Figure 1). This model was created and recreated several times to best encapsulate the dynamics occurring with telecommuter faculty on the basis of their responses and previously published literature. The need for social interaction came across strongly, especially from those faculty who initially were in full-time on-campus positions. It was clear that faculty who left the campus-based life missed their peers and campus activities. Therefore, the struggle to balance in-office engagement with the home office isolation was significant, and how this is addressed appeared to determine overall success and acclimation in this role. This can be best depicted as a balancing pivot point for telecommuters. Factors that positively affected the balance included online meetings and online social interactions, positive reports of flexibility, support from administrators, and high levels of autonomy and freedom. Successful technology in the form of online meetings, course delivery, consistent interactions with students and faculty, along with continued training in technological advances within the web-based course platforms were all shared and emphasized. Therefore, technology appeared to be the driving force of productive work days, including efficient use of time. Finally, all the abovementioned factors together appeared to support and create opportunity to fulfill one's individual faculty career goals.
Nursing faculty telecommuter interactional model for success.
This model supports the findings of Pearsall et al. (2012) regarding the need for technological and administrative support in a distant learning environment. In addition, this model concurs with a number of the faculty specific issues presented by Wingo et al. (2016) with respect to workload balance and the need for consistent training and quality support for faculty to be successful in an online faculty role. When making a determination of adding a telecommuter faculty role, this model, based on qualitative statements of current telecommuter nursing faculty, suggests factors to consider and how they interact.
Applicability of these study findings may be limited to universities that are similar to those in the state of Texas and with a vast regional student service area. Further, this study was based on telecommuter nursing faculty from one university, with 58.5% of those eligible choosing to respond. A 58.5% online response rate is considered to be a strong response. It is possible some faculty were on vacation, attending a conference, or busy with faculty responsibilities, although numerous e-mail reminders were delivered. Therefore, perceptions and experiences reflect the perspective of telecommuter faculty from one university; however, respondents represented a variety of offered nursing programs. Additional exploration is needed with a larger, more diverse sample who are also in an exclusively distant telecommuter faculty role.
Nursing Telecommuter Role Considerations
Table 3 provides suggestions for faculty and administrative consideration. Although limited to a small homogeneous sample, these suggestions reflect 11 years of faculty from a school of nursing who have been committed to developing and the successful implementation of this innovative role. It is important to support off-campus telecommuting faculty in two major ways: to support travel of telecommuter faculty to and from the home campus, when appropriate, and to have a governance model that allows committee memberships, as well as leadership positions with telecommuter faculty.
Nursing Telecommuter Role Considerations
The survey captured faculty perspectives of telecommuters who are at a distance from their primary institution. This survey presented perspectives beyond “just teaching online.”
Telecommuters are 300 to 600 miles away from the main campus. This survey was designed to determine the elements involved in a successful telecommuter faculty in a tripartite role. Many of the faculty are balancing missing being off campus with the desire and flexibility to telecommute. Freedom, autonomy, and flexibility were key to the role, as well as the desire to maintain social support from campus colleagues.
This research underscores the dynamics involved with the telecommuter role, and how nursing programs can work toward increasing opportunity and ultimately success with this position in order to fulfill faculty vacancies. Many states continue to report turning away qualified nursing program applicants due to unfilled posted faculty vacancies (Rosseter, 2017). Using the proposed nursing faculty telecommuter interactional model for success as a guide to understanding interacting factors, more college and university nursing programs may choose to implement a telecommuter role to meet the unfilled faculty vacancies and thus enroll additional qualified program applicants, thereby addressing the impending future nursing shortage. Leaders in this initiative need to truly understand all facets of the telecommuter role, which may be designated as a model for nursing schools in the United States in the near future.
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Rating Scale Topics, With Average Means Ranging From 0 (Low) to 10 (High)
|Rating Scale Topic||Mean|
|Overall workload intensity||6.54|
|Sense of autonomy||9.19|
|Scholarly productivity, compared with on campus||6.95|
Correlations Between Age, Caregiving Time, Stress Level, Workload Intensity, Sense of Autonomy, and Scholarly Productivity
|Age||Caretaking Time||Stress Level||Workload Intensity||Sense of Autonomy||Scholarly Productivity|
|Sense of autonomy||−0.052||−0.161||−0.289||−0.242||—||−0.042|
Nursing Telecommuter Role Considerations
|Faculty and Administrative Considerations|
|The telecommuter role can be extremely beneficial to a school of nursing that is struggling with recruiting faculty.|
|When proposing this role, it is critical to have a strong information technology department along with administrative and faculty support.|
|Budgets need to be created to support travel of telecommuters to campus for select meeting and/or yearly graduations.|
|Resources and a governance model are needed to allow for telecommuters to participate in major committees.|
|Everyone needs to be mindful of the potential for feeling isolated when transitioning to this role.|