Journal of Nursing Education

Major Article 

Addressing the Faculty Shortage Through Connections: Stories of Becoming a Nurse Educator

Bonnie Ross, EdD, RN, CNE; Monica Reid Kerrigan, EdD

Abstract

Background:

The current nursing faculty shortage is projected to continue. This article addresses recruitment and retention by contributing to the public stories of successful nursing faculty.

Method:

Narrative inquiry was used to examine how the ways of knowing of three associate degree nurse educators evolved over time in the community college setting.

Results:

The educators' early stories portrayed an internal tension that was in sharp contrast to the capability and self-confidence of an expert nurse. Stories revealed their struggle to balance empathy and care (connected knowing) with logic and objectivity (separate knowing) when handling challenging student situations. Over time, the educators developed ways of integrating connected and separate knowing, becoming constructivist knowers.

Conclusion:

The findings validate the importance of providing meaningful support for novice educators. Private spaces to promote reflection and active dialoging with a trusted mentor will assist new faculty as they work through their integration of caring verses objective knowing. [J Nurs Educ. 2020;59(10):545–550.]

Abstract

Background:

The current nursing faculty shortage is projected to continue. This article addresses recruitment and retention by contributing to the public stories of successful nursing faculty.

Method:

Narrative inquiry was used to examine how the ways of knowing of three associate degree nurse educators evolved over time in the community college setting.

Results:

The educators' early stories portrayed an internal tension that was in sharp contrast to the capability and self-confidence of an expert nurse. Stories revealed their struggle to balance empathy and care (connected knowing) with logic and objectivity (separate knowing) when handling challenging student situations. Over time, the educators developed ways of integrating connected and separate knowing, becoming constructivist knowers.

Conclusion:

The findings validate the importance of providing meaningful support for novice educators. Private spaces to promote reflection and active dialoging with a trusted mentor will assist new faculty as they work through their integration of caring verses objective knowing. [J Nurs Educ. 2020;59(10):545–550.]

Nursing schools in the United States turned away 75,029 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2018 due to various causes, including an insufficient number of faculty (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2019). Another survey showed a national nurse faculty vacancy rate of 7.9%, 91% of which were positions requiring or preferring a doctoral degree (AACN, 2019). The National League for Nursing (NLN) 2019–2020 Public Policy Agenda reaffirms these concerns (NLN, 2019). Faculty vacancies in the United States continue to grow as the number of current, potential full and part-time educators move into higher compensating clinical and part-time settings (AACN, 2019). The current nursing faculty shortage will worsen as the current nursing faculty workforce retires and younger nurses seek employment in clinical and private sector settings (AACN, 2019).

This study captured the personal, social, and temporal experiences of becoming a nursing faculty member to create connections and, ultimately, foster self-inquiry (Lindsay & Schwind, 2016) between nursing faculty members, potential educators, and administrators through the voices of current associate degree (AD) nurse educators. Sharing stories of the experiences of being new in teaching and nursing may address the retention of nurse educators (Diekelmann, 2004). This article contributes stories of successful nurse educators and provides in-depth and relatable views through the three-dimensional framework of narrative inquiry.

Literature Review

Nursing Faculty Satisfaction and Retention

Despite salary disparities between nurse practitioners and nurse educators, three factors account for the satisfaction of and support for nurse educators. First, working with students is the primary reason nursing faculty give for taking or staying in the role of educator (Brady, 2010; Datillo et al., 2009; Evans, 2013). Second, studies found that helping to shape and give back to the nursing profession attracted nurses to become educators (Brady, 2010; Duphily, 2011; Evans, 2013; Gardner, 2014; Morris, 1995; Weidman, 2013). Third, role modeling and the influence of other nurse educators plays a major role in attracting nurses to become teachers (Brady, 2007; Dattilo et al., 2009; Duphily, 2011; Evans, 2013; Gardner, 2014; Hoffman, 2019). Factors that influence nurses to become and remain educators include working in an intellectually stimulating environment and having autonomy and flexibility in one's work (Brady, 2007; Datillo et al., 2009; Evans, 2013).

In nursing education, one line of research focuses on novice nurse educators (Benner et al., 2010; Brady, 2007; Dattilo et al., 2009; Duphily, 2011; Gardner, 2014; Hoffman, 2019; Weidman, 2013). Duphily's (2011) phenomenological study explored novice nurse educator's mentoring, the importance of the team, garnering support among coworkers, and patiently listening and learning during the first year as an educator. Weidman's (2013) phenomenological study found that the transition process elicits feelings of stress about the lack of educational theory, and Hoffman's (2019) qualitative descriptive research found that novice faculty commonly sought out experienced peer faculty as a resource for teaching.

Women's Ways of Knowing

The work by Belenky et al. (1986, 1997) on women's ways of knowing informed our understanding of how participants successfully evolved in their role. Belenky et al. (1997) proposed five epistemological perspectives by which women know and view the world: silence, received knowing, subjective knowing, procedural (separate and connected knowing), and constructed knowing; the last three are relevant to this study.

Subjective knowing suggests women's truth and knowledge stem from their personal and intuitive selves. Belenky et al. (1997) described subjective knowers as women who had once relied on external authority to direct their lives and have shifted to an “adherence to the authority within us” (p. 54); they have a strong conviction that their truth is personal.

Procedural (separate or connected) knowers have learned that their inner voice of subjective knowing was not always right for them, they desire to “see things the way they really are” (p. 99), and they “are attempting to gain control of their lives in a planned, deliberate fashion” (Belenky et al., 1997, p. 99). Separate knowing is characterized as being detached, tough minded, and critical; women who are separate knowers believe in impersonal justice and procedures for establishing truth (Nelms & Lane, 1999). Connected knowers believe that most trusted knowledge comes from personal experience rather than from authority (Belenky et al., 1997, p. 112). Connected knowing requires caring and patience, and it enables empathy and collaboration.

Constructed knowers are articulate, reflective, and self-aware, and they struggle to find balance in their lives regarding separateness and connectedness. These women are ambitious and fight to find their own voice to express what they understand and care about. Constructed knowers “weave together the strands of rational and emotive thought and of integrating objective and subjective knowing” (Belenky, 1997, p. 134). They “integrate feeling and care into their work and strive to ensure their morals and values are nurtured and cared for in the families and community” (Belenky et al., 1997, p. 152).

The conceptual framework for this study integrates the epistemological perspectives of Belenky et al. (1997) with Clandinin's & Connelly's (2000) definition of narrative inquiry as a “way of understanding and inquiring into experience through collaboration between researcher and participants, over time, in a place or series of places, and in social interaction with milieus” (p. 2). These three commonplaces of narrative inquiry— temporality, sociality, and place—provided the lens through which the lead researcher and the participants cocomposed research texts to provide readers with an intimate, contextual, and relatable understanding of the experiences of becoming a nurse educator in the community college setting.

Method

This article addresses the following research question: How have the ways of knowing of AD nurse educators in this study evolved over time in relation to becoming and being nursing faculty in the community college setting? Two subquestions are posed: (a) What are the experiences that led the AD nurse educators in this study to become and remain faculty in the community college setting? (b) How have these experiences influenced their ways of knowing?

Narrative Inquiry

Nurses are natural storytellers; they help organize nurses' work and assist in interpreting experiences (Baker, 1991; White & Epston, 1990; Wolf, 2008). Nursing research has recognized the importance of narratives for years (Sandelowski, 1991; Wolf, 2008). Tanner (2006) asserted “narrative is an important tool of reflection that having and telling stories of one's experience as clinicians helps turn experience into practical knowledge and understanding” (p. 207). Lindsay and Schwind (2016) explained the purpose of narrative inquiry as a “holistic exploration of a chosen phenomenon” addressing depth and breadth (p. 15). Although narrative inquiry has been used in nursing research, explorations of the transition to nurse educator have not used this approach despite its suitability.

Narrative inquiry views experience as a “cumulative series of interactions…a product of one's continuous interaction of self and the world” (Dewy, 1934, as cited in Lindsay, 2006, p. 35). It is a way of understanding experience through collaboration between researcher and participants over time in a place and in social interaction (Clandinin, 2013, p. 17). The researcher and participants cocompose field texts (data) that become research texts (Clandinin, 2013, p. 46) as we “live alongside, telling our stories, hearing another's stories, moving in and acting in the places-the contexts-in which our lives meet” (Clandinin, 2013, p. 23). Because the lead researcher of this study was a nursing faculty member who worked alongside the participants, she was part of the phenomenon under study (Clandinin, 2013, p. 24). The lead researcher's autobiographical narrative at the onset of the study, reflective journaling throughout the research process, and her relationship with the participants was an “ongoing, temporal part of the situation being studied” (Lindsay, 2006, p. 36).

Unlike phenomenology, which presents the shared lived experiences of a phenomenon, narrative inquiry recounts participants' stories (Creswell, 2013, p. 76). Furthermore, instead of bracketing researchers' experiences and understandings, narrative research includes researchers as coparticipants who collectively explore experience for “meaning-making, knowledge construction and living a life in more awareness” (Lindsay, 2006, p. 41) who continue to relive and retell their stories long after the inquiry ends (Clandinin, 2013).

This study examined the dynamic, personal, and social nature of the experiences of three nurse educators and how their ways of knowing evolved over time. The temporality dimension of narrative inquiry was expressed as the past, present, and future of becoming, being, and evolving as a nurse educator. The personal and social dimension entailed the participants' feelings, hopes, and reactions and how these conditions were shaped by their experiences alongside the researcher as they cocomposed the research texts. The third dimension, place, involved the community college setting where this AD nursing program was located.

Participants

The participants were selected based on their experiences and length of time they had been nurse educators. We followed suggestions by Gardner (2014) and Benner et al. (2009) that 5 years is the “minimum timeframe most likely to include competent, proficient, and/or expert nurse educators (Gardner, 2014, p. 107). The newest faculty participant, Lauren (all names are pseudonyms), had approximately 5 years of experience as a full-time nurse educator; the midcareer faculty member, Ellen, had been a full-time nurse educator for approximately 10 years; and the most seasoned faculty member, Nora, had been in the full-time role for more than 20 years. Each educator had also served for several years as a part-time clinical adjunct prior to becoming full time.

Data Collection

Data collection began with a series of three interviews (Seidman, 2006), followed by an ongoing process of conversations and negotiation of relationships between the primary researcher and the educators as they constructed a relational field for their stories to be composed and heard (Clandinin, 2013, p. 45). The first interview included open-ended questions related to the research questions (Seidman, 2006, p. 15). The second interview asked participants to focus on specifics related to their present experiences (Seidman, 2006). The third interview made meaning of the prior interviews by focusing on the participants' understanding of their experiences. The “living and telling, retelling, and reliving” (Clandinin, 2013, p. 44) of the participants' stories occurred over approximately 1 year, as engaging in relational narrative inquiry entails spending extensive time with participants (Clandinin, 2013).

Data Analysis

Each interview was audio recorded and transcribed and then coded in terms of chronological order and experiences of becoming a nurse educator. The experiences of being a nurse educator in the early years and then in the full-time faculty role were then captured, followed by stories of being a novice educator and evolving as a nurse educator while attending to the place and personal–social dimensions.

The analysis and interpretation of the three educators' stories of their experiences as nurse educators were framed upon the concept of becoming over time. We used Reissman's (2008) thematic analysis, unpacking the nurse educators' stories, what experiences led them to their faculty role, and how their ways of knowing evolved through the experiences. Clandinin and Connelly (2000) reinforced the notion that narrative inquirers understand they must “write about people, places, and things as becoming rather than being” (p. 145) and that the “task is not so much to say that people, places and things are this way or that way but that they have a narrative history and are moving forward” (p. 145).

Findings

Becoming a Nurse Educator

Nora, Ellen, and Lauren shared myriad reasons for becoming nurse educators. They recounted histories of teaching patients at the bedside, as well as fellow nurses in clinical practice; for example: “I was in nursing school and we had to do presentations in the class and a couple of people came up to me in the classroom and said, you should teach” (Ellen) and “I think when you are a nurse, you bring so much to the role, even if you were never an educator before, so I had all of those skills” (Nora).

The participants were drawn to teach in the community college setting because of the flexible hours, to be able to use their education in a meaningful way, and to pay it forward to future generations of nurses. As Lauren was a mother with young children, she remained a clinical adjunct for 15 years due to the flexible schedule. Ellen was a mother of four and married to a nurse; she shared, “I was using my education for something flexible around my husband's work schedule and feeling like I was still doing something worthwhile.”

All three educators began their teaching as clinical adjuncts. As novice educators, they shared the challenges of learning a new role while coping with feelings of being out of control and lacking confidence. For example, Lauren shared how she struggled with the personal challenges students brought to class and decided to be “tough in the beginning, and then, as students become more proficient, share more of that personal touch with them.” Ellen felt she needed to maintain structure in her early clinical experiences and as her confidence grew, she was able to become more spontaneous, and “let the conferences evolve.” Nora also felt “terrified” and “out of control” during her first clinical experience. She described how it helped to be told to expect that “you are going to feel out of control at least one part of the day” and to “step back, look at the situation, and pull yourself back into control.” Nora said that over time, she “learned strategies to not be as out of control.”

Difficulty learning how to “be objective” contributed to the educators' feelings of being out of control. Lauren grappled with maintaining objectivity: “When issues came up in their lives, I would be very sympathetic toward that. And it impacted my subjectivity with them. It was like, I feel really bad for this, let me see if I can fix it for you.”

As experienced nurses, each new educator was accustomed to knowing their patients through empathy. Nora spoke of grappling with how to maintain objectivity with an unsatisfactory student. She explained:

I never had an unsatisfactory student so I didn't know how to use the clinical evaluation tool as a benchmark; I didn't know how to write an anecdotal note objectively, and I just found it difficult to interact with the student on a fair level.

Similarly, Ellen spoke about the difficultly she encountered when having to tell a student that they were not successful in clinical:

It was so stressful to tell the student that she was a clinical failure. I felt awful, the student got angry, made accusations that I had it in for her, and stormed out of the room.

Thus, as each educator encountered challenging students early in their careers, they struggled with the ability to maintain objectivity in their interactions.

To gain control and address concerns regarding objectivity, all three participants attended workshops, read textbooks, and watched “how other nursing faculty were doing things.” Time and the support of more experienced nurse educators were helpful as they learned to deal with the emotional challenges of being a novice and the concerns about objectivity.

Becoming Full Time: Waiting Until the Time Was Right

All educators shared that they applied for the full-time position when they knew the timing was right in their personal and professional lives. As Lauren explained, “When this position became available, everyone told me that I was a good teacher, I can do this…..so it was a good point in my life to transition into something.” She expressed feelings of being overwhelmed first, as a new clinical adjunct and later, in the full-time position, and spoke about the challenges of learning unfamiliar content and required technological skills:

I felt like I didn't have the knowledge that I needed as an educator. It was terrifying; I would look forward to not being in the office and be back in the clinical setting where I was more comfortable and confidant. Part of it was learning and delivering the content, and the other piece was being surrounded by faculty that were very gifted and talented and had been in academia for a long time. They would talk about methodologies and technologies that I had no idea of what they were talking about.

Nora remained as a clinical adjunct for seven years:

I knew that it was a very multi-faceted role, and I knew that I couldn't be a mom and be a full-time educator and do them both well at the same time. I just waited until the time was right.

Ellen was also aware of the commitment involved and wanted to “wait until the time was right” for herself and her family. Each educator's consideration of timing and support enabled their successful transition.

Learning How to Be an Educator: Commitment to the Students, Self, and the Profession

The educators' commitment to their students emerged as they shared their experiences in the full-time role. Each educator spoke at length about their interactions and the central role that students played in their work. For example, Nora explained:

When you think of all the lives you touch…it is not just students, it is the patients that they care for when you are with them, and it is all of the patients they will care for. The number of lives you touch in the present and the future is immeasurable.

Nora's statement demonstrated her passion and commitment, not only to her students, but to the many patients for whom her students will ultimately care.

The three educators also spoke about the challenges of being a nurse educator. As they retold their stories addressing ambiguity, change, and conflict, their coping mechanisms emerged, illuminating how they drew on prior work and personal experiences to guide their decision making. To work effectively with multiple and often complex personalities, the educators relied on strong faith, values, intuition, and increasing confidence to guide their development in the nurse educator role.

Lauren described her “internal compass” and strong sense of faith as keeping her grounded as she transitioned in her role as nurse educator. Nora shared how she learned to cope when feeling so out of control, how difficult the emotional piece was, and how she handled her own feelings of inadequacy. Notably, she drew on her experience of being a nurse to inform her approach to being an educator:

Just to acknowledge that I was going to feel that way and not to feel inadequate when it happened, so I learned to recognize that, and I learned to channel it, instead of letting myself go into a total tizzy, I knew how to pull back, regroup, reprioritize, sort of like a nurse being with patients, it's the same thing.

These nurse educators prioritized their commitment to their students but consistently returned to their clinical experience as a guide to their new role as nurse educators.

Living, Telling, and Retelling

Narrative inquiry requires researchers to be mindful of not only how the iterative process produces research text but also how the research experience may influence and permanently change both the participants and the researchers (Clandinin, 2013). The lead researcher's autobiographical narrative and journal notes were revisited to consider how the research process changed the way the stories were presented and interpreted and how, through self-inquiry, we gained clarity and understanding of this perspective. The participants also shared their thoughts about the process. Ellen stated:

After one of our conversations, I reflected and realized how much I have evolved; that I am much more willing to stand up for my ethical beliefs when dealing with challenging students…. As a result of participating in this study, I realized how important faculty mentors are in the development of newer faculty members, and have also realized, through reading the narratives, that I am seeking a role model for myself as well.

Nora was positive and expressive about the retelling of her story:

I am also overwhelmed that you captured every aspect of my long professional journey so beautifully. You have no idea how healing this is for me as I transition from my life as a community college educator.

Discussion

This study explored how the ways of knowing of AD nurse educators evolved over time in relation to becoming and being nursing faculty in the community college setting. The sub-questions examined the experiences that led the educators to become and remain as faculty and how these experiences influenced their ways of knowing. The findings suggest their ways of knowing are fluid. The tension between relying on prior knowledge and experience was notable; for example, transitioning from knowing as an expert nurse to learning the educator role induced a struggle with their enactment of objectivity during the early phase of becoming an educator.

The educators' experience teaching patients influenced their decision to pursue the faculty role. Seeking flexible hours, using their education in a meaningful way, and an opportunity to pay it forward to the next generation of nurses were also factors that led the participants to nursing education. Their stories of transitioning from expert nurse to novice educator revealed feelings of being challenged, anxious, and out of control in their new role, reflecting existing literature that attempts to explain some of the manifestations and contributing factors (Benner et. al., 2010; Brady, 2007; Dattilo et al., 2009; Duphily, 2011; Gardner, 2014; Hoffman, 2019; Weidman, 2013).

The educators' early stories of feeling unsettled in their new role was in sharp contrast to the capability and self-confidence of an expert nurse (Benner, 2001). Viewed through the lens of the epistemological phases described by Belenky et al. (1997), these findings highlight the transition of the participants from expert nurse to novice educator as a function of their struggle to learn how to balance the procedures of caring and objectivity.

This study suggests that the discomfort experienced during this transition may be explained by the three educators' realization of their need to learn new ways of viewing the world; the tension between caring procedures (connected knowing) versus objectivity (separate knowing) manifested in their struggle for control. As experienced nurses, each had moved away from being novices who use procedures and policies, to become experts who made decisions based on experiences of learning to develop one's intuition while thinking holistically when making decisions (Benner, 2001). Thus, each new educator had a strong sense of subjective, intuitive knowing, and would be considered a connected knower. Benner (2001) also suggested that any nurse moving into a new realm where they had no prior experience was considered a novice, particularly as they struggle with a new role with new procedures and policies (Weidman, 2013). Each educator told stories confirming this struggle in their new role, expressing their coping mechanisms in various ways.

This struggle is described by Schoening's (2013) research on social processes and how the transition from nurse to educator entails the integration of one's “nurse and educator identities” (p. 170). Belenky et al. (1997) and Clinchy (1996) would argue that there is a constant struggle to integrate connected and separate knowing. Through the three-dimensional, profoundly relational and contextual exploration of narrative inquiry, this study's findings suggest the tension experienced by three nurse educators can be understood as a struggle between their familiar ways of knowing and the need to develop new procedures.

This inquiry also suggests that novice educators may revert back to their subjective, intuitive knowing, and their connected knowing as they struggle to gain control. This was evident as our participants spoke of relying on their intuition to help guide their decision making. According to Belenky et al. (1997), “Truth, for subjective knowers, is an intuitive reaction—something experienced, not thought out, something felt rather than actively pursued or constructed” (p. 69). Our participants realized that their internal world was not always sufficient, thus they used new procedures, such as seeking out external information (e.g., reading and attending workshops) to help gain a greater understanding and be effective in their new roles.

Struggling to manage subjectivity and learning objective procedures is found in other studies examining transition and learning how to balance care (connected knowing) with detachment (separate knowing) (Duphily, 2011; Weidman, 2013). Extending the current understanding of these processes, this inquiry demonstrated how three novice educators grappled with their connected knowing (care) when learning how to cope with challenging student situations. As these educators evolved through their experiences, they developed ways of balancing care with logic and objectivity, consistent with constructivist knowing (Belenky et al., 1997), thus reducing feelings of tension and uncertainty.

The three educators used faith, values, peer support, and intuition as coping mechanisms to deal with complexities, and over time, their experiences enabled them to integrate the procedures of connected and separate knowing, and eventually move into thinking contextually, integrating their inner voices, and becoming constructivist knowers. In their transition to the new role, they adopted new ways of viewing their world while depending on old ways to support their thinking and sense of self.

Implications

This article depicts an inquiry seeking a deep and holistic understanding of the experiences of three nurse educators, with implications for current and prospective faculty and administrators. The findings suggest how some of the conflict and challenges experienced during the three nurse educators' role transition may have been in part due to their realization that their way of knowing was not adequate to handle their new responsibilities. The findings further validate the importance of faculty support for novice educators, perhaps through workshops involving faculty in various stages of their careers, with cocreated agendas. As novice educators struggle in their early role transition, reflective practice and active dialoging with a trusted mentor in a safe space may provide support to help them work through their integration of caring verses objective knowing.

Future research should explore the processes that propel nurse educators to successfully evolve in their role. Identifying interventions to support nurse educators throughout their career is aligned with AACN initiatives to “leverage resources to secure federal funding for faculty development programs and identify strategies to address the shortage” (AACN, 2019, p. 1), and with the NLN Public Policy Agenda 2019–2020 education initiatives (NLN, 2019).

Conclusion

As the projected nursing shortage and the current nursing faculty shortage are critical U.S. health care issues, further research and policies are needed to develop strategies to attract and retain nurse educators. This article has depicted an in-depth inquiry of the experiences of three AD nurse educators' successful role transition with the goal of promoting connections and a greater understanding of their experiences.

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Authors

Dr. Ross is Associate Professor, Georgian Court, Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing, Lakewood, and Dr. Kerrigan is Associate Professor, Educational Services and Leadership, Rowan University, Glassboro, New Jersey.

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

Address correspondence to Bonnie Ross, EdD, RN, CNE, Associate Professor, Georgian Court, Hackensack Meridian Health School of Nursing, 900 Lakewood Avenue, Lakewood, NJ 09701; email: bross@georgian.edu.

Received: October 18, 2019
Accepted: June 08, 2020

10.3928/01484834-20200921-02

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