More nurses are needed, but who’s going to train them? Instructor shortage hard to solve
On the sixth floor of Monroe Community College’s downtown campus, Nafe Mutuwawira can be found lecturing a class of future licensed practical nurses. It’s a career path that she said was somewhat ordained.
“Teaching is a calling just as much as bedside nursing is a calling,” Mutuwawira said, “For me, I enjoy both. Not everybody could say that.”
So when MCC tapped Mutuwawira to help jumpstart its LPN program in 2019, it was an easy decision for the Africa native. The most rewarding moment was when she saw her first round of students graduate in May.
“Being a part of that I was very proud,” she said, “We made it possible for them, and you could see that they were very grateful.”
Mutuwawira said teaching was an amazing experience that she wished more nurses could have, especially due to faculty shortages across the country that are limiting the number of nurses coming into the field. That along with budget constraints, aging faculty, and increased competition has led to a full-blown crisis in the nursing field, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“If we are having a shortage in the hospitals, for us to be able to combat that, we need to train more nurses,” Mutuwawira said. “If we cannot train them, that shortage would never end.”
Marcia Lynch, director of the health care programs at the MCC downtown campus, who worked with Mutuwawira on creating the LPN program, said they noticed the challenges right away. Becoming an LPN is one of the first steps into the nursing field and is usually followed by RN training. The program includes learning basic bedside nursing skills like taking and monitoring vitals and administering medication.
“We found out pretty early on that we just were in no way competitive with hourly wages and rates,” Lynch said.
A recent report on nurse salaries, prepared by Nurse.com, said the average pay of advanced practice registered nurses was almost twice that of nursing instructors who hold master's degrees. Lynch said the increase is due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It seems like post- COVID we have this trend of nurses, that might have typically become instructors, staying as nurses because they are getting higher hourly rate wages,” she said.
An article in The Wall Street Journal said that the average salary for registered nurses, not including overtime pay, increased by about 4% in the first nine months of 2021.
Vickie Record, president of the Rochester Regional Health’s College of Health Careers said some nurses are still interested in teaching, but most nurses are “clinical experts, not experts in teaching,” which comes with its own set of challenges.
“When you say to them, ‘Well come on over, and we're going to pay you less, and we're going to make you do more, and we're going to make you go out of your total comfort zone back to being a beginner, it's discouraging for many,” Record said.
She noted that a bill recently signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul provides another solution. The new law allows nursing students to complete a third of their clinical requirements through simulation training.
Another approach to the problem could be partnerships between academic and health care institutions. Record said the collaborations, if done effectively, would allow nurses to teach by the bed side, which would give schools the opportunity to meet a demand for teachers. without having to pay full salaries.
For Record this is a win-win situation for everyone, but particularly for health care practitioners who believe the best way to leave a legacy is by teaching others.
“We have a duty, not only as human beings, but as nurses and professionals to help individuals become the best person they personally can be, but also the best nurse that they can be,” Record said.