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A pilot study to explore nurse educator workforce issues.


As the demand for nurses continues to rise, the recruitment and retention of qualified nurse educators (NEs) is essential. The purpose of this descriptive study was to explore NE workforce issues using the Faculty Satisfaction Survey at a single nursing program. Respondents were somewhat to very satisfied with their job; however, they were less satisfied with salary/compensation and stated they would leave academia for higher wages. Satisfaction differences were noted between full-time and part-time NEs. Job motivators may be the key to recruitment and retention of NEs and a way to avoid a nursing shortage crisis.

KEYWORDS Nurse Educators--Nurse Faculty Shortage--Faculty Recruitment--Faculty Retention--Salary


As the need for nurses continues to increase, a shortage of nurse educators (NEs) is limiting the number of registered nurses in the workforce. To meet the growing demand for educators, it is important to identify which workforce issues affect recruitment and retention. Workforce issues that may be barriers to job satisfaction include salary, workload, work environment, balance of work and family life, autonomy and independence, career advancement, and collegial and administrative relationships (Bittner & O'Connor, 2012).

The purpose of this descriptive study was to explore workforce issues identified by NEs at a comprehensive nursing program in the Midwest. The following question was explored: What workforce issues do currently employed NEs identify that might influence a decision to leave academic employment?


Faculty shortages at nursing schools in the United States are limiting student capacity (American Association of Colleges of Nursing [AACN], 2013; National League for Nursing, 2013). Factors contributing to the NE shortage include an aging educator workforce, heavy workloads, and low wages for faculty (Joynt & Kimball, 2008). Zhang and Liu (2010) reported on the complexity connected with the hiring of faculty at colleges and universities; local labor supplies determine the availability of NEs to fill full-time or part-time vacant positions, but many who are highly qualified have multiple employment opportunities outside academia.

To attract NEs, administrators must understand the job factors that motivate or deter the recruitment of potential employees. Retention Is also critical. Researchers have identified time pressures, additional workloads, stress, and lack of support as contributors to dissatisfaction (Gui, Barriball, & While, 2009).

The motivation-hygiene theory provided the framework for this pilot study (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959). Job satisfying factors, such as achievement, advancement, recognition, and responsibility, were Identified as motivators. Administration, salary, hours, and work conditions were factors defined as hygiene factors or fair treatment expectations.


This descriptive research study used the Faculty Satisfaction Survey (FSS) (Bittner & O'Connor, 2012) to poll NEs. The FSS consists of 32 items with questions on demographics, workload, rewards, satisfaction, intent to leave, and barriers to satisfaction. It was designed with a five-point Likert scale; scores range from very satisfied to very dissatisfied.

Nurse educators employed by the university are either tenure/ tenure-track faculty or instructional academic staff members not on tenure track. Instructional academic staff are RNs with a minimum of a master's of science in nursing (MSN) or nurses who have matriculated into a master's program. Those who work full-time (FT) are expected to teach 24 credits in a nine-month academic year. Tenure/tenure-track educators, RNs with doctoral degrees, are expected to engage in scholarship activities in addition to teaching 18 credits in an academic year.

Research participants were NEs teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level and currently employed by the nursing program. Responses were analyzed in two categories based on the number of credits taught in an academic year. Those eligible to participate were about evenly divided between PT staff (who taught 17 credits or less in an academic year) and FT staff who taught 18 credits or more. Analysis of descriptive statistics was conducted using the Statistical Program for Social Sciences version 21.

Nurse educators were sent an online link to the survey; participation served as consent. University institutional review board approval was obtained prior to the start of the study.


The survey was disseminated to 79 NEs employed in the nursing program during the 2013 academic year; a 41 percent response rate was achieved (n = 32). Not all respondents answered all questions, and cases were excluded pairwise for missing data. Most respondents fell into two age groups of 14 each: 33 to 53 years of age and 54 to 71 years of age. Twenty-two respondents (69 percent) matriculated into an MSN program or had completed an MSN; nine respondents (28 percent) held doctoral degrees.

Job satisfaction was explored via several questions. It was found that 18 PT NEs and 8 FT NEs were somewhat to very satisfied with their job. The PT NEs identified meaningfulness of work and autonomy and independence as most satisfying, with benefits and salary/compensation as the least satisfying aspects of their jobs in academia. The FT NEs rated the variety of work and feeling safe in the work environment as most satisfying, with salary/compensation as least satisfying. Job security/tenure prospects were the second least satisfying aspect of their position.

Respondents were asked if they would consider accepting a lower salary under certain conditions. The majority would not accept a lower salary for a reduced workload (n = 23), better retirement benefits (n = 22), better medical benefits (n = 26), or more/better tuition reimbursement (n = 24).

Intent to leave academia within 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years was explored. The top reasons PT NEs would leave academia were higher compensation, retirement, and flexibility to balance work/life issues. For those teaching FT, the top reasons to leave academia were higher compensation and retirement.


Some researchers have noted that NEs report high levels of job satisfaction (Baker, Fitzpatrick, & Griffin, 2011; Derby-Davis, 2014). However, similar to findings identified by Bittner and O'Connor (2012), the majority of respondents in this study reported overall job satisfaction but low levels of satisfaction with salary/compensation (Evans, 2013). Satisfiers in the motivation-hygiene theory (Herzberg et al., 1959) involve job performance. In this study, meaningfulness of work, autonomy and independence, feeling safe in the work environment, and the variety of work were satisfiers. The job dissatisfiers identified by Herzberg and colleagues related to job content, such as working conditions, administration, salary, and supervision. Hygiene factors focus on fair treatment; if employees feel well treated, they focus on motivation factors. In this study, salary/compensation and job security were job dissatisfiers.

Part-time NEs in this study had different motivators than FT NEs. To address the shortage of educators, many nursing programs employ PT faculty to fill gaps in teaching assignments. In community colleges, PT faculty exceeded 70 percent of instructional staff (Jolley, Cross, & Bryant, 2014); in postsecondary institutions, 47 percent of NEs were PT employees (Zhang, & Liu, 2010).

Advantages to the institution of PT faculty include greater flexibility in staffing and lower costs as benefit packages may not be offered. Disadvantages may be a lack of commitment; PT faculty often hold a second position with other obligations and may require frequent training to become familiar with changes in technology and pedagogy. Duffy, Stuart, and Smith (2008) identified inconsistent grading practices and sporadic attendance at program meetings as disadvantages of PT staff.

High numbers of PT NEs also put additional strain on administrative functions. Orientation must be modified to accommodate educators with little teaching experience; communication must be tailored to provide the information needed in a timely manner; and quality may suffer as new educators struggle to learn policies, procedures, and pedagogies.

It is interesting to note that PT and FT NEs valued different motivators. The key to recruiting and retaining NEs may lie in the motivation factors. Respondents teaching PT identified meaningfulness of work and autonomy and independence as contributors to job satisfaction, while those teaching FT reported feeling safe in the work environment and the variety of work as the highest job satisfiers. Academic leaders should highlight advantages for PT or FT faculty in recruiting efforts and reinforce the satisfiers in annual evaluations. To recruit and retain FT educators, changing teaching assignments may provide the variety desired along with a strong support system to help navigate the tenure process.

Employees desire fair treatment in working conditions, administrative practices, supervision, and compensation. If these items are lacking or deemed unfairly distributed, dissatisfaction and poor job performance can be expected (Herzberg et al., 1959).

Respondents identified salary/compensation as the top reason to leave teaching. Salaries at this university are lower than at other schools in the Midwest. In an academic year, the mean salary for a FT NE without doctoral degree in the Midwest was $59,949 in public institutions, $57,066 in secular organizations, and $53,849 in religious organizations (Fang, Li, Arietti, & Bednash, 2014).

Salary/compensation may become a deciding factor for those choosing between a position in practice and one in education. The majority of respondents in the study were not interested in improved benefits in lieu of salary, perhaps because they worked and received benefits from a second employer; without benefits, salary becomes a critical deciding factor. A crucial point is reached when the motivators of the job are not significantly greater than the dissatisfiers; at this juncture, NEs may leave to take other positions.


Nurse educators invited to participate in the online survey could decide whether to participate, thus selection bias may be present. The online survey was sent to participants during the summer months when many were not on contract with the university. The small sample size and single institution limit the ability to generalize study findings.


Compensation for NEs lags behind that of nurses with similar degrees in practice settings (AACN, 2013). While compensation challenges in nursing education are not new, exploring satisfaction differences between PT and FT NEs provides new insight. More research is needed to focus on PT NEs, as the satisfiers for these educators may be different than for those who work full-time.

Nursing education must address factors such as salary, compensation, working conditions, and supervision to compete with other employers in filling vacancies. It is unclear at what point hygiene factors are found to be too great a dissatisfier and motivating factors an insufficient draw to influence the employment of NEs; research to explore the tipping point, including research on compensation, is needed. The future of nursing education may depend on PT faculty. Therefore, research to identify the most effective ways to recruit and retain qualified PT NEs is critical.

The authors are faculty at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh College of Nursing, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Judith Westphal, PhD, RN, NE-BC, is associate professor/assistant dean and post-licensure programs director. Suzanne Mamocha, PhD, RN, CORN, is professor/assistant dean and pre-licensure director. Tammy Chapin, MSN, RN, is an instructional academic staff member. Funding for this study was received from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Office of Grants and Faculty Development. For more information, contact Dr. Westphal at



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Title Annotation:Research Brief
Author:Westphal, Judith; Marnocha, Suzanne; Chapin, Tammy
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Date:May 1, 2016
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