I often wonder what keeps nursing faculty motivated and committed to supporting the growth of fledgling nurses?
For myself, I found out that I was good at teaching before I became a nurse. I had a bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition, and I worked as a health educator with moderately to morbidly obese patients. This was in the early 1990’s and most of our patients who came to see us in this urban medical center did a modified protein shake fast for 6-8 weeks. Afterwards they had to learn to eat in a way that would support their health, learn to keep their food environments healthy (at that time we focused on lowering fat in the environment), eating 5-10 fruits/ vegetable servings/ day, and exercising daily. We supported patients in computing caloric values: calories in vs calories out and tracking their caloric intake and output. I loved working with this population and role modeling healthy behaviors; everything I asked my patients to do, I did… tracking calories, tracking exercising, eating fruits and veggies. Some weeks we did pushes and everybody would double their exercise; other weeks we went out to dinner and measured, weighed, and recorded our food in our diaries right there in the restaurant.
I left that job and became a nurse. I can remember being a new graduate nurse and finding myself very excited when the nursing students came to our busy orthopedic floor. I wanted to take each one of them by the hand and show them how to be a nurse. How exciting to share my new knowledge with other future nurses! I could never get enough of the students! As soon as I had three years of nursing experience, I started teaching clinical with LVN students…and as my my own education increased to Masters and PhD preparedness, I was able to teach across the levels of nursing.
I currently teach in a holistic RN-BSN program where I designed the basic curriculum that has morphed over the last 6 years since I introduced it, with others having input as well. We have self-care threaded throughout the program, and we value it by giving points for doing self care. I also have several PhD dissertation students who are nurses, and I work some with MSN students online.
I love teaching nursing students; being with them, learning from them, growing with them. I am blessed to be in their presence. I am honored to strive everyday to enact a caring science and holistic-integral approach with my students.
But there are days when I wonder what I am doing. Nursing faculty often make far less than other faculty and also less than their peers who work in hospitals. Though some of us have 9 or 10 month contracts, the off months are spent doing research, revising classes, accreditation work, teaching summer school, or working elsewhere to keep nursing clinical skills in place.
Even in academia, administration sometimes does not understand what we do in our academic nursing programs, and clinical hours are not counted in the same way classroom hours are toward the faculty’s workload. I work in a state university system, and at 2 of my sister schools, full time nursing faculty workload is 9 units/ semester. At my school it is 12 units/semester.
And I wonder sometimes about the effectiveness of my teaching. Week after week I give feedback about online discussion postings, powerpoint presentations, video presentations, and/or formal written papers. In my experience, it is rare that a student is able to actually take feedback and apply it to make changes in the work they produce. In working with graduate students over the summer, I advised one student to visit the writing center for assistance, and on each of the 4 written assignments I gave her copious feedback. When she received a grade of C, she filed a request to have her work read by a second reviewer, and she perceived that somehow I had failed her by not helping her more.
I am slowly plodding my way through the book “Academically Adrift” by Arum and Roksa. And I will say they offer some insight into the idea that our learners need to already be prepared to learn by the time they reach us in our universities and colleges. Those who don’t know how to learn when they arrive in our halls will likely not learn how to learn from us.
Still, I remain hopeful for the nurses we care for as educators. I have seen many of my students become more self-aware, recover from burn-out, and change how the practice nursing. I have seen some of them grasp insights into the self that are profound.
I know we won’t solve the issues in academia overnight. The nursing faculty shortage is going to continue to grow, and some of our learners will continue to succeed, while other will struggle and perhaps fail. For now, it looks like we will continue to graduate nursing students who will leave the profession or their first job so quickly, many within the first 1-2 years of becoming a nurse.How have we failed those nurses? What could we do differently in academia, how can we support new nurses to better manage the landscape of the workplace, to be empowered to create change, to deeply care for self so that they may also care for others?
Someday soon I will share with you my wish list for nursing and nursing academia!