According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s (AACN, 2015) 2014-2015 report, Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, nursing schools in the U.S. turned away 68,938 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2014 in part due to faculty shortages. A 2014 AACN special survey regarding faculty vacancies reveals a vacancy rate of 6.9% that year.
Anecdotally, some new nurse faculty members find the transition to academic life challenging and leave academia within 2-5 years, extending a shortage of nurse faculty. Further contributing to the existing shortage, the average age of doctorally prepared nurse faculty by rank (professor, associate professor, assistant professor) is 61.6, 57.6, and 51.4 years respectively. With a dramatic wave of retirements expected, fewer faculty will be available to fill the shortage, resulting not only in further shortage but in less experienced faculty, overall.
These factors raise questions of whether nurse faculty are adequately prepared for academic leadership. Research indicates that faculty and administrators in nursing programs in the United States resist accepting positions with greater administrative responsibility; faculty who do accept formal leadership roles are often thrust into positions with insufficient experience or leadership preparation (Young, Pearsall, Stiles, Nelson, & Horton-Deutsch, 2011). The quality of academic leadership sets the stage for the health of the overall work environment (Brady, 2010), which in turn affects faculty satisfaction and retention.
Formal mentoring offers one solution to addressing issues of gaps in leadership skill and numbers of faculty. Mentoring may be one way to facilitate leadership development and increase retention of new nursing faculty. However, despite broad recognition of the importance of mentoring, formal mentoring programs and empirical evidence is limited.
The Nurse Faculty Leadership Academy (NFLA) of Sigma Theta Tau International offers an intense, mentored leadership development experience to faculty with fewer than 5 years of full-time teaching experience. Based on the Kouzes and Posner Leadership model (2012), the NFLA is designed to foster academic career success, promote nurse faculty retention and satisfaction, encourage personal leadership development, and cultivate high performing, supportive work environments in academe. The NFLA is a 20-month mentored leadership experience through which scholars participate in two leadership development workshops, conduct in-depth self-assessment, and design an individualized leadership development plan guided by a Leadership Mentor from another academic institution and a Faculty Advisor from the NFLA core faculty. Together, Scholar, Mentor, and Advisor form a triadic mentoring relationship. Scholars also create, implement, and lead a team project to advance nursing education through which they develop their leadership skills and host two site visits for the triad with their local administrative team.
Methods: The design for the study was qualitative description with human subjects protection approval. Descriptive statistics were employed to describe characteristics of the Scholars, whose responses on their final NFLA report were reviewed and analyzed by four NFLA faculty to identify common patterns and themes. The research team used comparative analysis to reach consensus on the results of their analysis, and an audit trail was maintained to ensure credibility of the findings.
Results: The sample of 14 Scholars comprised 12 females and 2 males with a mean age of 49 years (range 33-58 years). Average number of years in scholars’ current teaching positions was 2.6. The majority of scholar respondents (86%) were Assistant Professors. The over-arching theme emerging from the data was “Finding an authentic leadership voice”. Four sub-themes emerged to characterize this theme: Identifying inner strengths and weaknesses; Increasing focus on others, Increasing self-confidence; and Clarifying aspirations.
Conclusion: The findings of this study contribute to the advancement of the science of nursing education globally by providing empirical evidence for mentored leadership development programs. A greater emphasis on leadership development is needed for nurse faculty during graduate education and in the early years of an academic career. Results from this 20-month program also support the usefulness of a leadership model to guide mentored experiences. Leadership observers in the local institution helped facilitate scholar development by developing self-awareness and situational awareness of others and the environment.
Leadership is an essential component of the academic nurse faculty role. Leadership development is an on-going journey rooted in reflective practices to increase awareness of self, others, and context. For the Scholars in this NFLA cohort, the guided mentoring from NFLA programming contributed to behavioral changes in their leadership trajectory and helped clarify their faculty role amid expanding responsibilities. Finding their authentic voices was a major developmental step in contributing to the organization, learning to work with other faculty, and speaking up to help lead initiatives.