Embracing New Faculty

Sharon J. Tanner, EdD, RN
Chief Executive Officer, National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission

This column provides information on accreditation for nursing programs of all types. Readers may submit questions to the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. General questions of interest to a wide audience will be addressed in this column while more specific questions or those requiring confidentiality will be answered directly.

QRecently, I heard you speak at a conference about the growing need for nursing faculty, so I am writing to share my story with you.  Last year, I completed my doctoral studies, and after more than ten years in practice as a family nurse practitioner, I was ready for a challenge and a change.  I believed that my experience in clinical practice would be an asset to my teaching, and I eagerly accepted a full-time faculty position at the university. I thought that I was prepared for the transition from clinical practice to the nurse educator role. However, I certainly was not prepared for the frosty reception that I received from my new colleagues. I was constantly reminded that I lacked “real” teaching experience, and my so-called mentor assigned to assist me with the transition seldom made herself available to me. When I asked for previous materials used by the retired faculty member whose position I filled, I was told they were not available to me as they “belonged” to the former instructor. So, I was left with practically no materials for the courses except the textbooks, and I was assigned to three undergraduate classes/three preps in my first semester. How often we remark that nurses “eat their young” in the clinical environment, but I can tell you that my experience in education has been worse than anything I encountered in the clinical setting. Does accreditation address a situation like this for new faculty?

AI am saddened by your experience as a new faculty member. I do hear stories such as yours, but, fortunately, I am hearing these stories less frequently as we make the transition in many nursing programs from long-term experienced faculty members to the next generation of faculty. Across the nation, the population of nursing faculty is not quite as young as they once were, and the number of pending retirements based on the latest data is almost staggering. I often hear nurse administrators and faculty members articulate their concerns about who will take on the responsibilities of their challenging positions. But yet you describe a perfect opportunity for a program to embrace a new, eager faculty member that did not work as it should for you or the program.

The accreditation standards address the orientation, mentoring, and supervision of all faculty, both full-time and part-time.  When the standards were developed, the subcommittees reviewed turnover rates and other data related to the current population of nursing faculty. The subcommittees also noted the number of complaints received at NLNAC from nursing students about faculty, particularly the complaints related to part-time faculty who were not fully integrated into the nursing program.  Students described being subjected to learning experiences, often in the clinical setting, that lacked a focus on the learning outcomes and resulted in the students missing learning opportunities or being in unsafe situations.  Based in part on these ongoing issues and the pending turnover rate in faculty positions, the orientation and mentoring processes for new faculty were identified as priorities within Standard 2 Faculty and Staff, and the subcommittees developed a criterion that specifically speaks to these processes being formally provided for all faculty.

The NLNAC standards also speak to evidence-based practices in clinical and classroom settings.  Few new faculty members move into education settings, didactic or practice, with a skill set in curriculum development, test construction, and instructional methodologies.  It is an expectation of NLNAC that nursing programs provide opportunities to new faculty to gain not only the experience but also the expertise in evidence-based practices in the classroom. Gone are the days when new faculty simply “teach as they were taught.” With the technology now available, the educational arena has progressed beyond the point of lecture and exam, and new faculty deserve support through informal and/or formal processes of mentoring and professional development to acquire the knowledge and skills to flourish in the faculty role.

I am hopeful that you will not leave nursing education based on this experience.  There are many nursing programs that have exceptional mentoring plans available for new faculty.  These programs embrace new faculty and provide support so that new faculty members can be successful in the transition from clinical to the classroom. Although it may not seem so at present, serving as a nursing faculty member is one of the most rewarding, if challenging, roles in nursing.

QEven though I am a fairly new faculty member, I have been assigned to serve as Chair of our program’s Accreditation Committee. Our program is beginning to prepare for our next site visit for re-accreditation in Fall 2013. What recommendations do you have for me and the committee members? I am familiar with the Joint Commission process, but this will be my first accreditation in an educational setting.

AThe role of leading your colleagues in the self-study process will be challenging as a new faculty member, but it is certainly doable and should be rewarding as you acquire the knowledge to lead the faculty to a successful outcome. The most important initial step is to gather the resources you will need to lead the process. Begin with the NLNAC accreditation standards and criteria on the NLNAC website for your program type; you will want copies for each colleague and staff member. Then, also review the guidelines and other information available on the website to build a bank of resources that will help address the many questions that will arise for you and your colleagues.

Step two is to register for an upcoming self-study forum for you and as many of your fellow faculty members as possible. The entire accreditation process is discussed in detail at each Forum, and you will leave the workshop with all of the resources and information you need to be successful in the self-study process. Next, you need to build a reasonable timeline for development and completion of the self-study report and the supporting documentation/evidence and stick to the timeline. As the chair of the committee overseeing the self-study/accreditation process, you will be responsible for keeping everyone on task and ensuring that all drafts are submitted on time, reviewed, and edited so that the final report is an accurate, consistent, and positive presentation of your program.  It is important that you allow time for the development of the report based on the academic schedule of the program, and it is always a good idea to allow for those unexpected surprises that can happen in the life cycle of any nursing program.

You will want to convene a faculty meeting soon to determine the strategies for dividing the work.  Some programs divide the report by standard and “match” the available faculty accordingly as to assignments for writing and document preparation/collection.  You will want to be strategic in terms of “matching” your colleagues to the work; you will learn more about this at the self-study forum.  And please remember that being new means that you bring a fresh approach to the review, so do not be discouraged by the fact that this is your first accreditation process.  Based on our experience, we have found that newer faculty members often are more open to the extensive self-review process that must occur as part of the self-study.  So, you are probably the perfect person to lead your colleagues through the process.

Most importantly, please remember that the staff at NLNAC are available to answer questions and assist you throughout the process. Our goal is for you to have the resources needed to develop a well-written self-study report and be prepared for the onsite review.  You can contact NLNAC any time; the professional staff members will be happy to address your questions.

This is a non-final version of an article published in final form in the NURSE EDUCATOR Journal. July/August 2012 Vol.37, No.4 http://journals.lww.com/nurseeducatoronline/toc/2012/07000