The unquenchable demand for nurse educators continues. It’s an uphill battle against increased student enrollment, budget constraints, retiring faculty, and faculty burnout.
With the odds stacked against nursing programs, it’s more important than ever before to keep those serving in a nurse educator role happy and healthy.
If this sounds like an all-too-familiar problem, here are three ways to keep nurse educators happy and humming.
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We get it: mentoring programs can fall by the wayside with budget cuts and increasing enrollment. After all, something has to give, right?
While cutting mentorships may seem like a solution, it hurts nursing programs in the long run. Specifically, neglecting mentorship programs increases burnout and turnover.
So what can you do to improve your mentorship program? This is a big one to tackle, so we’re going to break it down into several points.
At its core, a good mentorship program is about human connection. The importance of feeling like someone is rooting for you can’t be overstated. Today, mentorships can take on different roles (e.g., someone to chat or go to lunch with, or someone to reach out to with frustrations and questions).
To provide all of the above, carefully match up those new to the nurse educator role with more experienced faculty. Put serious thought into your pairings. Perhaps even pair based on research interests so colleagues can peer review one another’s work for publications.
To help you select the right people, an article in My American Nurse identifies characteristics of good mentors:
- Embodies a professional educator
- Is approachable and respected
- Balances multiple tasks
- Volunteers to mentor others
- Cares for the development of new faculty
- Makes learning fun
- Is caring and supportive
- Provides encouragement and validation
- Is highly intelligent and dedicated
After finding senior faculty who fit this description, make sure they’re willing to do it. And here’s a tip: faculty may be more eager to step up if you explain how mentorships help your program and potentially decrease workloads in the long run.
Along with human connection, novice nurses and new faculty need clear expectations. In an article exploring burnout among nurse educators, it stresses the need to define job expectations. This includes what daily responsibilities and schedules will look like and communicating how you evaluate your nursing faculty.
Consider breaking down expectations into hours and percentages, and ask yourself questions about your program’s expectations such as:
- On average, how many hours do you expect your nursing faculty to work each week?
- How many sections or courses do you expect nurse educators to teach each semester?
- What percentage of time do you expect your nurse educators to dedicate to teaching, research, and service?
- Information on the technical/organizational aspects of teaching
- Skills to organize a course or develop a syllabus and objectives
- Knowledge on how to use computer programs necessary for email and putting examinations and grades
- An overview of the whole semester from the beginning
- The outcome at the end of the course
- Rotation through all classes, allowing a new person to visualize the sequence of study and the entire process of nursing education
Another study pinpoints a few social needs to meet too:
- An understanding of university culture
- An opportunity to develop relationships and bond with new and seasoned faculty around the institution
- Knowledge that they’re not alone and that someone cares about their success
Use these bulleted lists to evaluate your current mentorship program. That being said, many points from the list can be addressed early on, and the mentorship doesn’t stop after orientation.
Don’t let novice nurse educators flounder after orientation. Create structured activities to give feedback to those in a nurse educator role those first few semesters. Specifically, set up ways mentors can give feedback on teaching techniques and grading.
A recent article from South Africa found that mentorships failed to provide their new nurse educator with “constructive feedback on their assessment programs.” Fixing this is straightforward. Set up a time for mentors to review new faculty assessments and take them through a grade norming exercise. Consider having mentors provide rubric examples and complete a grading exercise together with a video recording of a student doing a skills check-off.
Similarly, many new faculty, especially transitioning from clinical practice, struggle with teaching techniques. As one mentorship article points out:
“Many new faculty enter the education profession with no prior teaching experience. Ongoing evaluation by the mentor can assist the new faculty in altering teaching style or evaluation techniques to promote effective teaching habits.”
With so many obvious benefits, require mentors to peer-review those new to the nurse educator role. To take the pressure off, make sure new nurse educators understand that this peer review is informal—it won’t be included in tenure files or performance evaluations.
We’ve covered the important themes from various articles: mentorships pairings, clear expectations, proper orientations, and feedback. But if you want to dive deeper into improving your mentorship program, there are a few additional resources to consider.
- The American Association of Colleges of Nursing: Transitioning from Clinical Nursing to Nursing Faculty Tool Kit
- National League for Nursing: Mentoring of Nursing Faculty Tool Kit
Here’s a joke: How do university programs acknowledge a faculty member’s hard work? By giving them more committee assignments.
If this joke hits a little close to home, another strategy you can use is telling nurse educators how much you appreciate them—sans new committee assignments.
Whether you’re a construction worker or as a nurse educator, research shows that acknowledging hard work makes for happy and healthy employees. And in other fields—like business and K-12 education—there are lots of ideas and products to help bosses and coworkers give praise and encouragement.
If you search online for ways to acknowledge the hard work of those in a nurse educator role . . . you won’t find much. And when there aren’t many ideas for recognizing faculty—but there are 101 results for how to bathe water-averse cats—that’s a problem.
So we came up with a few of our own ideas.
Use a resource already in place to acknowledge hard work. For example, if you already send out a monthly email with important news and dates, add a section to highlight the work and accomplishments of faculty. If you want something less formal, add a “thank you” section where fellow faculty share short messages of gratitude. Even just adding a minute to faculty meetings for people to share and cheer for their colleagues helps.
Remember, go beyond the standard felicitations for publications, grants, and awards. While those should be acknowledged, it’s often the thank yous for day-to-day contributions that are overlooked.
Yes, budgets are tight. But it goes a long way to set aside a small budget annually for each faculty member to thank a colleague with a treat or gift card.
This may seem too small. Will nurse educators be happier with their job because they got a $10 gift certificate? It depends. When a $10 gift certificate comes with a handwritten note from a colleague sharing their appreciation, it’s more meaningful than receiving a Starbucks gift card around the holidays. It may be small, but done the right way it helps develop a culture of gratitude and appreciation.
Develop a culture of gratitude among your students too. After all, an email from a grateful student can increase educators’ morale for months. One idea is for your advanced writing curriculum to include a formal letter or informal email thanking someone in the nursing program. (Heck, it can be added to the existing professional development unit that includes cover letters, resumes, and emails asking for letters of recommendation.)
Writing a thank you is an important skill professionally and personally. So prepare students and pay it forward by requiring them to write a sincere email or letter expressing gratitude.
After each semester, mail an envelope with prestamped thank you cards and faculty addresses to students. (Or email a blank ecard that students can fill out and send.) This is an excellent idea because students are thankful, but they get busy. A physical reminder and an easy process prompt students to take that final step and acknowledge the hard work of their instructors.
Another way to keep nurse educators from burning out? Monitor their workload. This is the exact advice the authors give in their article about nursing educator burnout.
To be aware of their stress and workload, all you need to do is ask.
Today you can use quick, anonymous electronic surveys to gather information—it’s all too easy. And when you ask the right questions, you can also identify trends and give “early intervention, more realistic load expectations, and support in the teaching role [to] decrease stress leading to burnout.”
Start by asking faculty for a realistic breakdown of their workday, week, or semester. The key word is “accurate.” As the burnout article authors shrewdly point out:
“Faculty calendars often do not reflect the amount of time that is required preparing for lectures, writing exams, providing student feedback, writing student clinical evaluations and holding dedicated office hours. A faculty’s calendar should reflect these and much more including time devoted to service requirements and scholarly activities including research, grants, and writing manuscripts.”
Here’s another piece of advice: when you send out the survey, communicate that you understand that the task is tedious—because it is tedious. But emphasize that the info will help create solutions for a better work-life balance.
Once you gather the data, you’ll start to see trends. For example, perhaps you notice that new nurse educators spend 60% of their time developing lesson plans and curricula for new courses. Well, if that’s the case, from there, you can find solutions. The authors of the burnout article recommend strategies like “team teaching, co-authoring, and co-presenting at conferencing.”
But you can come up with unique strategies. Perhaps new nurses can reallocate their time with a tool to more easily share lesson plans with colleagues. Or instead of having each instructor come up with their own rubrics, create departmental rubrics for skills check-offs and major assignments. Or maybe you concede that instructors teaching new courses need a reprieve from research and committee responsibilities.
To show how this works in real life, here’s an inspiring story about a small nursing program in Alabama.
Like many other nursing programs, “we’re so busy and stretched,” said Assistant Professor Dara Murray from the Nursing Division of the University of West Alabama. “We literally do a little bit of everything. We teach theory in the classroom. We do skills labs. We facilitate clinical experiences. We teach clinicals in hospital settings. And we also run our simulation labs.”
To ease the stress for those in a nurse educator role, the program invested in a video assessment product that cut grading time for skills check-offs nearly in half.
Before they used video assessment, 80 students would sign up for a block of time in the skills lab to be assessed by a faculty member. On average, professors were stuck in a skills lab for 24–36 hours a semester to assess basic nursing skills.
By implementing this new solution, instructors saved so much time that they could finally add a physical skills validation to the course curriculum. Along with the saved time, faculty also appreciated the ability to grade skills check-offs anytime and anywhere. In short, it helped lighten the load.
Happy & Healthy Nurse Educators
Despite student enrollment rising and budgets falling, there are strategies to keep those in a nurse educator role happy and healthy. Don’t despair! Keep your nursing faculty happy and humming by improving mentorship programs, celebrating and acknowledging small successes, and monitoring workloads.
Hillary is a trained literary scholar and university writing instructor who traded Shakespeare and Cavendish for content marketing. She loves all things design, art, theatre, travel, and literature.