Would you take a 50 percent pay cut just to teach your profes­sion? It might seem far-fetched, but it’s a dilemma facing many would-be nursing professors.

It would seem self-evident that nursing profes­sors are impor­tant, especially in the day and age of looming nursing short­ages. Yet, in our state, nearly every commu­nity and technical college with a nursing program has faculty vacancies.

One huge reason is the atrocious pay for nursing profes­sors. In Washington state, nursing faculty actually make less on average than the first-year nurses they just gradu­ated. As one nurse put it, My deter­mi­na­tion and enthu­siasm [to teach nursing] were cut short by the sobering reality of nursing educa­tion: during my job hunt in academia, I realized I would be making signif­i­cantly less money as an instructor than I made in industry – a $50,000-$60,000 annual pay cut.”

When it comes to the nursing workforce shortage, we are our own worst enemies by selling short the value of excel­lent nursing educa­tion. Consider this:

  • 70 percent of nursing programs in Washington have vacant faculty positions,
  • 55 percent have lost nursing program direc­tors, and
  • 67 percent of nurse faculty have consid­ered leaving in the past two years.

Faculty diver­sity is a signif­i­cant problem as well, as people of color make up only 16 percent of nurse faculty (in compar­ison to 30 percent of the popula­tion at large) — in other words, nurse academia is not reflec­tive of the popula­tions and students being served.

All told, these factors combine to result in a startling fact: in the day and age of health dispar­i­ties and nursing short­ages, only one out of every two quali­fied nursing school appli­cants is actually accepted into a program. Those aren’t Ivy League numbers, but they’re not too far off. In total, this means that approx­i­mately 800 quali­fied nursing school appli­cants are turned away annually because there are not enough nursing faculty to teach them.

That’s why the Washington State Nurses Associ­a­tion has joined partners in advocating the legis­la­ture for a state budget that will recog­nize nursing as a high demand profes­sion and improve nurse educator pay accord­ingly. Without these improve­ments, we will continue to lose quali­fied nursing appli­cants and perpet­uate the impending nursing shortage.