Share this article

Nursing Faculty Burnout: New Study Reveals What Educators Need To Fulfill Their Roles

Charmaine Robinson, MSN-Ed, BSN, RN
Updated September 27, 2023
Edited by
    Explore factors influencing the nursing faculty shortage and discover a unique wellness approach to preventing faculty burnout.
    Tired nurse faculty member resting with coffeeCredit: Getty Images
    • According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the U.S. has an 8.8% nursing faculty vacancy rate.
    • Factors influencing the nursing faculty shortage include reduced postgraduate school enrollment, pay differentials, and faculty burnout.
    • Resilience, moral courage, and purpose all play a role in reducing the risk of burnout and promoting personal well-being among nursing faculty.

    Nursing faculty burnout has been an issue in recent years. Learn about a wellness approach that nursing schools can use to reduce burnout among faculty.

    Burnout Among Factors Influencing Nursing Faculty Shortage

    The daily grading, writing, researching, committee work, and changing learning environments (classroom, online, hybrid) can lead to nursing faculty feeling overworked, reports the American Council on Education. The national nursing faculty shortage does not help.

    According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, there is an 8.8% national nursing faculty vacancy rate. This number is expected to rise as one-third of all nursing faculty is projected to retire by 2025. Western states like Alaska, Hawaii, California, and Colorado have the largest nursing faculty shortages.

    Reduced enrollment is one contributing factor. Many postgraduate applicants are denied enrollment due to a lack of professors, preceptors, and clinical sites.

    Pay differential is another factor. RNs make an average of $9,410 more per year than nursing professors as of September 2023, according to Zip Recruiter.

    Nursing faculty exits are just one part of the problem. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, one-fifth of the nursing workforce is expected to leave by 2027.

    Educators are burdened with the task of helping to replenish the workforce. Where do these predictions leave faculty who will stay?

    One study promotes resilience, moral courage, and purpose to promote better coping and personal well-being among nursing faculty.

    Study: A National Survey of Nursing Faculty Resilience, Moral Courage, and Purpose

    According to a 2023 study, resilient people use protective coping mechanisms during stressful times. These core concepts include resilience, moral courage, and purpose, which can reduce the risk of burnout and promote well-being.

    • Resilience: The ability to cope with stressful situations and reach a higher level of well-being.
    • Moral Courage: The ability to rely on one’s values when facing ethical dilemmas, even if faced with barriers or personal risks.
    • Purpose: The feeling that there is a meaning to one’s life presence (i.e., knowing your purpose) or searching for this meaning.

    Researchers surveyed 690 full-time nursing faculty in the U.S. and Canada. The participants were asked about their experiences with resilience, moral courage, and purpose. The study also distinguished between knowing your purpose — which requires a high level of self-awareness and intentional reflection — and simply searching for it.

    Results showed that resilience moderately correlated with the meaning of life presence (knowing your purpose) and moral courage. The study highlighted the importance of all three concepts when designing faculty education and development programs.

    One of the study’s authors, Teresa M. Stephens, Ph.D., MSN, RN, CNE, author of Stephens’ Model of Resilience and the founder of RN P.R.E.P. (Personal Resilience Enhancement Plan), addresses potential barriers to implementation.

    “Our study found moral courage to be correlated to resilience, but it is often difficult for nursing faculty to embrace due to hierarchy, which is often associated with a fear of retaliation, etc.,” she says. “Unless you feel you have nothing to lose (which is not very many nursing faculty) you remain silent when you observe unethical and/or outdated policies, processes, and/or behaviors which leads to great moral distress.”

    Dr. Stephens believes that change can happen with a team-based leadership approach to ensure that the right people are in the right seats at the right time and that outdated practices harmful to faculty and learners are eliminated.

    “Systems don’t change until the people within them change,” she says. “Resilience is an active response to stress and adversity, which means we, as faculty, must embrace the behaviors and characteristics of a highly resilient individual to drive the ‘radical transformation’ of our work environments.”

    Meet Our Contributor

    Portrait of Teresa M. Stephens, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE

    Teresa M. Stephens, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE

    Dr. Teresa Stephens is a nurse educator, researcher, and consultant with over 36 years of experience in both practice and academic settings, from adjunct faculty to dean. She is the author of Stephens’ Model of Resilience and the founder of RN P.R.E.P. (Personal Resilience Enhancement Plan). She is also the host of the RN P.R.E.P. Podcast. She is a certified nurse educator (CNE) and serves as a peer reviewer for the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and an Advisory Board member for the Coalition for Nurse Well-Being and South Carolina Hospital Association’s Workforce Development. Dr. Stephens received her BSN from East Tennessee State University, MSN from King College, post-graduate certificate in nursing education from the University of Tennessee, and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.