Public Release: 

Study finds decline in nursing faculty primary barrier to nursing program expansion

Study suggests fewer nurses pursuing higher degrees may hamper efforts to address nursing shortage

American Journal of Nursing

New York, NY (May 10, 2007) - A report published in the May issue of the American Journal of Nursing (AJN), based on the first study to examine educational mobility among nurses, found that nurses in North Carolina are not pursuing advanced degrees in sufficient number to meet the demands for nurses in faculty and advanced practice roles. The sample was comparable in demographic characteristics to the national pool of registered nurses as measured in the last National Nurses Sample Survey.

"The nursing shortage will not be remedied without having sufficient nursing faculty in place for both the immediate and long-range future," said James William Bevill, Jr, an author of the study and associate director for workforce development at the North Carolina Center for Nursing, Raleigh, NC. "This study is the first to examine how nurses are using available educational pathways to acquire the degrees necessary for teaching. While the number of RNs has increased in the past decade, our findings suggest that the demand for nursing faculty is not being met and currently only a small number of nurses are going on to acquire a master of science or doctorate in nursing. Of those who do, only 11% choose to become educators."

The Study

A longitudinal analysis of data was gathered as part of North Carolina's licensing renewal process, studying the educational mobility of newly graduated RNs with a variety of entry degrees in North Carolina. The study followed one cohort of 3,384 new graduates who were licensed in 1984 (2,850 remained active in the study at the 10-year point and 2,418 remained active in the study at the 20-year point) and another cohort of 5,341 new graduates who were licensed in 1994 (4,211 remained active and in the study at 10 years). Demographic data for a third cohort of 5,400 new graduates, who were licensed in 2004, were included and considered along with data gathered by the National League for Nursing for nursing education research, to assist in making comparisons between North Carolina and other states.

The results found only 26% of the 2,418 members of the 1983-84 cohort at 20 years and 17% of the 4,211 members of the 1993-94 cohort at 10 years pursued higher degrees and just 19% and 12% of the respective cohorts did so in nursing. More than 80% of all nurses in either cohort who attained master's degrees in nursing or doctorates in any field began their nursing careers with a bachelor's degree. Younger age at entry into nursing, male sex and belonging to a racial or ethnic minority were associated with being more likely to pursue higher academic degrees.

"This study has practice implications in that it questions where and how we will find the next generation of advanced practice nurses," said Diana J. Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN and editor-in-chief of AJN. "This is not about whether one individual nurse is better than another, but rather if we believe more education will benefit nurses, patients and society. The care and science behind nursing has become far too complex for nurses to not continue their education."

The U.S. Nursing Faculty Shortage

A recent supply-and-demand forecast about nursing faculty in North Carolina projects that by the year 2020, there may be fewer than half the faculty needed to train new nurses in that state.1 Although there is some evidence suggesting that the U.S. nursing shortage has eased somewhat, many experts believe this respite is temporary.2 Currently many practicing nurses are "baby boomers" will soon retire and nurses over age 50 account for two-thirds of the surge in hospital RN employment nationwide between 2002 and 2004.3 It is also anticipated that by 2020 there will be serious nursing shortages across the country with only enough full-time RNs to meet 80% of the projected demand.4

In response many states, including NC, have sought to increase their annual output of RNs. In 2005, the National League for Nursing reported that from 2003 to 2004, admissions to all prelicensure RN programs increased by approximately 21%.5 However, many U.S. nursing programs have reached capacity; for the 2004-05 academic year, 147,465 qualified students were denied admission.6


About AJN

Founded in 1900, the American Journal of Nursing (AJN) is the largest and oldest circulating nursing journal in the world. It is published by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (, a leading international publisher of professional health information resources for physicians, nurses, specialized clinicians and students. Nearly 275 periodicals and 1,500 books in more than 100 disciplines are published under the LWW brand, as well as content-based sites and online corporate and customer services. LWW is part of Wolters Kluwer Health, a leading multinational publisher and information services company.


1 Lacey LM, Nooney JG. Forecasting the supply of and demand for nursing faculty in North Carolina: 2004- 2020. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Center for Nursing; 2006 March. Faculty%20in%20North%20Carolina%202004-2020.pdf.

2 Buerhaus PI, et al. State of the registered nurse workforce in the United States. Nurs Econ 2006;24(1):6-12.

3 Buerhaus PI, et al. State of the registered nurse workforce in the United States. Nurs Econ 2006;24(1):6-12.

4 Auerbach DI, et al. Better late than never: workforce supply implications of later entry into nursing. Health Aff (Millwood) 2007;26 (1):178-85.

5 National League for Nursing. Despite encouraging trends suggested by the NLN's comprehensive survey of all nursing programs, large number of qualified applications continues to be turned down. (press release). The League; Dec 9, 2005.

6 North Carolina Center for Nursing. North Carolina trends in nursing education: 2003-2005. Raleigh, NC: The Center; 2006 Feb.

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