Online Nursing Education
Online nursing education allows healing hands to pursue professorship
by Stephanie Small
Published February 28, 2011
A little background
With qualified faculty retiring and the lucrative private sector beckoning, nursing schools are hurting. In 2009, a total of 803 faculty vacancies were identified in a survey of 554 nursing schools with undergraduate and/or graduate programs across the country. Initiatives are being developed at the state and federal levels to address this shortage, including loan forgiveness and grants for those who enter the teaching field post-graduation. If you enjoy medicine, have always wanted to teach, and like the idea of the government paying for your education, this might be the career for you, and an online master's in nursing education might be the program for you.
We recognize, dear reader, that if you are interested in exploring this avenue, you are, quite likely, already a nurse. You likely already have a job - a hectic and time-consuming one. We recognize that because of this job, as well as other family and social demands you may have, you're probably not too keen on uprooting yourself in order to pursue higher education. You might even be in the military, and let's face it, the commute from the Middle East to Boston or NYC isn't exactly doable.
To that end, we're offering input from Fran Cornelius, Chair of the MSN Advanced Practice Role Department at Drexel's online campus, as well as Lori Theodore, a Drexel student in the MSN program. We're also joined by Kelly A. Kuhns, Assistant Professor at Millersville University as well as a PhD Candidate at Villanova University, and Sue Diehl, Interim Chair of the Department of Nursing at the University of Hartford.
Who is an ideal candidate for a master's in Nursing Education?
“Any nurse who has a passion for teaching”, says Kuhns. “A quality nurse educator will be creative, articulate and passionate.” “The shortage of nurse educators is critical in Connecticut nursing programs, reflecting the national statistics,” Diehl notes. “We need more professors!” She indicates that an ideal candidate holds a BSN and “has demonstrated experience and expertise in specialty areas of nursing”.
In other words, this is a career that demands prior on-the-ground experience. Art History majors who are sick of working at non-profits and looking for the big bucks: you’ll need to take some bio and orgo before you take the plunge into this master’s degree.
What else do I need to know about earning this degree online?
Online MSN programs still require hands-on practicum. They offer "cohorts", "virtual office hours" and "virtual cafes" to strengthen the sense of community. Both Cornelius and Theodore praise their program's "flexibility". And no one can argue that technology is the future, no matter your discipline.
"One of my education classes required students to create a prototype web course from scratch using a wiki. It was absolutely the most rewarding project I did while I was in school. No other school had a course that even remotely allowed us to develop this skill," Theodore explains. "Anyone who thinks that getting a degree online is somehow a “lesser” education than a traditional brick and mortar school is sadly mistaken."
What should the potential student look for when researching these programs?
Kuhns and Diehl agree that a nursing education program should entail both theoretical and practical components. “The theoretical foundations are essential, and in the practicum experiences, the student is afforded the opportunity to apply the knowledge in a teaching setting,” says Kuhns. Diehl also suggests identifying programs that “support learning about facilitation of learning, curriculum development, evidence based practice in education and roles of the nurse educator.”
Cornelius, who teaches both in person and online, extols the virtues of virtual study in this field. "Students have access to experts they ordinarily wouldn't," she points out, "and it allows them to pursue their education over time, regardless of their location." She explains that while potential students might be intimidated by online study due to a limited skill set, the staff at Drexel's online program "help facilitate that transition via orientations, tech support...faculty go above and beyond to help support the student."
Cornelius also cautions that when choosing an online course of study, it's important to identify how the school maintains standards. For example, Drexel uses a "remote proctor", essentially a video method of monitoring students while they are taking exams.
Theodore made her selection based on the school that had what she saw as the most balanced curriculum. "Many of the public universities have MSNs with a concentration in 'nursing education,'" she explains, "but the programs are actually generic advanced practice programs with a few nursing education classes thrown in.
At other private schools, the emphasis was more on research with a few nursing education classes included. Drexel had just the right mix to give me a good foundation in the “basics” of an MSN curriculum with a solid nursing education core. Drexel also includes classes on technology (i.e.online teaching, informatics) that most of the other programs do not have and that I believe are integral for nurse educators today."
What are the advantages of having a master’s in Nursing Education as opposed to master’s in Nursing?
According to Kuhns, while you can certainly teach with a master’s in nursing, master's degrees in nursing education offer “foundational knowledge and the opportunity to engage in teaching under the supervision of a preceptor who has demonstrated excellence in nursing education.” These programs make great choices for those interested in engaging in a helping profession in a didactic manner. Online schools contain this component too, offering practicum with a preceptor whose credentials have been vetted.
What does the typical graduate do with their degree?
At both Diehl’s and Kuhn’s programs, graduates continue on to teach at the LPN, BSN, or MSN levels. Several also enroll in doctoral level programs. And although the market for professors is notoriously bad, this is one field where you probably won’t have to worry about job security. Right now, the average Nursing professor is in her mid-fifties. That means that by the time you finish your graduate program, many of them will be retiring, leaving vacancies for newly-minted staff.
Stephanie Small is a Boulder-based psychotherapist, holistic nutritionist, and writer with a BA in English from Yale University and an MSW from the Smith College School for Social Work.