2023: Challenges in Nursing Education

This May a short walk across the stage of institutions across Illinois marked the end of another school year, and another year spent preparing young nurses to step into the workforce. The Class of 2023 were freshmen in 2020 when COVID-19 sent our world into chaos – students were forced to navigate the brunt of the pandemic along with its accompanying challenges as educational institutions across the nation grappled with how to shift a curriculum that relies profoundly on hands-on learning online. 

Looking back, as a community of educators we have learned some things. The pandemic saw nurses — both in practice and in education — rally together for the good of our country in ways that were inspiring, exhausting, and every feeling in between. Looking back, we cannot say enough thanks to our partners in nursing practice for the sacrifices they made during the pandemic. Looking forward, we also, unfortunately, cannot say that we believe the need for those sacrifices has met its end.  

On May 5, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the end to the international public health emergency as worldwide cases of COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and deaths continued downward. However, we at the Illinois Association of Colleges of Nursing (IACN) see continued challenges on the horizon. 

This piece marks the first in a series of pieces that will explore the challenges affecting nursing education in Illinois. Our goal is not only to provide quality nursing education but also to serve as a reliable source of information about the most pressing issues facing students, institutions of higher education, and nursing educators. 

IACN’s View on the Top Challenges in Nursing Education in 2023

Many of the things we believe are the top challenges nursing education faces in 2023 are not new — in fact, we have written about some of them before (linked below). However, they have been exacerbated by the pandemic and without intervention, we believe may become even larger issues than they are now. 

These challenges include: 

  1. The faculty shortage
  2. Nurse burnout
  3. Student resiliency
  4. Accessibility issues 
  5. NCLEX 

Why do we believe these are Illinois’ top challenges?

First, and perhaps most importantly, many of them are linked together in ways that make it extremely difficult to find solutions. Take, for example, the faculty shortage. 

Finding faculty has long been a challenge in Illinois. Because there are national shortages for both practicing nurses and nurse educators, nurses across the board are asked to take on more, contributing to burnout. In Illinois, nurses are retiring at a faster rate than new nurses are entering the workforce, further exacerbating the issue of burnout. Regardless of industry, people who are burned out largely do not take on additional challenges (like going back to school and earning the required credentials to teach). 

Compounding this is pay; educator salaries in Illinois are largely not competitive. This makes it hard to pull nurse educators from other states or inspire practicing nurses to pivot to being educators. Suddenly, (in a very simplified version of this vicious circle), we find ourselves in a situation where because there are not enough nurses there are not enough nurse educators, and because there are not enough nurse educators, we struggle to graduate enough nurses.  

Resiliency, accessibility, and NCLEX relate to students and are again closely linked. Advisors across higher education recognize that GenZ is different than previous generations, with unique challenges that put pressure on both educational institutions and healthcare facilities. Institutions of higher education are grappling with how to provide enhanced student support services and accommodations at a scale not seen before. Generational challenges, compounded by challenges faced by students during the pandemic, are contributing to sliding NCLEX pass rates across the state (and nation). And then, students struggle with resiliency upon entering the workforce, leading to the need for enhanced support for early career nurses from healthcare institutions that are already strapped for bandwidth.  

What comes next?

As stated earlier, in the coming pieces we will dive deep into these challenges, unraveling the “why” and proposing solutions where possible. Stay tuned!

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