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Recruiting Healthcare Faculty

Practical strategies to attract educators

What sort of magic does it take to recruit healthcare faculty? That's a question that has tempted many a recruiter to resort to smoke and mirrors. But try as they might, they can't pull quality faculty out of a top hat.

The reason it's a tricky business is due largely to two hurdles: money and educational requirements. Those charged with growing healthcare faculty must pluck prospective instructors from a limited pool of candidates who must have both clinical expertise and, in many cases, a doctorate. They are then authorized to offer said candidates benefits packages that may include a somewhat shocking pay cut. That's a tough sell.

"I recall being asked at one time to leave my job as a CEO of a 160-physician group practice to join a faculty," said John "Jay" Shiver, MHA, LFACHE, FAAMA, assistant professor at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va. "I was told I could get a doctorate while I was there, and that the pay would be about one-tenth of what I was already making. I was assured that once I actually got the PhD, my salary would go up -- to about 20% of what I was already making. The gap was so large it was impossible to swallow."

One clinician who did make the jump to academics is Patricia Chute, EdD, dean of New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) School of Health Professions in Old Westbury, N.Y. "I was an audiologist, and when I first entered academia I took a $30,000 pay cut. You don't come to higher education to make money; you come into higher education because you are committed to bringing your field of study to the next generation and you want them to learn the best from the best."

And there it is. That is recruitment magic. A workable strategy for recruiting faculty begins with identifying candidates with a particular mindset, then demonstrating to them those aspects of the job that may very well trump the money.

Teachers at Heart
"Some people just find they have a heart for teaching," agreed Carole Eldridge, DNP, RN, CNE, NEA-BC, vice president, post-licensure programs, Chamberlain College of Nursing, St. Louis, Mo. "They may be exposed to teaching while working with students doing clinical rotations at their hospital, or orienting newly graduated employees."

Even such limited interaction with students may prove irresistible to some clinicians, said Chute.

"Engagement with students becomes very personal; you can see the impact you are making on their ability to provide care and help patients. Often a clinician will start to ponder the idea of making that sort of impact on a whole classroom full of students. It can be a powerful motivator," she said.

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Identifying those individuals "bitten by the teaching bug" requires proactivity on the part of a recruitment team. "You need to get out from behind your desk and into the community," said Shiver. "This cannot be all about applications that come via an online process. You need to network with clinicians and clinical groups. When you meet with individuals, those with a real interest begin to surface. Recruitment of healthcare faculty needs a personal touch."

Chute said NYIT works closely with clinical facilities where students do rotations, and maintains vigorous interactions around student performance and progress. "It is not unusual to hear a provider say, 'Wow, I really enjoyed working with that student; the experience challenged me to improve my own practice.' That's the beauty of it; natural teachers are also natural learners. They make themselves known."

Art of Teaching
While having a practice degree may give individuals the necessary qualifications to teach at an institution, it may not necessarily prepare them to be good teachers. "That
is one of the problems we see in nursing, medicine, physical therapy, respiratory therapy and other healthcare disciplines," said Eldridge. "Some fabulous practitioners turn out to be terrible instructors. But that's where it becomes incumbent on a school to train them in the art of teaching. After all, clinicians in the field bring an important cutting edge to the work and can instruct on the newest techniques. They just have to learn how to instruct."healthcare faculty

Many schools ask instructors to maintain clinical involvement. "We allow our faculty to take one day a week to do clinicals because we need them to remain current," said Chute. "Medicine changes at warp speed. If instructors are not up on those changes, they are not doing adequate service to their students."

Chute, Eldridge and Shiver all pointed to their adjunct faculty as the most promising pool of candidates for full-time faculty. "For our 'green' adjuncts, we offer a lengthy orientation; we take them through classroom training and they teach with a mentor before we turn them loose," said Eldridge.

But not everyone passes orientation, Eldridge warned. "Our adjuncts have to run the gauntlet before they are put into a teaching arena," she said. "Those who pass orientation can thrive. Nine out of 10 of our full-time faculty members have come from our adjunct faculty. We already know they have been in the classroom setting and we know they can handle the work. We find superstars among them. And that is awesome."

It's Not About Money
Once viable candidates are identified, trained and drawn into some kind of teaching experience, there must be incentives to help them make the leap to full-time academic commitment.

"Recruiting faculty is really a matter of sales," said Shiver. "You have to know what your 'customer' -- or in this case the faculty candidate -- wants. Structure your offer around those needs; very often those needs will not be monetary." He said they can range from an urge for a professional change of pace to a very personal desire to leave a legacy in the field of healthcare.

Eldridge added that sometimes clinicians want to experience a different kind of work environment where they have more control over their work schedule. "They are drawn by the fact that they will not be 'on call' on nights and weekends, that they can work a consistent 9-to-5 day, five days a week, and that they can spend holidays with family," she noted.

They also are looking for positions with less stress. "Think about it; there are no true 'emergencies' in academics. I was a nurse in an acute setting for two decades and I would leap to attention anytime anything happened. Nurses have an incredibly well-developed sense of urgency," said Eldridge.

It is a trait not easily turned off by some, she added. "We really have to work with new faculty because they tend to think everything has to be done on the spot, that moment, because that is reality in a clinical setting; lives depend on it," Eldridge said. "But in the classroom, they can dial it back a notch, and that is quite a lifestyle change."

Back to Money and Degrees
Shiver said that in addition to these lifestyle draws, there must indeed be a salary consideration. And even that may be changing for the better, allowing recruiters to
extend a bit more financial clout in their offer packages.

Eldridge pointed to a 2014 AACN salary survey that examined median salaries for four ranks of full-time teachers at year-round (12-month) nursing schools: instructor (master's prepared), $85,822; assistant professor (holding at least a master's, preferably a doctorate), $94,371; associate professor (doctorate), $105,209; professor (doctorate), $133,391.

However, she was quick to point out that the higher salaries, particularly in the professor ranking, may be skewed higher because of salaries paid at extremely high-dollar private schools, such as Harvard.

Still, the money may be quite acceptable to candidates. "Often they find they really can afford to leave practice in search of a more relaxed academic lifestyle," said Eldridge. "But the bigger barrier may be the required degree."

Shiver wholeheartedly agreed. "Educators from universities and colleges populate the various professional boards, which dictate the educational requirements for instructors in healthcare fields. These board members often prescribe a need for doctorates -- the norm for research and publishing at universities. But for teaching applied clinical practice, a doctorate may not be necessary. The needs of the healthcare industry include many more people to train the next generation of entry-level healthcare workers. The reality is that could be handled by professionals without doctorates."

Shiver said it is a huge systemic problem and requires facilities and organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, to educate institutions of higher learning, as well as professional boards, on the practical needs for training hands-on providers in the field, not researchers.

"Universities and boards are setting the degree requirement bar so high that prospective faculty cannot jump over it. They have limited the pool of available candidates in such a way that the pipeline of healthcare will dry up in no time." Recruiters know the dilemma well. But the only magic wand may be educating the educators to the immediate and practical needs of the healthcare industry.

Valerie Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact:

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