By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Henderson State University’s nursing program will have lost most of its assistant professors by the end of the spring 2023 semester, but the program director says turnover in nursing education is to be expected and that the vacant positions will be filled.
Seven of the program’s nine assistant undergraduate nursing professors have submitted letters of resignation this semester alone. Two of them vacated their posts at the beginning of the semester, and five will follow suit in May.
The university provided The Arkadelphian with seven resignation letters dated between January and April 2023. One of the professors cited “extreme stress” from Henderson’s 2022 furloughs, as well as a 20% salary cut, as her reasons for cutting ties with the profession. “My heart is not in teaching any longer,” she wrote, adding that a practicing APRN could make up to $120,000 per year in Arkansas. That professor also disagreed with university administration’s “plans for the future to grow a program with less staff and inadequate resources to accomplish these goals.”
Two of the professors specified that they were seeking vocation in private practice, and one had accepted a position to teach nursing at another institution. Four of the letters did not provide a reason for leaving.
“I’ve seen it happen before,” Dr. Kristina Shelton, Henderson’s chief academic nursing officer, said of the resignations. “In nursing education there is always a lot of turnover.”
There is a salary gap between nursing educators and those who practice in the field with an advanced degree. Statistics released in 2022 by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing show that the national median salary for advanced practice registered nurses is $120,000, and by contrast the average salary for master’s-prepared professors in nursing schools is $87,325. At Henderson, the average salary for all assistant professors in the nursing program in FY2022, including the department chair, was $74,856. Between FY2022 and FY 2023 the program shaved $62,976 from salaries and benefits.
The nursing field is “dealing with a huge shortage all the way around,” Shelton said. “Coming to education from being a bedside nurse can be enticing because you’re not in a hospital for 12 hours with a high ratio of patients, but you come to nurse education and make less money.”
Henderson’s nursing program, which is one of 13 of its kind in Arkansas, will temporarily be without 77% of its undergraduate nursing professors. “It’s something that you don’t expect to happen,” Shelton said, “but it does happen, and unfortunately for us it happened this year.” Shelton remains optimistic that the program will be able to recruit professors and continue educating nurses. “We’re moving forward and are going to hire new faculty to ensure we keep this program,” she said, adding that the recent turnover will not affect students enrolled in the nursing program. University officials said Wednesday that Henderson is “actively recruiting faculty to serve students in the nursing program.” Two positions are currently being advertised, and an additional three positions will be hired soon.
“Our commitment to nursing at Henderson has not changed and will not change,” said Tina Hall, HSU’s vice chancellor of advancement. “There is a tremendous need for nurses in our surrounding communities, and we will continue to prepare students for high-demand careers, including nursing.”