As one of the School’s longest-serving professors, Kathryn Reid (BSN ’84, MSN ’88, CERTI-FNP ’96) has worn a lot of hats: from establishing the state’s first CNL program to expanding continuing education offerings to teaching and mentoring students to serving as chief nurse scientist at Sentara Martha Jefferson and directing a local free medical clinic—all while maintaining an active clinical practice. So tackling the perennial shortage of nurse educators, while a challenge, is one she’s well-positioned to remedy, thanks in part to her long and varied view.
Back in the 1980s and ’90s, the School employed at least a dozen dual-appointee nurse educators. But with time, administration changes, and retirements, not to mention the pandemic, the role had all but faded away. Reid knew that plucking willing nurses from hospital units to teach created holes in hospital staffing and tension with administrators. She also knew that, without support and guidance, clinical instructors often became overwhelmed and pulled in too many directions (“another job on top of a full-time job,” Reid quipped). So, as they developed new positions that served both the School and area hospitals, Reid and health system leaders stopped trying to find bodies and, instead, sought to construct a new, more sustainable system.
They began with facts tied to well-being and retention: that nurses appreciate variety in their work, benefit from professional development, feel valued when their health systems invest in them, and are proud to share in the development of student nurses. They also knew that students who have rich, rewarding clinical experiences with skilled clinical instructors would be more likely to accept jobs after graduation on the units they’d most enjoyed. The key was building a new nurse educator role that was feasible, intentional, sustainable, and made fiscal sense.
Using UVA Health’s “Earn While You Learn” program model, which offers paid educational pathways to in-demand professions, the School debuted two new efforts to fortify its community of clinical instructors last spring. Interested RNs with at least a bachelor’s degree were paid to take part in a three-day, hands-on clinical instructor “bootcamp” to prepare them to teach students in the lab and at the bedside. For those with at least a master’s degree, Reid and colleagues developed a three-course Nurse Educator Academy (NEA) to ready nurses with a penchant to teach for the classroom and, if they chose, the Certified Nurse Educator credential.
READ "Enter Educators"
Even Reid was surprised by the outpouring of interest. With more than 60 applicants so far, 29 nurses have completed the bootcamp to date. The NEA’s first cohort of four began this fall and will start teaching students in the spring.
The learning, participants said, is transformational.
“It’s one of the best things I could’ve done for myself and my students,” said Lauren Sink, who, each week, teaches a group of seven undergraduates on the medical-surgical floor at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. “The students make me a better nurse because they ask me really good questions. And it’s a good balance for me, having two similar but different things to do each week, and the support of my manager and hospital to enjoy both roles.”
Taking part in the bootcamp “gave me a lot of good strategies and ideas I can implement not just with students but with my families and even co-workers,” explained clinical instructor Anne Whiteside, a neonatal nurse at UVA Health who began teaching group of eight undergraduates each Tuesday this fall. “I love reading my students’ reflections each week and hearing them imagine a professional future in UVA’s NICU or PICU. I get chills. It’s exactly why I wanted to teach. Having those moments, seeing things click for my students; it’s amazing.”
Reid is quick to add that the endeavor is less about finding bodies than mates. With the flexibility to create tailor-made commitments and ongoing enrichment and support for these new faculty members, she’ll “help nurses who want a teaching component learn how to do it, and how to stick with it.”
Sink said she’s in her clinical instructor role to stay. “Learners are not a burden,” she said. “They’re wonderful.”
Sign up for the next Clinical Instructor "Bootcamp," which takes place Jan. 3-5, 2024. From the fall 2023 Virginia Nursing Legacy magazine.