The School of Nursing is growing its faculty this semester at a time when most other GW schools are looking to scale back spending.
With a steady rise in student interest, the 5-year-old school is hiring the most faculty proportional to its size compared to the University’s other schools, which have seen fewer students enroll in their graduate programs as an improving job market eases the pressure to earn an advanced degree.
Two new full-time faculty members and three other staff members will allow the school to expand its clinical staff, helping to maintain the 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio that Virginia law requires for clinical courses.
“That involves bringing students in and watching students do a physical exam and those kinds of things, and that’s time consuming when you have a couple hundred students,” said Jean Johnson, the school’s dean.
Johnson, who has led the school since its inception, said she believes the school has earned the reputation of a top-tier nursing school since U.S. News & World Report ranked it No. 4 in the nation for top online nursing programs last winter. Now, the school is attracting more students as baby boomers retire and jobs open nationwide, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
“I think that we have a strong faculty,” she said. “I was stunned at the strength of the evaluations. And that’s because of the faculty. That speaks to the faculty in terms of curriculum design.”
The school’s enrollment has increased every year since it launched in 2010. Between its first and second years, enrollment increased by more than 100 students, and has continued to grow in smaller jumps since.
Students have also taken more credits each semester, with students taking about 5.3 credits a semester on average compared to 4.5 in the past. That rise came after the school started offering certain classes in both semesters to adapt to a new biannual admissions cycle.
Since the school does not restrict students to taking certain courses in either the fall or spring, students who want to complete a degree more quickly can take more classes in one semester.
And with students taking more courses, the school can bring in more money to help fund new hires. Especially as the school has brought in grants for teaching and research, Johnson said the need for new faculty has become more obvious.
Still, fast increases can put a strain on the school’s faculty: Johnson said clinical programs are “really intensive” for faculty, who are responsible for evaluating hundreds of students on their interactions with patients in addition to day-to-day responsibilities.
Rebecca Mance, a clinical instructor in the School of Nursing, said smaller clinical sessions offer students a better idea of what its like to be a nurse because they are able to work more closely with their instructors.
She said by making new hires, the school is better able to keep up with national standards and add to the range of hospitals where students have the chance to work.
Faculty often have jobs at the hospital where they teach, which allows students to learn the latest practices and use new tools, such as a simulation lab for clinical courses on the Virginia Campus for Science and Technology, she said.
“This is a great benefit to the students because what they’re learning is what is happening in current practice because they’re actually doing that in current practice,” she said.
Erin Athey, an assistant professor of nursing who teaches online programs, said faculty are also trying to better engage with students taking courses online, who make up about 72 percent of the school’s student population.
“It can be hard to feel like you’re really part of the class and we use programming to do that,” she said. “We’re constantly working on student engagement in the online forum, but it takes a lot of time to do.”