TRENTON, N.J. -- At nursing schools from New Jersey to California, a surge of applicants who could ease the worsening shortage of nurses are being turned away, because many schools can't find enough qualified professors.
That shortfall is driven by health-care jobs that offer better pay and by fewer nurses pursuing the Ph.D. that is required for full-time, tenured teaching positions.
And, as with the nurse work force, the faculty is graying. A large number of retirements is expected in about a decade, by baby boomers, when more care will be needed, for baby boomers.
''I'm in dire straits in terms of faculty right now," said Julie Bliss, chairwoman of the Department of Nursing at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.
Two of her 15 full-time tenured faculty resigned a month before the fall term, she said. They are headed to health-care jobs paying more than $80,000 a year, roughly $30,000 more than she can offer.
''They can't pay their mortgages on what we're paying," Bliss said.
Another two professors are on long-term sick leave, forcing Bliss to rely heavily on low-paid part-time staff without doctoral degrees, while student demand skyrockets.
More than 1,200 students applied for 100 spots in her four-year bachelor's program this fall, up from 351 in 1999. To compensate, Bliss is cutting the number of sections of some courses, boosting some lecture classes from fewer than 30 students to as many as 70.
Meanwhile, the school's graduate program has fewer students, Bliss said, meaning less stress now but fewer educators later.
Without enough instructors, ''we have to turn students away and that exacerbates the nursing shortage," which is expected to reach 400,000 vacant nurse positions by 2012, said Carol Picard, president-elect of the Honor Society of Nursing. ''It's something for all of us to worry about as we age, because who's going to take care of us when we're older?"
The educational group is part of the Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow coalition now running ads with real nursing educators urging others to join the profession.
Doctoral programs are offered at only 88 US nursing schools; about 3,500 students were enrolled in 2003-04, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Only 419 doctorates were awarded in nursing this spring, down 10 percent from the prior year.
''We're just not producing enough potential nurse educators," and haven't for the last decade, said the association's president, Jean Bartels.
While enrollments in graduate programs have begun to edge up, they are not keeping pace with retirements and professors leaving for higher-paying health-care jobs, she said.
''The average faculty member is 51.5 years old, and they're retiring at 62," Bartels said, adding that several hundred are expected to retire annually over the next 15 years or so.
The association says that about 7 percent of the 10,200 full-time faculty positions at the 690 US bachelor's and graduate nursing programs are vacant. In addition, 122 of those schools need more instructors; they turned away nearly 18,000 applicants last year for lack of faculty and, in some cases, classroom space.
Those figures do not include two-year degrees and hospital-based diploma programs, although faculty vacancy rates are only about half as high, according to the National League for Nursing, which offers grants and runs programs to develop more faculty.
At California State University in Sacramento, Robyn Nelson, who chairs the nursing division, is recruiting for three teaching positions this year.
She attributes the shortages to high competing salaries: A new graduate with just a two-year nursing degree can start at $55,000 a year at local hospitals, and a hospital chief nursing officer with a master's degree can make more than $100,000.
''Even with a doctorate, I'm only able to offer someone $54,000 or $56,000," said Nelson, who has been making do with part-timers.
Not all schools are having such trouble, perhaps because they are in places with a lower cost of living and a less mobile work force.
Julie Novak, professor and head of the Purdue School of Nursing in West Lafayette, Ind., has increased full-time faculty in the bachelor's degree program from 40 to 48 since the 2000-01 year.
''We have not had any difficulty," Novak said. ''We brought in nine new faculty this year," including three who replaced retirees.
She also has persuaded retirees to continue teaching part time. Novak says that a low cost of living, and a proximity to Indianapolis and Chicago, help her with recruiting, and other factors may give her an edge.