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Reducing nursing faculty attrition with evidence-based onboarding

Jan 5, 2024, 17:40 PM
<10-min. read> Learn how a nurse educator created an evidence-based onboarding and mentorship program to help retain new faculty. The changes at Northshore Technical Community College have produced encouraging results.

Increasing nurse educator retention using an evidence-based onboarding and mentorship program

When it came time to identify a research topic for her graduate degree in nursing education, Deborah Carambat, MSN, RN, didn’t think twice. The problem she needed to solve was right in front of her. As the Assistant Director of Nursing and Allied Health at Northshore Technical Community College (NTCC), Carambat had a front-row seat to the types of attrition nightmares that disturb the sleep of many faculty leaders: In a 3-year span, three of NTCC’s five campuses had lost their lead nurse educator, and 20 of 28 full-time nursing instructors had resigned.

Deborah Carambat developed an evidence-based onboarding and retention program for new nurse faculty at Northshore Technical Community CollegeAlthough these particular departures were worrisome in scope and timing, Carambat’s concerns about retention had been ignited long before. She had experienced her own onboarding frustrations when she moved from an off-campus role to an on-campus role and later had observed multiple new faculty members struggling.

“I started helping new faculty with the basic things that can be so overwhelming when you start your first teaching job,” Carambat said. “Things as simple as how to get your email and how to use Canvas. It’s a learning curve that you have to navigate on top of being new to teaching.”  

The need for a strong onboarding program became even more pressing when two first-time faculty, frustrated by a lack of formal course material to guide them, resigned the day before classes began. Carambat had tried to put them at ease and offered support during a faculty meeting, but without tangible resources, she felt at a loss.

“I knew that we needed to figure out ways to support each other more effectively,” Carambat said. “So when I got into my master’s program and we had to identify a problem we could help solve, I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on.”

The research question she posed was: According to the evidence, what is the best method to retain new and current nursing instructors? Carambat’s journey to answers began with a deeper understanding of the problem.

Why a faculty onboarding program is important for retention and for program and NCLEX success

The effects of high faculty turnover are wide ranging, and two of the most impactful are lower NCLEX scores and fewer new nurses entering the workforce. Carambat said both effects were evident at Northshore Technical Community College in 2021 and 2022, when NCLEX pass rates were around 80%.

“Due to our dramatic turnover, there was no continuity of instruction for our students,” Carambat said. “One of the campuses scored lower than 80% two consecutive times and was placed on probation.”

As she researched the issue of nurse educator turnover, the literature led Carambat to a few key conclusions and observations. Chief among them was that because most nurses are trained for bedside care rather than the classroom, transitioning to a teaching role is difficult — meaning that new faculty need significant, targeted support.

Carambat’s research found that well-designed orientation programs for new nurse educators can significantly increase faculty retention and satisfaction. In addition, she learned that providing mentors for new nurse educators is associated with longer tenure as an educator.  

Specifically, the research showed that:

  • onboarding must be purposeful, with intentional training
  • faculty should receive an assigned mentor and meet with them regularly
  • frequent and clear communication channels are needed
  • civility and belonging are essential
  • advancement should be encouraged
  • continuing education and professional development are important to satisfaction.  

Evidence-based principles for onboarding nursing faculty: Best practices

Based on this research, Carambat developed a formal onboarding and mentorship program for the college.

“After reading the evidence-based literature, I determined that the best method to retain new and existing nursing instructors is a twofold process,” she explained. “Step 1 would be to create a detailed written orientation for new educators. Step 2 would be to design a mentorship format.”

To develop the written orientation, Carambat adapted and/or incorporated tools and recommendations gathered during her research. She developed a checklist inspired by the work of Rogers et al. (2020) as a starting point. Carambat modified the checklist to meet the specific needs of new educators at NTCC, so that they could follow it as they progressed through the orientation and prepared for their roles. These materials cover topics such as how to use teaching software, how to teach in a classroom, how to manage a classroom, and more. She included resources from the National League for Nursing (NLN) and the World Health Organization in the orientation materials.

Carambat referred to the NLN Mentoring Toolkit to help shape the mentorship portion of the onboarding program, and she found complementary strategies in mentoring checklists and research about how to foster intentional relationships. (See the resource list at the end of this article for links.)

Launching an evidence-based onboarding and mentorship program: The foundations

After review and approval by her master’s faculty at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and the Associate Provost of Health Sciences and Nursing at NTCC, Christi Marceaux, MSN, RN, the onboarding and mentorship program launched at NTCC. Between July 2022 and July 2023, Carambat onboarded 23 new faculty members. She met with each of them for a detailed 2- to 4-hour orientation that included:

  • introduction to the student information portal for the state’s public colleges and universities
  • introduction to Canvas, a learning management system used by NTCC
  • email setup and information
  • list of commonly used faculty resources, including ATI products that are used at NTCC.

In addition, Carambat created a Nursing Education and Resource page in Canvas to provide new and existing faculty with ongoing access to training and important shared materials.

Accessing and using ATI resources for faculty supports their work and success

Because NTCC incorporates multiple ATI solutions in its nursing curriculum, Carambat said she found it important to walk new faculty members through the ATI Educator website and faculty portal. Carambat became an ATI Champion in 2021 and therefore has strong working knowledge of the resources. Over the past 3 years, approximately 10 more NTCC faculty have joined the Champions program. (For information on joining this enriching professional community, visit this page.)

“In our program, 10% of a student’s grade is going to come from their use of ATI products, including the Content Mastery Series and the Predictor exam,” she said. “It's important for our faculty to know how to use the technology associated with these products.”

She said the use of ATI solutions helps alleviate faculty stress by reducing the amount of homework assignments necessary to demonstrate student learning.

 Become an ATI Champion

“… In our LPN program, students don't have a lot of additional homework outside of ATI materials because if they are successful with them, we know they understand evidence-based best practices and they're learning the depth of information they need to practice.”

Every onboarding session at NTCC includes information about the use of digital resources in general. “One of the things we're discussing with our new faculty is the understanding that the way we learned in nursing school isn't the way of teaching or learning today,” she said. “It's a lot more digital now.”

Providing mentorship for new faculty promotes confidence and growth

For the mentorship component of the retention program, each new nurse educator was paired with a mentor volunteer who shared academic, classroom and technology knowledge for 6 to 12 months. Each mentor and mentee pledged to adhere to joint responsibilities identified in writing. The responsibilities included determining the communication methods that would be most effective for them, developing a plan for professional growth in teaching, participating in networking opportunities, and more.

By providing new faculty with a checklist that identified the information covered during onboarding, mentors could immediately focus on helping the mentees with teaching, classroom management, and learning the ins and outs of programs.

At the end of the mentorship period, the mentor and mentee completed a questionnaire designed to continue improving the mentorship experience.

Results of an evidence-based onboarding and mentorship program

Carambat and the NTCC nursing faculty consider the launch of the onboarding and mentorship program to be a significant success that has laid the groundwork for even more improvements in faculty retention. Highlights of the first year include:

  • 18 of the 23 new faculty members who onboarded between July 2022 and July 2023 are still with NTCC; three left for family reasons
  • All campuses are off probation
  • The college’s new RN program is up and running
  • NCLEX pass rates have increased — including 100% pass rates in the second testing period of 2023.

“The successes of the college have a lot to do with the lead nurses on each campus and our Nursing Provost,” Carambat said. “In addition, we have begun shared governance with all five campuses of nursing and allied health to continue the internal growth of the health sciences programs and faculty.”The NTCC faculty onboarding program can be replicated at other programs

New nurse faculty at NTCC have expressed gratitude for the rapid connection with someone who focuses on onboarding them and who cares about their success, Carambat said. “The goal is to empower and support new nurse faculty. Within a brief time, not only do they have access to many of the resources they need to be successful at NTCC, but they also have the names and contact information of people who could help them further.”

The faculty who have volunteered as mentors have told Carambat that they appreciate having new faculty coming into the mentor program with established access to books, ATI resources, the shared drive, email, Canvas, and much more. The onboarding process has saved the mentors time, allowing the mentor-mentee relationship to flourish quickly.

"There is such a difference in a mentor-mentee relationship after onboarding,” a lead instructor from one of the NTCC campuses told Carambat via email. “Instead of students coming to me with complaints, I am seeing the mentor and mentee talk through issues to better support the student."

NTCC’s Director of Nursing, Britanie Breland, MSN, RN, said the mentorship program has proven to be a significant factor in helping new faculty feel confident.

“What I witness is the transformative power of education developing an inspiration for growth and collaboration while cultivating a dynamic learning environment,” she said. “Recently, we had a faculty member who was struggling, but because of the relationship between the mentor and mentee, the mentor was able to identify the struggles and challenges and we were able to provide the mentee with more support.

“Had it not been for that mentor, the mentee may not have flagged anyone's radar and could have become disengaged or burnt out and possibly left with a quiet resignation,” Breland continued. “Instead, the mentor was able to engage her and build her confidence. Now, she is thriving."

In addition to creating a support system for new faculty, the mentorship program has become a platform for fostering professional development, Breland said.

“Initially, a new mentor may express that they do not feel prepared to be a mentor, but after the first couple of meetings with the new hire, they quickly realize that although they may not be the most seasoned educator, they have a lot of knowledge and guidance to offer,” Breland said. “They quickly begin learning things for themselves to help answer their mentee’s questions.”

The NTCC onboarding program proves why nurturing new faculty is essential

In fall 2023, Carambat moved to a teaching position to connect more closely with students. She is now an instructor in the RN program. A team of faculty, led by Breland, now spearhead the onboarding and mentorship program at NTCC. They continue to set goals and identify areas for improvement. Tracking measures include faculty retention, faculty satisfaction, student NCLEX pass rates, and student feedback on the program.

Thanks to the availability of the onboarding and retention program, faculty are building bonds with each other that improve overall teamwork and communication, Carambat said. “They also bring up issues we can fix in real time, versus finding out about them on a faculty survey at the end of the year.”

Although Carambat has moved away from a director role for now, she continues to be a visible and vocal advocate for faculty onboarding and mentorship. She is pursuing a doctor of nursing practice degree focused on organizational leadership, a fitting next step given her passion for improving nursing education.

“If we don't retain the educators we have, our students aren't going to be successful,” Carambat said. “With anything you do in life, the more you do it, the better you become at it. And if you have faculty who have been around for 5 years, they are so much richer for students because they know things they didn't know in the beginning.”

To equip other nursing programs to implement strategies retain and enrich faculty, Carambat and her colleagues from NTCC have shared their findings at conferences and other faculty events. She also presented a poster on her research at the National Nurse Educator Summit in 2023.

“It’s so important to nurture the people we bring in,” she said. “Many of these nurses have changed their entire career trajectory, taking a pay cut to come to make a difference because they're passionate about preparing nurses. We owe it to them.”



American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2022). Transitioning from clinical nursing to nursing faculty.,of%20the%20position%20into%20consideration

Harris, S. J. (2019). Challenges of nursing faculty retention. Midwest Quarterly, 60(3), 251-269.

National League for Nursing. (2022). The mentoring faculty toolkit.

National League for Nursing. (2020). Novice nurse educator competencies with task statements.

Rogers, J., Ludwig-Beymer, P., & Baker, M. (2020). Nurse faculty orientation: an integrative review. Nurse Educator, 45(6), 343. DOI: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000802

World Health Organization. (2016). Nurse educator core competencies.