How I Became a Distance Educator (AKA Distance Faculty, Remote Faculty)

How I Became a Distance Educator (AKA Distance Faculty, Remote Faculty)

My transition to a distance educator began in June 2007 when we moved 5 hours away from my university campus.  As a long-time faculty member, I had no plans to abandon my hard-won tenure.  At that time, I taught graduate core courses in advanced pathophysiology and applied evidence-based practice (EBP); in addition to an advanced practice role course and the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) specialty courses.

The core courses of advanced pathophysiology and applied EBP were traditional offerings delivered in the classroom.  Because I knew that the distance from campus would make a weekly commute for me unsustainable, in 2006, I began a process of transitioning my classroom-only courses to, first, a hybrid model (where I taught one face-to-face (F2F) class a month and then the rest of the content was online), and then to a fully online format. The students liked this model because the flexibility of the scheduling allowed them to work (without needing to ask for one to two days off per week for school), and they still got to physically interact with the instructor and other students.

The hybrid model for the core courses was a pilot of sorts to see if the students would object to core classes (in this case, advanced pathophysiology and applied EBP) being delivered in a mostly or purely online format. Online learning in nursing schools was not yet widespread. Though our school of nursing was among the earliest to embrace online learning, most of the core classes were still being taught as traditional classroom offerings.

The advanced practice role course was already being taught as a hybrid of two intensive days F2F content (one day at the beginning of the semester and one day at the end) with the rest of the content being delivered online. The CNS students’ specialty courses were also being taught as face-to-face intensives with the students meeting two full days a month and then engaging online for other assignments.

Because there was no course code for hybrid classes, at the time, the core courses I taught were listed as being delivered as an online-only format, but students were made aware of the optional F2F class once a month in the registration materials; the optional classes were also clearly identified in the syllabus course schedule. The F2F classes typically had a small number of students attend – mostly those who lived close to the campus. The classes were also taped and made available on the course webpages for students to view.

Every month I came to campus at least once for 5-10 days to teach and to attend to other faculty responsibilities.  Depending on other faculty events or requirements, I sometimes made multiple trips in a month. This “commute” involved extra personal expenses (lodging, automobile expenses, meals, etc.) for which I received no reimbursement; additionally, I could not write off the expenses because moving was my choice and not a requirement of the job. As an Associate Professor, I was not released from my obligations to meet the traditional academic missions (research, scholarship, and service) of tenured faculty. I continued to chair and attend committee meetings (in person and virtually), coordinate a master’s option, advise students and mentor new faculty, conduct research, publish, and participate in faculty governance.

Thankfully, student evaluations were positive – that was a big relief! One of the most common fears of faculty in transitioning their classroom courses to an online format is the Fear of the Unknown: how will students evaluate the effectiveness of the teacher and the content delivered when there was no physical interaction between the students and faculty? Student acceptance and enthusiasm for my hybrid and then fully online courses gave me evidence to convince the dean that I could be an effective faculty member, even if I was not on-campus every day. Overall, this arrangement worked well for many years, though it was not without its challenges.

Disruptive innovations are frequently looked upon with suspicion at the outset. This arrangement was a major change from the normal routine of faculty being physically present on campus – a definite disruption of the status quo. Even faculty who taught mainly online were expected to be in their offices during the week. A change in mindset among the faculty, individually and as a whole, was necessary for this plan to succeed.

Distance faculty (also known as distance educators or remote faculty) are faculty members whose teaching is “geographically independent of students and colleagues” (McLean, 2006, Background, ¶1).  I never thought of myself as “forgotten” faculty, as McLean noted –  I just was a dedicated faculty member who happened to live far from campus. Because I came to campus on a regular basis, I didn’t quite meet the definition of being separated from my students and I always felt connected to my colleagues, students, and college.  I’ve since read a study by Pearsall and colleagues (2012) on full-time faculty-at-a-distance nurse educators — that’s probably how I would have been classified today.

With the current nursing faculty shortage, more universities and colleges are looking for faculty to teach in their programs – hiring faculty who teach from a distance may be the “innovation” that keeps some nursing schools from closing down programs.

There are many benefits for the faculty member, students, and institution as a whole to employing more distance faculty.  This is the focus of my next Educator’s Corner column for the Clinical Nurse Specialist journal; this column should be in the January/February 2017 issue.  I’ll let you know when it comes out.


McLean, J. (2006). Forgotten faculty: Stress and job satisfaction among distance educators. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(2).  University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center. Accessed 9/20/16;jsessionid=22CBADB7D4B747C1FB357C1A9D1A3E0C?doi=

Pearsall, C., Hodson-Carlton, K., & Flowers, J. C. (2012). Barriers and strategies toward the implementation of a full-time faculty-at-a-distance nurse educator role. Nursing Education Perspectives, 33(6), 399-405.

Other articles of interest on this topic:

Goodfellow, L. M., Zungolo, E. Lockhart, J. S., Turk, M., & Dean, B. (2014). Successes and challenges of a distant faculty model. Nursing Forum, 49(4), 288-297. DOI:10.1111/nuf.12060

Hoffmann, R. K., & Dudjak, L. A. (2012). From onsite to online: Lessons learned from faculty pioneers. Journal of Professional Nursing, 28(4), 255–258. DOI:10.1016/j.profnurs.2011.11.015

Stewart, B. L., Goodson, C., & Miertschin, S. (2012). Off-site distance education faculty: A checklist of considerations. Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, 104(4),15-27.

Wood, F. G. (2016). Where are the faculty? Fulfilling the traditional faculty role at a distance. Journal of Professional Nursing, 32(4), 256–261.

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PhD or DNP: Is the Pain Worth It? The Benefits of Doctoral Education in Nursing

PhD or DNP: Is the Pain Worth It? The Benefits of Doctoral Education in Nursing

In a previous post, I encouraged nurses to obtain their doctoral degrees, if able.

I presented some of the differences between the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Nursing and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. To recap, the PhD is an academic research degree and the DNP is a practice-focused or professional doctorate for advanced practice nurse (APN) preparation. The PhD prepares nurse scientists and the DNP prepares advanced nurse leaders/clinicians.

“PhDs create knowledge for practice and DNPs use knowledge in practice.”
Why Doctoral Degrees in Nursing is Important!

It can be a hard decision for many nurses to continue their education — doctoral education takes a lot of time and money and there may not be a substantial salary increase at the end of the road.  Our students need to work and they have family, social, and professional obligations — add in school work, and that makes for one tired nurse!  So is it worth the pain and effort of going back to school?

The Future of Nursing report stated that among the health professions, “nursing is the least well-educated.”(1,p.485) The more nurses we have at the doctoral level, the better it will be for nurses, our future patients, and the Nursing profession. “The current demand for master’s– and doctorally-prepared nurses for advanced practice, clinical specialties, teaching, and research roles far outstrips the supply.”I don’t know about you, but that sounds like job security to me!

We need doctorally-prepared nursing faculty, desperately!  The nursing faculty shortage is being described as “dire” and has a direct impact on the number of applicants being turned away from nursing schools, and therefore on the number of nurses we can prepare—at all levels.3-5 Though faculty salaries are not as high as top-level clinical positions, there are perks to academic life to consider.

Here are some of the tangible and intangible benefits of doctoral education:

Personal Benefits
  • Personal growth and development. Besides the knowledge gained, the inherent satisfaction of knowing that you persevered through tough challenges and obstacles to graduate as a doctorally-prepared nurse. Maturity and independence, time management, and advanced skills are all considered prized results of doctoral education.6,7
  • Personal achievement.6,7 The high honor of knowing that you have attained the highest level of education in Nursing  — fewer than 1% of all nurses in the country have a doctoral degree. Scholarly respect is how one author put it.8
  • Advanced transferable skills, such as critical thinking, clinical reasoning, analysis, research or quality improvement methodology, writing, presentation and communication skills, etc., that you can take with you to any job or position.6,8,9
Professional Benefits
  • Impact/transform the Profession by generating nursing science or improving systems of care.
  • Impact/transform your organization with the skills to deal with and solve complex problems.
  • Larger professional network,8,9 social relationships, and support systems with classmates, colleagues, and coworkers that you may not have had the opportunity to work with before.
  • Your future earning potential may be increased.7-9 Higher rank/position = higher pay (and greater responsibilities).  In University, to get on the Tenure-Track or be promoted to a professorial rank, you need a doctoral degree. And doctorally-prepared faculty earn more on average than faculty without a doctorate.8  In the clinical setting, DNPs are frequently at a director, department, or administrator level.  Higher degrees also qualify you for higher levels on the clinical or career ladder, which usually come with a salary differential.
  • Your job opportunities may be expanded because you can qualify for top-level positions and may have a greater choice of career paths. Job security goes hand-in-hand with career flexibility.8 Job satisfaction is the desired outcome.7,9

These are only some of the personal and professional benefits of doctoral education.

I urge you to strongly consider taking that next step and continuing your education.  Whether you choose the PhD or the DNP, I believe you’ll see that the benefits will outweigh the struggles, in the end.

Strive for Excellence!

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  1. Institute of Medicine. (2011). The future of nursing: Leading change, advancing health. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
  2. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2011). Nursing fact sheet. Accessed March 6, 2016.
  3. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2015). Nursing faculty shortage.Accessed March 6, 2016.
  4. Nickitas, D., & Feeg, V. (2011). Doubling the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020: Predicting the right number or getting it right? Nursing Economics, 29(3), 109-112.
  5. Anderson, C. A. (October 11, 2013). More nurses with doctoral nursing graduate degrees needed. Accessed March 8, 2016.
  6. Tzanakou, C. (April 11, 2014). The wider benefits of a PhD. University World News, 315. Accessed March 7, 2016.
  7. Martin, D. (June 29, 2012). 6 reasons why graduate school pays off. Accessed March 8, 2016.
  8. Cascio, C. (n.d.). What are the benefits of earning a doctorate? Accessed March 8, 2016.
  9. Segesten, A. D. (May 3, 2012). Not for love or for money – why do a PhD? Accessed March 7, 2016.

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