Moving on: The transition from experienced nurse to novice academic

Jan Hunter, Nurse Lecturer, University of Hull

Goodrich (2014) describes how nurses often see themselves as “gatekeepers of their profession”, sharing knowledge and skills in order to make a contribution to the future of nursing. It is an unwritten rule that experienced nurses will guide junior staff, formally or informally, as part of their daily practice. This can take the form of mentoring or preceptorship of newly qualified staff, the education of student nurses, or supporting those who are new to a speciality. Given the rewards of nurturing less experienced staff, it is no surprise that some experienced nurses make the decision to move into the world of academia. Whilst this provides an exciting and rewarding career move, the shift from clinical practice to higher education isn’t always an easy one.

Transition into any new role can cause feelings of uncertainty, but for novice lecturers the anxiety of leaving behind clinical practice and moving towards teaching, research and scholarship, can be particularly difficult. Schriner (2007) described this as a “cultural clash”. where academic attainments can be perceived as having more value than nursing expertise and clinical skills. When professional identity defines who we are, then it is easy to see how novice academics may find themselves in something of no-man’s-land: no longer working in practice can mean a loss of credibility with nursing colleagues, whilst not being established as an educator and researcher means they can lack relevance in the world of academia.

The culture shock is about more than just role anxiety. Delivering keynote lectures to a couple of hundred nursing students can be a daunting (terrifying!) experience, very different to teaching staff, patients or carers in practice. Academia has a different language, different processes, different expectations; all of which can make the novice feel overwhelmed and out of their depth (Anderson, 2009). This is exacerbated by a need to often ‘hit the ground running’ (Beres, 2006) with a short period of acclimatisation before being thrown in front of students or presented with a pile of marking!

This culture shock may explain the length of time the transition from clinician to academic can last – estimated to be anything from two to four years before novice lecturers begin to feel settled and familiar with the role (Dempsey, 2007). During this time, there is the risk that the disillusioned novice decides to return to the familiar comfort of direct patient care. The retention of new nurse lecturers can be problematic, and it is crucial that they receive a prolonged mentorship period, to support them in the unique environment and culture of a university (Murray et al, 2014).

This subject is of personal interest because of my own ongoing transition from clinical practice into the world of academia. Just over two years into my own transition, I can admit to having a frequent yearning to return to the comfort of practice and the company of my patients. This somewhat turbulent period has mainly been my struggle with the label of ‘teacher’, when I see my professional identity as being first and foremost a nurse. However, collegial support has helped me see the value in embracing my new role. As I have become more experienced, I have taken on more responsibility for larger groups of students. As I get more opportunity to help students develop their own skills and knowledge, I can feel my focus starting to shift. I am beginning to see how my skills from a clinical career can be transferred to the classroom and help develop a new generation of nurses. The transition to academic is not complete (I’m still firmly within Dempsey’s two-to-four-year window), but I feel that I’m moving on.



Anderson, J.K. (2009). The work-role transition of expert clinician to novice academic educator. Journal of Nursing Education. 48, 4. 203 – 208.

Beres J (2006) Staff development to university faculty: Reflections of a nurse educator. Nursing Forum. 41, 3. 141 – 145.

Dempsey, L.M. (2007). The experiences of Irish nurse lecturers role transition from clinician to educator. International Journal of Nursing Scholarship. 4, 13.

Goodrich, R.S. (2014). Transition to academic nurse educator: A survey exploring readiness, confidence, and locus of control. Journal of Professional Nursing. 30, 3. 203 – 212.

Murray, C., Stanley, M., and Wright, S. (2014). The transition from clinician to academic in nursing and allied health: A qualitative meta-synthesis. Nurse Education Today. 34. 389 – 395.

Schriner, C.L. (2007). The influence of culture on clinical nurses transitioning into the faculty role. Nursing Education Perspectives. 28, 3. 145 – 9.

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