The Nursing Academic; supporting the transition for clinical practice to Higher Education

This weeks blog is by Phil Downing, Academic Operational Lead, University of Bolton.

and, Helen Lord, Senior Lecturer, CPD Lead, University of Bolton.

One of the responses to the well-recognised workforce shortages within the NHS in England1 has been a commitment within the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan to increase adult nursing training places by 92% over the next eight years2. Educating and supporting these additional student nurses will place added demands on the Higher Education Institutes tasked with meeting this target. To deliver the high-quality education needed to produce a safe and competent registered nurse workforce, universities will, in turn, need to expand their own academic teams.

The issues faced by experienced clinical nurses, who choose to make the move into academia, where they become novices in their new roles, has been examined in several papers3 4. Speaking to established nurse academics often uncovers personal stories of the challenges they faced on entering higher education. Grassley, Strohfus & Lambe5 describe four 4 meta-themes from their work on the transition from clinician to academic, (1) Unprepared, (2) No longer an Expert, (3) In Search of Mentoring, (4) Beginning to Thrive. Furthermore Dempsey’s 6 work suggests staff still feel uncertain in their role for up to two years after the move.

At the University of Bolton, the School of Nursing and Midwifery has undergone a remarkable expansion in the last 5 years, increasing the number of academic staff from 35 in 2019 to almost 200 at the end of 2023, working across 3 main geographical locations. This rapid growth, mainly occurring during the Covid19 pandemic, has challenged the leadership team to reconsider how we support new colleagues during their transition, to enable them to successfully begin to thrive and in their career beyond.

The starting point for this work has been a series of workshops providing opportunities for staff to discuss their experiences and share ideas.  In addition, surveys and questionnaires have been circulated to capture further thoughts and opinions. This multi-pronged approach has been taken to encourage staff to participate in a manner that they personally are comfortable with. Initial analysis of the outputs has resulted in an experienced faculty member being dedicated to supporting new staff and being tasked with exploring options to develop a structure which, not only helps new academics transition into the role, but continues to guide and support experienced colleagues throughout their careers.

The challenge of delivering a structure which provides assurance to the organisation that mandatory employment requirements have been met, while at the same time delivering an experience which is meaningful to individuals from a wide range of clinical and educational backgrounds is not being underestimated. Moreover, the varying stages at which staff enter the academic role within in their career trajectory poses an additional layer of complexity when planning to support the transition of those new to the organisation. Consequently, it can be ascertained that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting the transition between roles is essentially flawed as this potentially discounts individualisation.

Work is being undertaken to investigate a range of options, exploring how differing concepts may be brought to provide staff with a suite of tools which can deliver a personalised support system that meets their unique individual needs. Ideas under consideration include models of induction, mentorship theories, coaching techniques, action learning sets, the role of sponsors, buddies and critical friends.  Preceptorship, usually associated with newly qualified nurses, but recognised by NHS England7 as relevant to staff taking up a new role or moving to a new organisation, is also being explored in relation to the work being undertaken by the NHS England National Preceptorship Programme8 and their development of a National Preceptorship Framework and Model. Although designed for newly qualified staff, its potential application to new academics, who report similar anxieties and experiences, presents exciting possibilities.

Developing a structure which is accessible, flexible, and sustainable, without being overly complex and unworkable, and one which works in conjunction with formal performance review procedures, is a challenge for all involved and one which will take a large amount of time and effort. However, without undertaking this work we risk failing those new to higher education and our existing colleagues. HEI’s now need to invest in support to retain the academic nursing workforce if they wish to recruit and expand their academic teams who can deliver high quality educational programmes producing safe and effective nursing practitioners.


  1. The King’s Fund. Closing the gap: key areas for action on the health and care workforce. 2019.
  2. NHS England. 2023. NHS Long Term Workforce Plan.
  3. Grassley JS, Lambe A. Easing the Transition From Clinician to Nurse Educator: An Integrative Literature Review. 2015 Jul;54(7):361–6. Available from:
  4. McPherson S, Wendler MC. Finding My Place in Academia: Understanding the Experiences of Novice Faculty. 2023 Aug;62(8):433–42. Available from:
  5. Grassley JS, Strohfus PK, Lambe AC. No Longer Expert: A Meta-Synthesis Describing the Transition From Clinician to Academic. 2020 Jul 1;59(7):366–74. Available from:
  6. Dempsey LM. The Experiences of Irish Nurse Lecturers Role Transition from Clinician to Educator. 2007 May 4;4(1):13-Article 13. Available from:
  7. Health Education England. Preceptorship [Internet]. 2023 [cited 28/09/23]. (Health Education England). Available from:
  8. NHS England National Preceptorship Programme [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2023]. ( Available from:

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