1. Elliott, Malcolm MN, RN

Article Content

There is a common belief that nurse faculty, or nurse academicians, should routinely engage in clinical practice as a way of maintaining their clinical competence. Although this may be a logical expectation, little empirical evidence supports it, and there are many reasons why nurse academicians should not engage in direct patient care. For one, many faculties do not teach clinical subjects, so being clinically competent does not serve them in their role as scholars.


An academic role typically involves two main activities: the generation of new knowledge via research and the dissemination of this knowledge via teaching and publication. Although academicians teach more than just the knowledge that they generate (e.g., undergraduate curricula), their main professional skills must relate to the conduct of research and teaching if they are to be effective in their role. In my opinion, it is not necessary for academicians to engage in weekend clinical work, because doing so does not make them more successful in their role as scholars. Having the skills to manage four or more acutely ill patients or perform a dressing aseptically, for example, does not enhance research and teaching abilities.


If a clinical nurse with a wealth of clinical knowledge and experience wishes to pursue a teaching position, pedagogical skills must be acquired in order to be successful as an educator. If that same nurse then decides to pursue an academic career, skills relating to research and publication are also necessary. Traditional clinical skills are not necessary for these individuals. Furthermore, if academicians choose to or were required to engage in clinical practice, they might be less available to their students, have less time to devote to scholarly activities, and feel the pressure of having to answer to two employers (university and hospital). Because lack of contact with faculty has been shown to strongly influence noncontinuation of first-year university students, this should be considered before clinical work is required (York & Longden, 2008). Allen (2000), an academician who was required to work one clinical shift a week, reported feeling anxious and struggled with the competing workloads of her academic and clinical duties. Such turmoil has also been reported by others (Ward, 2001).


Engaging in clinical practice also does not guarantee exposure to the latest evidence-based practice but only guarantees exposure to the "local culture of care provision." Faculty should be generating knowledge for evidence-based practice and informing clinicians of this evidence via scholarly endeavors, such as publishing. Clinicians often cite lack of time and the skills needed to find and critique new knowledge as barriers to evidence-based practice. Acquiring new knowledge and skills requires a conscious effort via activities such as reading texts and journals or attending conferences and then critiquing the information gained. These activities are exactly what academic faculty do, and they contribute to the content of professional texts and journals. Academicians are perfectly situated to inform clinical practice rather than participate in it. Ideally, academicians and clinicians should be working together for the patient's benefit and the best outcome.


Success in an academic career is often judged (by universities and other scholars) by the quantity and quality of research output. Such output includes obtaining research grants, the professional impact of the research, and the citation of publications. Engaging in clinical practice is not viewed and should not be viewed as an academic pursuit or as necessary for a successful academic career. Faculty should have the freedom to focus on contributing to the clinical practice by generating and disseminating new evidence for patient care rather than spending time at the bedside.




Allen, D. (2000). Faculty practice: A model to bridge the theory-practice divide. British Journal of Community Nursing, 5, 504-510. [Context Link]


Ward, K. (2001). Faculty clinical practice: Strategies for implementation and evaluation. Nursing Forum, 36, 15-20. [Context Link]


York, M., & Longden, B. (2008). The first-year experience of higher education in the UK. York, United Kingdom: The Higher Education Academy. [Context Link]