The DEU as a Response to the Nurse Faculty Shortage

Jun 20, 2014, 9:11 AM

Janet M. Banks, MSN, RNC, is an instructor and clinical faculty at the University of Portland, a recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Evaluating Innovations in Nursing Education grant. She is working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Case Western Reserve University, with a focus on nursing clinical education.

It’s no secret that there’s a serious shortage of nursing faculty in the United States. This problem will result in schools of nursing educating too few nurses to meet the growing demand for these health care professionals. One solution to this vexing problem is to increase the number of Dedicated Education Units, or DEUs, to increase faculty capacity.

Chances are good that if you are reading this blog, you know what a DEU is. But, for the sake of being on the same page, it is a collaboration between a nursing unit and an academic institution such as a school of nursing. Often referred to as an academic-service partnership, the school of nursing provides students as well as faculty who are experts in teaching. The nursing unit provides a culture that supports learning, as well as expert nurses to act as teachers.

The students, nurses, and faculty usually work in a ratio of two students to each nurse, with the faculty supporting the nurse as teacher and supporting the student’s professional development.

DEU Adoption Across the Country

Kay Edgecombe at Flinders University in South Australia was the first to imagine the DEU in the late 1990s. Since that time, the DEU concept traveled to the United States, where one of the DEUs was implemented in Portland, Oregon. It has now expanded from Portland, Oregon to more than 20 states, as well as to New Zealand. A recent literature search yielded more than 30 articles that discuss implementation of the DEU, and another 25 with empirical data about DEU, and student, academic, and service outcomes that result from the DEU. The data is overwhelmingly positive about the learning atmosphere created by DEUs.

Many DEUs are either based on the Portland Model or contain many of the same characteristics. The DEU adopted at Florida Atlantic University with its service partners at St. Mary’s Medical Center used the nursing as caring theory. The Quality and Safety Education for Nurses concept was used to guide student reflections, which revealed increased satisfaction over traditional units by both students and nurse teachers, and more students gained the key quality and safety competencies.

Saginaw Valley State University and the Michigan VA Medical Center used the DEU as an opportunity for peer mentoring between senior and sophomore nursing students in a BSN program. These students experienced increased professional development in their mentoring roles. The evidence about the DEU model suggests that it is adaptable to the unique qualities of academic and service partners, while remaining true to the essential values of the DEU.

The Numbers

Only a few studies have involved a cost benefit analysis of the dollars spent by the academic and service partners. The DEU can’t get by on its looks alone. A recent study published in Nursing Economic$  found a net benefit of more than $46,000 in 2011 when a DEU model was implemented by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and four service partners. A key to the savings realized by the school of nursing was the increased number of students a faculty member could supervise, thus requiring fewer faculty members. Overall the DEU requires fewer faculty members to supervise students, and more students can be placed in fewer clinical spots, freeing up precious clinical placements for other schools of nursing.

All in all, the DEU not only enhances nursing education, it also is one possible solution to the nurse faculty shortage. It’s certainly an educational model schools of nursing should consider implementing.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.