Solving the Nurse Shortage and the Nurse Faculty Shortage
A labor and delivery nurse in Oceanside, CA, Brittney Braker, BSN ’21, views nursing as more than bedside assistance—it is essential education.
That’s particularly important to Brittney, who works with new mothers and their babies. “Educating women gives them so much empowerment,” she says. “I have a very strong pull toward providing equitable care and making sure everyone has the education to make their own decisions.”
Brittney’s interest in education made her a natural fit for the Nursing Faculty of Tomorrow (NFT) Fellows program at Samuel Merritt University while a student. During her last semester, Brittney served as a teaching fellow for the maternity nursing class, leading guided discussions, creating exam reviews, teaching students during simulation labs, and more. Over 80 students have participated as NFT Fellows over the past four years.
“The program really helped me feel more confident in terms of educating, and I have such a better appreciation of the amount of work it takes to be an educator,” Brittney says. “This experience confirmed for me that education is an area I want to focus on in the future, whether that’s clinical education or education within a higher education institution.”
Above and beyond a teaching assistant
The NFT program, launched in 2017, is a competitive program for students interested in exploring education as part of their nursing career paths. Students must be recommended by a professor to apply for the program; they also must have a 3.0 or higher grade point average, exhibit strong clinical performance, and have had some form of teaching experience—such as being a teaching assistant. In return, NFT Fellows receive financial support and the chance to develop their teaching skills. Fellows assist in teaching students, provide feedback to both students and faculty, and help evaluate students. The role is above and beyond that of a teaching assistant.
“Just as there is a nursing shortage, there is also a nursing faculty shortage,” says Shelitha Campbell, NFT Fellows director and assistant professor of nursing. “The best way that we can establish our own internal pipeline is to create a steppingstone program that will give our students real-time access to experienced faculty.”
Brittney has known since high school that nursing was her calling and began taking nursing classes after graduating early. She continued with them after marrying her husband and having her first child. But when her husband, a U.S. Marine, was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Brittney put her nursing plans on hold. She instead pursued a bachelor’s degree in psychology and volunteered for the Red Cross.
Once her husband was stationed in the Bay Area, Brittney dusted off her nursing dreams and started at SMU.The path was still bumpy. She often solo-parented her two daughters while her husband was working. COVID made parenting and studying especially challenging—but Brittney persevered. She maintained a 3.98 GPA, completed clinical rotations, worked as tutor, and served as an NFT Fellow. She knows it would not have been possible without the support she received at the University, including the Dr. Paulina R. Van Perinatal Nursing Scholarship she received during her last semester.
“I could not have made it through nursing school without scholarships,” Brittney says. “This one specifically made a huge impact. The financial impact was so appreciated, but beyond that, the scholarship criteria matched me perfectly—the scholarship supports women of color interested in maternal and infant nursing. On top of that, Dr. Van is a woman of color and supports other women of color. When I see women like that, it’s inspiring to me.”