Nurse Educator Career and Degree Guide
Learn the basics of being a nurse educator and decide for yourself if you have what it takes.
If you’re interested in the future of nursing and have a love of teaching, a career as a nurse educator might be right for you. As a nurse educator, you’ll be a mentor and a role model to students studying nursing at junior colleges, universities, and professional schools, and you’ll impact the evolution of nursing and healthcare.
In This Article
If you’ve been thinking about becoming a nurse educator, now could be your time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is forecasting a 21.5% growth in nurse educator jobs through 2031, considerably above the average growth of 5 percent forecast for all jobs nationally.
This anticipated increase in nurse educator jobs is driven by several factors:
Given numbers like these, “addressing the nursing faculty shortage needs to be a top public policy priority,” says Malone.
If you’re thinking about becoming a nurse educator, learn more about this career and whether you’re teacher material.
As a nurse educator, you’ll teach nurses at all levels about nursing issues and patient care, either in the classroom or a clinical setting. Depending on your education and experience, your students might include:
Whether your students are new to nursing or operate at the highest levels of policy and executive administration, you’ll use your experience to train them in the skills and knowledge they need and your passion to mentor and guide them in their development.
What Nurse Educators Do
Nurse educators are responsible for multiple aspects of student learning, training, and development. Depending on your areas of expertise, you might:
Depending on your role and level of education, you may also be involved in the governance and direction of a nursing program and scientific research.
Here’s a closer look at some of the roles of a nurse educator.
Design Curriculum and Instruction
As a nurse educator, you’ll be responsible for designing curriculum, creating the structure and pace of your classroom, and deciding what textbooks and other materials your students will use.
Lecture and Guide Classroom Discussions
You’ll deliver lectures exploring a variety of issues and promote student interaction and the exploration of ideas through classroom discussions on topics including health policy, standards of care, care of specific populations, specialization, and more.
Supervise Lab and Clinical Work
You’ll instruct students in procedure, observe their interactions with patients, provide guidance as they work, provide feedback on results, and evaluate their performance
Supervise Student Teaching, Research and Internships
You’ll likely work closely with students, overseeing their teaching field experience, clinical assignments, and research projects. If you teach at a hospital, you may be a preceptor and use your experience to provide invaluable feedback on student clinical rotations.
Research and Publish Findings
If you teach at a university and have a doctorate, you’ll likely conduct research in addition to teaching. Many nurse educators study trends, evaluate policies, and do research on topics like improvements in patient care.
Many times their findings are published in peer-reviewed journals, and they may advocate for policies that improve nursing practice and global health. Because they are authoritative voices in nursing practice, their research can dramatically impact the field.
Does a Nurse Educator Treat Patients?
Some nurse educators continue to treat patients, even after they move into teaching. Whether you provide care will depend on your personal preferences, your position, and your employer’s requirements.
Nurse educators who teach in the classroom or hold leadership positions often continue to treat patients to maintain their expertise. Many clinical nurse educators continue to work in clinical practice but also teach clinicals one or two days a week as adjunct faculty.
Donna R. Swope, an adjunct professor of nursing at Stevenson University, says a nurse educator who maintains their clinical skills has more career options.
Nurse Educator Specialization
As a nurse educator, you’ll be expected to have advanced knowledge in nursing practice and healthcare, one or more specialty areas, and nursing education and instruction. You’ll gain this knowledge through formal education and work experience.
If you’re an experienced nurse with multiple specialties and certifications, pat yourself on the back—you’re already on your way to building a solid resume as a nurse educator.
In fact, it’s common for nurse educators to have multiple specialties and to teach in those areas. For example, Swope’s specialty is obstetrics, and she has certifications in three areas related to her specialty: inpatient obstetrics, lactation management, and pregnancy loss.
Becoming certified as a nurse educator isn’t required, but many employers prefer teachers with that distinction.
Beyond thinking about clinical specialties, you’ll want to consider becoming certified by the National League for Nursing as an academic nurse educator (CNE) or academic clinical nurse educator (CNEcl). Many employers indicate a preference for these certifications, an even require them, in job descriptions.
As you consider becoming a teacher, think also about the type of student you might prefer to work with. You’ve likely already had some experience training or mentoring a new nurse or an experienced nurse new to a clinical unit. Perhaps you’ve worked on research projects with doctoral students at your clinic.
You might find that you prefer teaching students who are in the first semester at a junior college or working with highly experienced students who are earning their master’s or doctorate in a specialty.
Your preferences also may play a role in the degree you pursue as a nurse educator.
The career path you choose might depend on your area of nursing expertise and choice of employer. As you gain experience in the field, you might be able to take on leadership or administrative roles. Some positions you could hold as a nurse educator include:
Clinical nurse educator
Teaches clinical components of nursing
Teaches classroom courses
Professor of nursing
Teaches at the university level; may also do research and publish
Simulator lab instructor
Trains students in clinical skills in a simulation lab
Nursing curriculum coordinator
Identifies education requirements and training for nursing staff
Nursing education consultant
Advises nursing schools about accreditation, curriculum, and faculty development
Dean of nursing
Manages administrative functions for a nursing school
Where Nurse Educators Work
Most nurse educators work in academia, while others are employed at medical centers or work in consulting and policy positions. According to the BLS, the top five workplaces for nurse educators and the number employed are:
Top Workplaces for Nurse Educators
Colleges, universities, professional schools
General medical and surgical hospitals
Technical or trade schools
Business schools, computer and management training
Qualities of a Successful Nurse Educator
A love of teaching and mentoring are the two most obvious qualities for a successful nurse educator, but there are other important skills and abilities someone in this position should have:
Strong communication skills
Delivers information in a way that students will understand
Applies broad concepts to day-to-day experiences and problem solving
Uses available information to reach conclusions
Comprehends communication and questions from students and peers
Other useful qualities include organizational and leadership skills, creativity, compassion, patience, and a sense of humor.
To become a nurse educator, a graduate degree is required in nearly all circumstances—at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), though many nurse educators hold doctoral degrees, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD).
If you want to teach full time at the university level, a PhD or DNP is recommended and strongly preferred by employers.
If you want to teach full time at the university level, a PhD or DNP is strongly preferred by employers. For nurse educators who work in other settings, such as diploma programs, community colleges or vocational-technical schools, an MSN may meet the requirements. In remote or rural areas, a community college or vocational-technical school may accept a bachelor’s degree.
Generally, clinical nurse educators need two to three years of hands-on nursing experience before they can teach clinicals. Also, many graduate nursing programs require nursing experience for admission.
To enroll in a graduate nursing program, you’ll need to meet program prerequisites, which can vary by school. Swope strongly recommends consulting with program advisors before making decisions. In most cases, to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree, you’ll need to have a bachelor’s in nursing and be an RN.
Graduate Degrees for Nurse Educators
Most classroom nurse educators pursue an MSN or PhD degree. Those who focus on practice and patient care and intend to become adjunct faculty to teach clinicals may pursue a DNP.
Here’s a brief overview of the most common degrees earned by nurse educators.
Master of Science in Nursing
Doctor of Nursing Practice
Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD)
If you’re interested in working as a nurse educator but don’t have your BSN, you may be able to apply to an accelerated program. Some of these programs allow students to fast track from an associate’s degree to an MSN.
Online Nurse Educator Programs
There are a number of high-quality online programs for those in the nursing field. Online graduate programs allow you to work through theory-based coursework in online courses but fulfill clinical requirements and practicums at approved clinical sites in your area.
Online and campus curricula are the same, but online learning gives you more flexibility in deciding when and where you’ll do classwork. Instead of sitting in a classroom, you may be parked at a picnic table by the lake while working on assignments.
Online courses can make it possible for you to pursue your degree while providing the flexibility you need to work, take care of your family, and handle the other important responsibilities in your life, like taking your puppy for a walk.
School and Program Accreditation
As you research programs, check to make sure both the school and the nursing program are accredited by the appropriate agencies. This is important for applying for federal aid, grants, and scholarships.
In addition, if you want to transfer credits to an accredited school, the credits must be from an accredited school. Possibly most important, many employers will only consider candidates from accredited programs.
Becoming a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)
While certification isn’t currently required for nurse educators, it’s highly recommended and may give you a competitive edge in your field. Nurse educators earn certification from the NLN by taking the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam or the Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator CNEclexam.
Many employers prefer applicants with certification, while others require it. At a minimum, to take one of the CNE certification exams, you’ll need:
Although government financial aid is the most common, you may also find assistance with nursing scholarships, grants, private loans, government-backed loans, and work-study programs.
To be considered for federal aid, loans, and most school scholarships and grants, you’ll need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
To be eligible, your school and program must both be accredited by approved accreditation bodies, such as:
Salary and Job Outlook
With a BLS forecast of 21.5% growth in nurse educator jobs through 2031, the job outlook is particularly strong in this field.
Nurse educator salaries can vary depending on factors such as your employer, your level of education, and where you work. According to the BLS, the annual median salary for postsecondary nursing instructors is $77,440, with a range of $47,630 to $125,930.
Job growth for nurse educators is expected to be 21.5% through 2031, considerably above the average 5% forecast for all jobs nationally.
Salaries can also vary depending on the geographic area in which you work. For example, the average salary in California is $106,850, while the salary in West Virginia is $62,730.
Do further research and stay current on the latest news and trends by checking out these sites and publications for nurse educators:
With professional insight from: