Nurse Educator Career Overview

nurse educator talking to classroom of nurses

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 for teaching, a career as a nurse educator might be a great fit for you. As a nurse educator, you’ll act as both a mentor and a role model to students studying nursing. You’ll be able to use your experience to guide students and advise them on the latest in the field of nursing.

What Is a Nurse Educator?

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The nurse educator role combines clinical experience with instruction and development. As a nurse educator, you’ll works hands-on with nursing students or clinical professionals who need continuing education. Nurse educators take their own experience and apply it to their lessons, allowing them to provide real-world examples to their students.

Nurse educators are a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). APRNs are nurses who hold a postgraduate degree—at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)—and have a much broader scope of practice than a typical RN. APRNs are in high demand across all specialties, and opportunities are expected to continue to grow.

Other types of APRNS include:

Do nurse educators still treat patients?

Patient treatment is not a primary job duty for a clinical nurse educator. However, these roles often supervise nursing students as they work with patients, and many nurse educators still treat patients on a part-time basis. What you end up doing will likely depend on your personal preferences and employer.

How are nurse educators different from other nursing instructors?

Unlike other APRNs, the primary function of a nurse educator is teaching.

Other APRNs may also provide instruction to clinical staff, but it’s not their principle job duty. For example, clinical nurse specialists are considered subject matter experts, and teaching other healthcare professionals is part of their role. They do not, however, generally lead classes or provide degree-focused education, and instruction is only 1 of their many duties.

Some nursing instructors teach programs for entry-level health careers such as certified nursing or medical assistants. For many of these programs, an MSN is not required to teach. In fact, you may be able to teach a nursing assistant course with a nursing diploma or an associate’s degree. While this coursework requires instructing students on nursing concepts, these teachers are generally not considered nurse educators.

Do nurse educators have specialties?

As a nurse educator, you’ll be expected to have advanced knowledge in all areas of nursing, but depending on your experience, you might specialize in 1 or more. Many MSN programs for nurse educators require you to choose a specialty area that lines up with your clinical background. For example, if you worked with geriatric patients before earning your nurse educator degree, you could likely end up teaching classes on geriatric conditions.

Beyond specific clinical areas, nurse educators may also specialize in specific student levels. As you move through your nurse educator career, there might be a student level you find the most rewarding to teach. You could enjoy teaching students who are in the first semester of their bachelor’s, or you might find you prefer working with experienced students who are earning their master’s or doctorate in a specialty.

What Nurse Educators Do

The nurse educator job description includes a variety of tasks meant to enhance student learning. Working as a nurse educator gives you a chance to shape the nursing profession, by ensuring that future nurses receive the highest-quality training.

Nurse educators are responsible for multiple aspects of student learning. Important jobs duties are discussed in more detail below.

Designing curriculum and instruction

As a nurse educator, you’ll be responsible for designing the curriculum of your students. You’ll set the structure and pace of your classroom and decide what textbooks and other materials your students will need. These curriculum decisions will need to meet accreditation requirements and be in line with the most up-to-date professional standards.

Lecturing and classroom discussions

In the classroom, you’ll deliver lectures on topics ranging from general nursing to your specific specialty. PowerPoint presentations can be helpful for keeping students engaged, and it’s always a good idea to leave ample time for student questions and discussions.

Overseeing lab and clinical work

Students working in a lab or nursing unit need supervision to ensure safety and that techniques are being appropriately applied. In a nursing unit, you’ll observe students’ interactions with patients, and offer instruction and feedback as they work. Since nursing students are not licensed to provide clinical care on their own, you’ll have to assume responsibility for their work.

Supervising student teaching, research, and internships

You’ll likely work closely with students as they earn their degree, overseeing their field experiences and research. You’ll be able to use your experience to provide valuable feedback on coursework and other assignments.

Research

If you work at a university and want to earn tenure, you’ll need to conduct research in addition to your teaching responsibilities. Many nurse educators study trends in nursing and publish papers on their findings. Nurse educators are authoritative voices in nursing practice, and their research can dramatically impact the field.

How to Become a Nurse Educator

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse educator, the first step is getting the advanced degree you need to teach. Your degree will need to be at least an MSN, though many nurse educators hold doctoral-level degrees like a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD).

These programs can be found online and on campus at schools throughout the country. Classes will instruct you on both advanced practice nursing and nursing instruction techniques. If you’re interested in working as a nurse educator but don’t have your BSN, you may be able to apply for an accelerated program. These can allow you to fast track from your associate’s or nursing diploma to earning an MSN degree.

Educational requirements

Usually, if you want to teach nursing courses at the university level on a full-time basis, you’ll need to earn your PhD or DNP. For nurse educators who work in other settings, such as hospital-based diploma programs, an MSN in nursing education may meet the requirements.

Is financial aid available for nurse educator education?

Although government financial aid is the most common, you may also find assistance via scholarships, grants, and more. To be considered for aid, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school or program must be accredited by a major accreditation body, such as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), in order to qualify. Other types of financial aid include private loans and PLUS loans. Read up on how to finance nursing school.

What continuing education requirements should I expect throughout my career?

You’ll need to fulfill continuing education requirements at certain intervals in your career (usually every two years) in order to keep your license active. Each state has different credit/hours criteria so always check with your state board. Colleges, universities and trade schools may require their educators to complete continuing education credits as well.

How much nursing experience is required?

Commonly, at least 3 years of hands-on nursing experience is needed before you can begin teaching. However, this will depend on your program, so check the admissions requirements for each institution to see what they’re looking for.

Becoming a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)

While certification is not currently required for nurse educators, it’s highly recommended to be competitive. Nurse educators can earn certification from the National League for Nursing (NLN) by taking the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam . To do so, you’ll need the following 3 things:

  • An active and unrestricted RN license
  • At least a Master of Science in Nursing
  • A completed nursing education course at an advanced level

Qualities of a Clinical Nurse Educator

To be a successful nurse educator, you’ll need to have the following skills and abilities:

  • Oral Expression: Communicate information in a way your students will understand.
  • Deductive Reasoning: Apply broad concepts to day-to-day experiences and problems.
  • Inductive Reasoning: Use the information available to you to come to conclusions.
  • Oral Comprehension: Understand communication and questions from students and peers.
  • Problem Sensitivity: Recognize when problems might occur or when situations might lead to complications.

Other useful qualities might include organization, leadership, creativity, compassion, and patience.

Nurse Educator Salaries & Job Outlook

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Nurse educator salaries can vary depending on your employer and your level of education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)the annual average salary for all postsecondary nursing instructors is $77,360. Those working in junior college make an average of $71,790, while educators working in surgical hospitals earn an average of $89,390.

Salaries can also vary depending on the geographic area that work. Washington, D.C., New York, Connecticut, California, and New Jersey are reported to have the highest annual salaries, while states such as Arkansas and Oklahoma have the lowest.

As with all healthcare careers, the outlook for nurse educators is very promising. The aging of the American population, along with the current and projected nursing shortage, means that nursing schools will need an increased number of qualified faculty members. Across the board, job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to grow by 15% through 2026.

Career Paths

The career path you find yourself on as a nurse educator might depend on your area of expertise and choice of employer. As you gain more experience in the field you might be able to take on leadership or administrative roles within nursing education. Some titles you could hold as a nurse educator include:

  • Clinical nurse educator
  • Nursing instructor
  • Professor of nursing
  • Facility instructor
  • Nursing curriculum coordinator
  • Professional development coordinator
  • Dean of nursing

The most common employers for nurse educators are colleges and universities. Other employers looking for nurse educators include:

  • Junior colleges
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Technical or trade schools
  • Business schools and management training

Ready to Get Started?

Whether you’re already an RN and looking to advance your career, or if you’re just entering the field, researching MSN programs is a great way to pursue a nursing educator career. Use the Find Schools button to begin your search today.

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