What You’ll Do as a Nurse Educator
Nurse educators fill many roles—instructor, professor, research scientist, clinical instructor, dean, and more. Which one is right for you?
According to one of the nation’s foremost nurse educators, Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, president and CEO of the National League for Nursing (NLN), nurse educators are leaders, educators, change agents, and visionaries. They teach, research, publish, advocate, mentor, and govern.
In these roles, they train the next generation of nurses and work to advance nursing practice and enhance patient care.
Nurse Educator Career Overview
Teaching is an awesome career with a lot of flexibility in what you do and how you do it. It takes determination, focus, experience, grit, and advanced education to become a nurse educator. In fact, just thinking about the requirements may feel a little daunting.
But not to worry. “If I can do it, so can you,” Malone says, remembering growing up miles from a hospital in rural Kentucky, helping her great-grandmother heal others.
There are 73,000 nurse educators working in the U.S., and most work in academic settings such as junior colleges, universities, and professional schools.
As you start your career as a nurse educator, you’ll most likely begin by teaching in an academic setting. There are 73,000 nurse educators working in the U.S., according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and 62,000 of them work at junior colleges, four-year colleges, universities, and professional schools.
Teaching Roles Based on Education
If you teach at the junior or community college level, you’ll prepare students to become registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses (LPNs/LVNs). In this role, you’ll most likely need at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
In remote and rural areas, as well as in regions with severe nurse educator shortages, some junior colleges may hire instructors with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). But count on needing a graduate degree.
Nurse educators teaching undergraduates at four-year colleges and universities prepare nursing students for a BSN. In this role, a doctorate is strongly preferred, and a master’s degree would be the minimum acceptable.
Nurse educators who work with postgraduate students seeking a master’s or doctoral degree will need a doctorate to teach.
Nurse Educator Job Description
First and foremost, a nurse educator’s job is to teach aspiring nurses about patient care.
But the role can take many forms:
Although nurse educator roles vary, depending on specialty and education level, your general responsibilities may include some or all of the following:
As a nurse educator, you’ll have the opportunity to shape the next generation of nurses through mentoring. Malone says this is a critical part of what a nurse educator does.
“It’s the interpersonal communications fostered by mentorship that allows nurses to fully develop, and to be at their best with their patients,” she says. “Nursing is built on a system of mentoring.
“I am a product of mentoring. I have been mentored my entire life. If there is anything great or good about me, it’s because I’ve had incredible mentors.”
In addition to teaching, nurse educators are expected to be leaders and to confidently step up and advocate for change in nursing practice and patient care. In fact, many nursing educators move into executive leadership and policy positions over time. And whether or not you realize it, you’ve already been honing your leadership skills as a nurse.
In addition to teaching, nurse educators are expected to be leaders and to confidently step up and advocate for change in nursing practice and patient care.
“Nurses are natural born leaders,” Malone says. “As a nurse, if we can go into a patient’s room, and within three minutes build rapport and provide guidance to that patient, then we can go into any leader’s office and talk to them about relevant issues in healthcare and how nurses can make a difference.”
What Nurse Educators Teach
As a nurse educator, what you teach can vary greatly, depending on your students, your expertise, your education, your preferences, and the requirements of the program in which you are teaching. Here are some examples to give you a sense of the range:
Nurse educators in a bachelor’s program may teach core classes, such as nutrition, introduction to clinical nursing, and health assessment.
In a master’s program, you may teach more advanced courses, such as advanced nursing practice, organizational leadership, and advanced information management.
At the doctorate level, nurse educator faculty may work with DNP candidates on providing advanced patient care or serve as a mentor for PhD candidates working on research projects.
While most nurse educators work in an academic setting, some teach in hospitals and business, technical, and trade schools.
According to the BLS, the schools and hospitals with the highest number of nurse educators are:
Students Based on Workplace
As a nurse educator, you may be drawn to teaching a certain type of student. Some enjoy introducing new students to the world of nursing, while others might like working with experienced nurses pursuing graduate degrees.
Here’s a look at some of the students you’ll find in various workplaces.
Roles by Title
Nurse educators fill a wide variety of roles and have many titles:
Clinical nurse educator: teaches the hands-on clinical components of nursing in a university, lab, hospital, home care, or community health setting. Usually has a graduate degree.
Nursing instructor: teaches patient care in the classroom to nursing students enrolled in colleges and to nurses in hospital clinical units. Usually has a graduate degree.
Professor of nursing: teaches at a college or university, serves as a student advisor and mentor, is an expert in the field of nursing, and may do research and publish results. A doctorate is strongly preferred.
Simulator lab director: maintains the lab and conducts clinical skills training as part of a university nursing program or hospital education group. Usually has a graduate degree.
Dean of nursing: manages administrative functions, sets priorities, and develops programs for the nursing school; and participates in long-term university planning and policy setting. A doctorate is required.
Nurse educator salaries vary widely, depending on your education and experience, your workplace, the geographic location, and your position.
The average salary for postsecondary nursing instructors and teachers is $83,160, with a range of $41,130 to $133,460, according to the BLS. Nurse educators at general medical and surgical hospitals earn an average of $121,180 annually, while those at junior colleges earn an average of $75,430.