Nurse Educator Career and Degree Guide

What You’ll Do as a Nurse Educator

Learn the responsibilities a nurse educator has on the job.

The lack of nursing faculty is partly to blame for the country’s nursing shortage. Without enough nurse educators, schools are forced to turn aspiring nurses away, even if they’re qualified. According to the most recent National League for Nursing survey, 51 percent of Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs turned qualified applications away.

As a nurse educator, you have the ability to impact the future of nursing, share your clinical expertise, participate in research and even continue working as a patient care provider, if you choose.

MSN programs are open to students with a variety of backgrounds, even those with a non-nurses bachelor’s degree. If you’re a good communicator, organized and want to share your expertise in nursing, the nurse educator role could be right for you.

Can I read a nurse educator job description?

At the most basic level, a nurse educator job description focuses on teaching aspiring nurses about patient care. They are often responsible for developing a curriculum and teaching using lectures or lab/clinical work. Additionally, many aspiring nurses look to their educators as mentors or advisors.

On the job, nurse practitioners roles can vary depending on their specialty, but general tasks include:

  • Planning and teaching curriculum for undergraduate or graduate-level courses
  • Lecture on a number of topics including community health care and pharmacology
  • Assign homework
  • Oversee students’ lab and clinical work
  • Serve as a mentor on academic and career issues
  • Promote discussions among students

Nurse educators can choose to focus primarily on teaching, do a combination of instruction and research or work as a direct patient provider.

What education or certification will I need to become a nurse educator?

In order to mold the minds of the next generation of nurses, you’ll need an advanced education in the way of a  Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) or doctoral degree in nursing (PhD, DNP). These programs will require you to choose a clinical specialization as well. Learn more about what you’ll study.

MSN programs are offered online and in traditional classroom settings. The coursework will be more advanced than those in a bachelor’s degree program, but will use the undergraduate curriculum as a building block. If you have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can find schools offering accelerated programs for Bachelor of Science (BSN) and MSNs.

Students interested in the academic side of nursing can enroll in a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (PhD) program, which prepares students in research tactics, leadership and public policy. Variations on a PhD program, such as the MSN/PhD Dual Degree, are also available at some schools and usually intended for students with a non-nursing undergraduate degree.

Nurse educators interested in becoming certified can take the National League for Nursing (NLN) certification exam to become a Certified Nurse Education (CNE).

To be eligible, you must have:

  • An active registered nurse license in the U.S. or its territories
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with main emphasis in nursing or one of the following:
    • Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and a post-master’s certificate in nursing education
    • Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and nine or more credits hours of graduate-level education courses

The other eligibility option is to have the current RN license, advanced degree with nursing education emphasis and two or more years of experience working in an academic institution’s nursing program within the last five years.

A complete explanation of eligibility requirements, test prep and re-certification information can be found on the NLN website.

What career paths can I take as a nurse educator?

As expected, nurse educators find the majority of the jobs in colleges and universities, but a small portion can get work in general medical and surgical hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook statistics on post-secondary nursing instructors and teachers.

Industries with the highest levels of employment, according to the BLS:

  • Colleges, universities and professional schools
  • Junior colleges
  • General medical and surgical hospitals
  • Technical and trade schools

The type of curriculum you teach will be dependent on where you teach. Undergraduate programs will prepare students to become registered nurses (RNs) or licensed practical or licensed vocational nurses (LPN/LVN). Meanwhile, nurse educators in a graduate school setting will instruct advanced practice nurses, other nurse educators, nurse researchers, nurse administrators and up-and-coming nursing leaders. This group of students earns their master’s or doctoral degree.

When searching for nurse educator jobs, you may hear these titles used:

  • Clinical Nurse Educator
  • Staff Development Officer
  • Continuing Education Specialist
  • Instructional or Administrative Nurse Faculty

Learn about pay & job projections for nurse educators.

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