Nurse Educator Career and Degree Guide


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?

medical staff seated in lecture hall
medical staff seated in lecture hall

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.

Why Certification Matters

Certification isn’t required for nurse educators but it’s highly recommended—and it could boost your pay and your chances of getting coveted positions.

The credential tells others that you have the knowledge and expertise necessary for success as a nurse educator, and potential employers consider it a mark of distinction and excellence.

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:

  • Teaching and/or conducting research at a university
  • Teaching clinical skills classes and caring for patients
  • Teaching at research hospitals and guiding students through their first clinical rotations
  • Teaching for large medical groups or at medical and surgical hospitals, training nurses on new protocols

Responsibilities

Although nurse educator roles vary, depending on specialty and education level, your general responsibilities may include some or all of the following:

  • Planning and teaching curriculum
  • Lecturing and guiding class discussions
  • Overseeing independent study
  • Supervising lab and clinical work
  • Evaluating and grading students’ work
  • Serving as an advisor on academic and career issues
  • Serving as a mentor and role model
  • Overseeing graduate projects, dissertations, and research
  • Sitting on nursing department committees and developing programs
  • Conducting research and publishing results
  • Staying up to date on the latest in nursing practice
  • Recruiting new students
  • Connecting with the community through outreach

Mentoring

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.”

Leadership

nurses learning to connect saline drip

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.” 

Why You’ll Love Teaching

According the National League for Nursing, these are the top 10 reasons to become a nurse educator:


1. You teach what you love

2. You change lives

3. You shape the future of healthcare

4. You encourage and educate eager minds, and rejoice when your students surpass you

5. You can teach from the beach or the slopes, using technology

6. You can teach anywhere in the world

7. Your work has value to society

8. Your research creates knowledge and advances the field; your publications bring you prestige

9. You have autonomy and flexibility

10. You work in an intellectually stimulating environment

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.

Career Paths

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:

Top Workplaces for Nurse Educators

Number Employed


Colleges, universities, professional schools

34,310

Junior colleges

17,840

General medical and surgical hospitals

4,230

Technical and trade schools

2,280

Business schools, computer and management training

340

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.

Workplace

Type of Students


Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools

  • Undergraduate students
  • Graduate students
  • PhD candidates
  • Research students
  • Continuing education students

Junior Colleges

  • Aspiring RNs
  • ADN students
  • LPN/LVN students
  • ADN-to-BSN students
  • Continuing education students

General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

  • BSN students
  • Graduate students
  • RNs

Technical and Trade Schools

  • Aspiring RNs
  • LPN/LVN students
  • Continuing education students

Business Schools and Computer and Management Training

  • Administrators
  • Department heads
  • Informatics and data students
  • Continuing education students

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.

Salary

$83,160
Average Annual Salary for Nurse Educators

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.


sheila mickool

Written and reported by:

Sheila Mickool

Contributing Writer

beverly malone

With professional insight from:

Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN

President and CEO, National League for Nursing


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