What is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators combine specialized nursing expertise with a passion for educating.  Drawing on years of clinical experience, nurse educators bring their particularized knowledge and enthusiasm into the classroom to train and prepare the current generation of nurses and generations of nurses to come.  Whether it is teaching an aspiring nurse a new skill or offering continued education to seasoned nurses, the nurse educator is vital to the nursing community at large. Choosing a career in nurse education means cultivating and nurturing your own skills so that you may one day be well-versed and properly credentialed to assume the nurse educator role and transmit your knowledge and skills to colleagues and pupils alike.

Nursing Educator Roles

Despite transitioning to a more pedagogical role, many nurse educators continue to treat patients throughout their career. In doing so, nurse educators constantly educate themselves as to the most current practices and advancements in nursing, so that they may, in turn, transmit this knowledge to their students.  Nurse educators enjoy the opportunities that come along with devoting themselves to an intellectual and educational community, oftentimes engaging in research and technologies that represent the cutting edge of the nursing industry.

Nurse educators teach as full-time or part-time faculty members at nursing schools on college and university campuses and in teaching hospitals. They teach at the undergraduate level, guiding future licensed practice nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN); and they teach at the graduate and doctoral level—instructing future advanced practice nurses, nurse educators, nurse researchers, and other nursing leaders.   In teaching students at various stages of their professional development, nurse educators design curricula and develop programs of study, grade papers, participate in faculty meetings, prepare and deliver lectures, advise students and perform many of the tasks associated with an academic career.  Generally, nurse educators deliver clinical courses that align with their specific fields of expertise, especially related to the area of concentration or focus in their graduate nursing education program. These fields of interest vary widely and include such areas as psychiatric/mental health, oncology, pediatrics, women’s health, family health, and acute care.

However, aside from all the clinical and medical experience of the nurse educator, their true field of expertise must be teaching and learning. The truly successful nurse practitioner is one who is constantly learning, constantly growing, and always refining the ways in which s/he delivers knowledge to students.

Become a Nurse Educator

To begin a career in nursing education in an academic setting, aspiring nurse educators must earn a master’s degree. In the clinical setting, the minimum requirement for nurse educators is a baccalaureate degree, but many institutions have begun to place a high premium on master’s degrees and some are even requiring them for specific positions. The master’s degree program is designed to prepare experienced nurses to become nurse educators. Instruction involves preparing advanced practice nurses to teach other nurses; this includes topics on curriculum development, student counseling, principles of learning, and adult education techniques.  Earning a doctoral degree in nurse education can also fulfill the requirements to teach at the academic level.

As a nurse educator, you also have the opportunity to become a National League for Nursing Certified Nurse Educator (CNE). To do so, there are additional requirements on top of a master’s or doctoral degree, which include sitting for an examination, completing two years of full-time experience at an academic institution, and holding a valid US license as a registered nurse. Certification is not required of nurse educators, but it recognizes excellence in the field of nurse education and improves the scope and quality of job opportunities.  Learn more about becoming a Certified Nurse Educator at the NLN website.

Clinical experience is an indispensible aspect of becoming a nurse educator. To effectively teach, nurse educators must first encounter personally the many challenges that go hand-in-hand with nursing. Like any other academic field, nurse education demands a strong foundation in the tenets and practices of nursing and health care providing before teaching becomes a possibility. Many nurse educators spend several years working in hospitals, clinics, and private practices before pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in nurse education and in their particular field. To build a successful career in nurse education, a passion for teaching must be laid on a strong clinical foundation.

Nurse educators must also have exemplary communication skills, show an affinity for critical thinking and problem solving, display creativity, and have the ability to adapt to potentially challenging situations.  On top of these attributes, nurse educators must be committed to lifelong learning, acts as a leader in the classroom and outside it, and remain up-to-date and involved in the scholarly development of their profession. But above all, they should have a true love for teaching in order to inspire and guide the nurses who look to them for knowledge.

Why Become a Nurse Educator?

Pursuing a career as a nurse educator has many advantages.  Nurse educators often find their careers extremely rewarding, as they are able to truly influence the next generation of nurse who will eventually provide health care to vast numbers of patients.  The opportunity to continue practicing as a nurse alongside educating lower-ranking nurses also adds to the allure of becoming a nurse educator.

The nurse educator salary varies according to level of education (nurse educators with doctoral degrees tend to earn more than their colleagues with only master’s degrees) and on location. In general, the nurse educator can make around $90,000 per year, but this can vary widely by region and the amount of experience a nurse educator holds. Nurse educators who earn salaries on the higher end of the spectrum generally hold doctoral decogrees and are involved in their academic settings as deans or administrators of the nursing department or school.

Unlike their colleagues in different areas of the nursing industry who often have to work overnight or on grueling 12-hour shifts at hospitals or clinics, nurse educators are on an academic schedule, and reap the benefits of the nine-month calendar.  With this sort of flexible schedule, many nurse educators make money on the side seeing patients or consulting for health care providers.

The U.S. Bureau of Health Professions projects that by 2020 there will be a staggering shortage of nurses, a number in the hundreds of thousands. This shortage not only indicates a strong need to educate the nurses that we do have, but also suggests the great number of nurse educator jobs will be available in the coming years.  Both academic and clinical institutions will be looking to hire nursing educators to train their staff and prepare the generation of nurses to come.

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