What is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators combine specialized nursing expertise with a passion for teaching. 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 enough versed and properly credentialed to assume the nurse educator role and pass on your knowledge and skills to colleagues and pupils alike.

Nursing Educator Roles

Despite transitioning to a 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 with devoting themselves to an intellectual and educational community, oftentimes engaging in research and utilizing 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, as well as in teaching hospitals. They instruct at the undergraduate level, guiding future licensed practice nurses (LPN) and registered nurses (RN); they teach at the graduate and doctoral level, leading future advanced practice nurses, nurse researchers, nursing leaders and even other nurse educators. 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 academic careers. Generally, nurse educators deliver clinical courses that align with their specific fields of expertise, especially related to the area of concentration or focus from their graduate nursing education program. These fields of interest vary widely and include such subjects 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 and always refining the ways in which s/he delivers knowledge to students.

Become a Nurse Educator

To begin a career in nursing education, aspiring nurse educators must earn a master’s degree. Degree programs specializing in nursing education are designed to train registered nurses (RNs) to teach other nurses. Topics covered include 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. Aspiring nurse educators who have already obtained a postgraduate degree in a nursing subject other than nursing education may also obtain their Certification for Nurse Educators following two years of employment or more in a nursing program.

The National League for Nursing designates the Certification Nurse Educators (CNE). Obtaining a CNE requires meeting criteria in addition to a master’s or doctoral degree – specifically sitting for an examination. Although certification is not required for nurse educators, it does recognizes excellence in the field of nurse education, thereby improving the scope and quality of work opportunities.

Clinical experience is an indispensable aspect of becoming a nurse educator. To effectively teach, nurse educators must first personally encounter the many challenges that are inherent in nursing. Like any other academic field, nursing education demands a strong foundation in practice before teaching is possible. Many nurse educators spend several years working in hospitals, clinics, and private practices before pursuing a master’s degree with a concentration in nursing education. To build a successful career in nursing education, a passion for teaching must be laid upon 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, acting as a leader in the classroom and outside it, and remaining 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.

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 influence the next generation of nurses, who will eventually provide healthcare to innumerable patients. The opportunity to continue practicing as a nurse as well as educating other nurses also adds to the allure of becoming a nurse educator.

The nurse educator salary varies by level of education (nurse educators with doctoral degrees tend to earn more than their colleagues with only master’s degrees) and on location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  nursing instructors earned a median annual wage of $65,940, but as mentioned, this can vary widely by region and experience. Nurse educators who earn salaries on the higher end of the spectrum generally hold doctoral degrees 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 12-hour shifts at hospitals or clinics, nurse educators are on an academic schedule, reaping the benefits of the nine-month calendar year. With this sort of flexible schedule, many nurse educators work on the side, seeing patients or consulting for healthcare providers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for RNs will grow by 16 percent from 2014 to 2024 – more than twice the average for all occupations. Part of this dynamic growth is fueled by a shortage of qualified nurses, which reflects not only the need to further educate nurses but to add to the number of nurse educators. Accordingly, both academic and clinical institutions are already looking to hire nursing educators to train their staff and prepare the generation of nurses to come.

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