Nurse Educator

If you have a passion for teaching and a background in nursing, you may find a fulfilling career helping educate the next generation of nurses. Before you become a nurse educator, it may be important to understand some common educational steps to take, the expected salary and job placement outcomes, how to get certified and what the role encompasses. With all of this information, you may then be able to gauge your long-term interest in a career as a nursing educator. 

How to Become an Nurse Educator

The following common steps may be taken to become a nurse educator: 

1. Become a registered nurse

To pursue a career as a nurse educator, you may be required to complete an accredited program in registered nursing. Following completion, you will need to reach out to your state board to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. It’s important to have hands-on nursing experience before becoming a nurse educator, as some certifying bodies require experience up to two years

2. Pursue an advanced degree in nursing

A nurse educator is a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with specialized training and advanced degrees. Other types of APRNs include nurse midwives, women’s health nurse practitioners, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. After becoming a registered nurse (RN), those interested in teaching nursing should consider pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from an accredited institution. They may also want to find a program with flexible learning options, especially if they are already employed in the health industry. For those who want to teach at a university, a doctoral degree is often required. 

3. Gain real-world experience as a nurse educator

After becoming an RN and graduating from a master’s program in nurse education, it’s important to pursue real-world experience in the field. This will help build your resume and set you up for future certification eligibility. 

4. Get certified

The National League of Nurses (NLN) offers two certification designations for nurse educators: Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®) and Certified Clinical Academic Nurse Educator (CNE®cl). Though neither is required to practice, both offer a competitive edge for nurses. 

5. Complete continuing education requirements

Different states have different requirements, however, some states may require continuing education classes every two years

Pathways to Become a Nurse Educator

While the steps above are a general description of a career trajectory, everyone’s individual path may vary. For instance, you may go from a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) into a doctoral program. Next, we’ll explore a few common pathways to becoming a nurse educator.

Master’s in Nursing (MSN): By completing a Master’s of Science in nursing (MSN), students gain the necessary advanced degree credits to qualify as an APRN. Students looking to complete their MSN may consider getting their degree from an online MSN program to fit their schedule, especially if they are working in the field or want to fast-track their program.

RN to MSN: An RN to MSN program enables students to specialize in a field of choice, including nurse education. Most programs require at least an associate degree in nursing, and some may favor a bachelor’s degree. Most accredited programs require an active RN license. A number of RN to MSN online programs exist to help students further specialize their nursing careers.

Post-Grad Certificate: Students can earn a post-graduate certificate from an accredited academic institution in an area either related to nurse education or a separate specialization. Most programs will conduct a gap analysis to help students determine what classes to take. An advanced degree (master’s or doctoral) is the prerequisite for a post-grad certificate program. A post-grad certificate in nursing education from an accredited organization may help students prepare for a CNE or CNE®cl certificate.

Doctor of Nursing: A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the highest degree awarded in the nursing field. Students interested in pursuing this track need to have an active registered nurse license. In most cases, except for when they pursue a BSN-to-DNP accelerated program, they should also have a master’s of science in nursing. A DNP program to fit their schedule, especially if they are working in the field or want to fast-track their program.

BSN to DNP: The explicit benefit of a BSN-to-DNP program is that you don’t have to spend time or resources getting a master’s degree. Many programs will award you with a master’s degree as part of earning your DNP. As such, a BSN-to-DNP track can save a student money because they don’t have to invest in their master’s degree.

Sponsored online nursing programs

Simmons University


Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Earn an MSN online from Simmons University. Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP — and prepare to raise the standard of patient care.

  • Choose from two program options — FNP or PMHNP
  • Complete in as few as 24 months
  • Full-time and part-time tracks available

Georgetown University


Master of Science in Nursing

Nursing@Georgetown delivers Georgetown University’s MS in Nursing program online, preparing RNs with a BSN to pursue certification in an APRN specialty. Students can earn their degree in as few as 23 months. 

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

St. John Fisher University


Master of Science in Nursing

Earn an M.S. in Nursing online at the Wegmans School of Nursing. Bachelor’s in nursing and RN license-required. 

  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options: PCFNP, PMHNP, AGACNP, AGPCNP


What is a Nurse Educator? 

Nurse educators bridge the gap between nursing school and clinical practice. Nurse educators draw directly on their nursing experience to teach the next generation of nurses. Nurse educators will have generalized nursing knowledge, but they may specialize in one or two certain topics, such as geriatric care. They may also focus on a certain level of education, for instance, entry-level nursing courses or more advanced doctoral programs. 

Unlike other APRNs such as nurse practitioners or nurse midwives that work directly with patients, a nurse educator’s main focus is teaching about the field of nursing. They may oversee students as they work with patients or see their own patients on a limited basis when not teaching.

Nurse educators design and implement teaching plans, oversee research, lab and clinical work, lecture and supervise internships. 

Should I Become a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators possess the theoretical background in nursing and the hands-on knowledge of how to administer care. Nurse educators exhibit the essential skills of communication to get others to understand their direction, research to advance the field of nursing and mentoring to support future nurses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 117,700 APRN positions will be needed in 2029, up 45% from 381,100 jobs in 2019.

Roles and Responsibilities

Nurse educators design and implement curriculum for nursing students. While they may have a small hands-on client caseload, in general, their expertise lends itself best to the classroom or overseeing clinical work of students. They lecture on various nursing topics, put together presentations for students, advise on internships, educational pathways and job opportunities, assist with research projects and mentor students. They act as a bridge between the practice of nursing in a clinical setting and the theory behind it.

Nurse Educator Certifications 

Information on the below certifications for nurse educators was last retrieved in September 2020. Be sure to check with the organizations requirements for the most up-to-date requirements and eligibility.

The National League for Nurses: Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®)

Eligibility requirements: 

Option 1:

  1. A valid license/certificate as an active, practicing nurse in one’s country of residence
  2. An advanced degree in nursing (master’s or doctoral) with an emphasis on nursing education -OR- an advanced degree in nursing (master’s or doctoral) with a certificate in nursing education -OR- an advanced degree in nursing (master’s or doctoral) with at least nine credit hours of graduate-level education classes 

Option 2:

  1. A valid license/certificate as an active, practicing nurse in one’s country of residence
  2. An advanced degree in nursing (master’s or doctoral) with an emphasis in an area other than nursing education
  3. Two years of academic teaching experience (valid within five years)


  • NLN member: $400
  • Nonmember: $500


CNE® certificates must be renewed every five years. The start day begins on the day the certificate is awarded and ends on the last day of the fifth year. 

Renewal fees:

  • NLN member: $350
  • Nonmember: $450

National League for Nurses: Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE®cl)

Eligibility requirements:

Option 1:

  1. A valid license/certificate as an active, practicing nurse in one’s country of residence
  2. A graduate degree in a nursing-related field
  3. Three years of professional practice in any area of nursing

Option 2:

  1. A valid license/certificate as an active, practicing nurse in one’s country of residence
  2. A bachelor’s degree in nursing
  3. Three years of professional practice in any area of nursing
  4. Two years of academic teaching experience (valid within five years)


  • NLN member: $300
  • Nonmember: $400

Nurse Educator Resources 

National League of Nurses: Center for Innovation in Education Excellence: The Center for Innovation in Education Excellence focuses on innovation in teaching environments with an emphasis on online education and meeting the needs of modern students.

Related Nursing Careers

While a variety of advanced specialties exist in the nursing field, each has its own function and educational requirements. 

  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA): To become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, a person must undergo advanced, specialized nursing training to be able to administer care in a variety of settings from dental offices to hospitals to pain clinics. CRNAs are responsible for administering local and general anesthesia, sedating patients and giving spinal, peripheral and epidural nerve blocks. They often work with a care team before and after surgery. 
  • Nurse Executive: To become a nurse executive, you must complete an advanced degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. This leadership position is responsible for organizing care teams, being a patient advocate and a liaison across multiple departments. Like nurse educators, they further the field of nursing but rarely work directly with students. 
  • Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM): To become a certified nurse midwife (CNM), you must undergo substantial specialized training in women’s health and complete an on-campus or online CNM program. A CNM is a type of APRN who works primarily with pregnant women on labor, delivery and postnatal care.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS): To become a certified nurse specialist (CNS), you must choose an area of focus to become your speciality. These nurses undergo all the basic nursing requirements of a registered nurse and then add an advanced degree and certifications in a specialized field, for instance, gerontology. They are seen as experts in that subject and consult other medical professionals, offer direct care, interpret research and focus on results to improve patient outcomes. 
  • Nurse Practitioner: To become a nurse practitioner, you must complete an on-campus or online nurse practitioner program. While nurse practitioners pursue some of the same advanced education as nurse educators, the primary difference in the two specialties lies in a nurse practitioner’s routine care of patients. They advise and implement a patients’ overall healthcare plan.


How long does it take to become a nurse educator?

The amount of time it takes to become a nurse educator depends on your specific track. In general, it takes about two years to become a registered nurse. An MSN degree can take another two years and a DNP can take two to three years on top of that. An accelerated BSN-to-DNP program can take five years. Times will differ depending on full-time or part-time status. 

What does a nurse educator do?

A nurse educator has the unique role of helping the next generation of nursing students. They design and implement the curriculum to give students theoretical knowledge about nursing. They also oversee hands-on clinical experience. Because they are also registered nurses, they bring a unique perspective based on direct experience in the role of a nurse. Student mentoring, course/curriculum design, research advising and lecturing are all well within the nurse educator scope of practice. 

Where does a nurse educator work?

Nurse educators work in academic, hospital and other healthcare settings. In an academic setting, nurse educators teach the theory and practice of nursing to both graduate and undergraduate students. They may give lectures in person or online. Nurse educators also oversee nursing students in clinical settings including health facilities and hospitals.

What makes a good nurse educator?

Nurse educators typically have exceptional communication skills because they need to make complex topics accessible to a variety of stakeholders, from those taking entry-level nursing courses to advanced nursing students working directly with patients. Their direction needs to be clear. Nurse educators are excellent researchers who can design curriculum and lecture on a variety of nursing subjects. Nurse educators help mentor a new generation of nurses, and as such, typically exhibit advising skills and administer practical advice for internships, education pathways and job opportunities. 

What is the difference between a nurse educator and a nurse administrator? 

Nurse administrators oversee the day-to-day operations of nurses including putting together nursing teams, reviewing budgets and supervising nursing staff. They may put nurse educators on a team as the need arises, but they don’t take on teaching positions unless they are teaching a specialized workshop on nursing administration. Like nurse educators, nurse administrators rarely take on direct patient care. 

Information on this page was updated in June 2021.