What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators are registered nurses (RNs) who have obtained advanced nursing degrees that allow them to teach nursing curricula at colleges and universities, teaching and helping to train the future nurses of the world. They serve as faculty members in both nursing schools and teaching hospitals, transferring their valuable knowledge, experience, and skill sets to their students who will ultimately serve as the next generation of nurses. Many nurse educators, in addition to working in the classroom and teaching, also work in clinical settings. The best nurse educators will exhibit exceptional leadership qualities, have excellent communication abilities, and have in-depth, comprehensive knowledge in their given field. Nurse educators are responsible for designing, evaluating, updating, and implementing new and current nursing education curricula. These educational professionals act as both advisers and role models for the students, assisting them in their journeys toward becoming successful licensed registered nurses.

Becoming a Nurse Educator

Nurse educators must have top-tier communication skills, possess excellent critical thinking abilities, and have a solid clinical background. Additionally, nursing education professionals must have comprehensive and substantive knowledge in their particular area of instruction. It's essential that nurse educators possess the capacity to convey that knowledge to their neophyte nursing students. Nurse educators should exhibit an intense commitment to lifelong learning, exercise leadership abilities, and be committed to the scholarly progression of the nursing discipline. Lastly, nursing education professionals should have a strong knowledge base in theories of teaching, learning, and evaluation, be able to design curricula and programs that reflect sound educational principles, be able to assess a student’s needs, be innovative, and thoroughly enjoy teaching.

What Are the Educational Requirements for Nurse Educators?

Those looking to become nurse educators will first need to attend college or university and earn a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Upon obtaining a BSN degree, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) can be taken. Once this exam has been passed, the graduate is eligible for licensure as a registered nurse (RN).

After earning a BSN and becoming a licensed registered nurse (RN), the next step on the path to becoming a nurse educator is to obtain an advanced degree. Advanced degrees can come in the form of a Master's of Science in Nursing degree (MSN), a Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (Ph.D.), or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

MSN university programs are offered both online and in traditional classroom settings. MSN coursework is more advanced than classes taken during bachelor's degree programs. These post-baccalaureate programs seek to build upon the knowledge that nurses have gained via their undergraduate curriculum.

For individuals who are particularly interested in the academic side of nursing, there are Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs. Doctor of Nursing Philosophy programs seek to teach students not only research tactics and leadership, but public policy as well. Additionally, some universities offer MSN/Ph.D. dual degree programs.

According to the American Association of College of Nursing, prospective nurse educators who seek a career at the highest level at colleges or universities should obtain some doctoral degree in nursing. Individuals who have completed Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Nursing Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs will be best suited to become nurse educators. Nursing Ph.D. programs will heavily emphasize research, while DNP programs mainly focus on clinical practice.

Most employers hiring nurse educators will require applicants to have their nursing license along with a minimum of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and anywhere from two to five years of experience in a clinical setting.

Read about nurse educator programs.

Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?

Individuals who are interested in becoming a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) must take and pass the National League of Nursing (NLN) certification exam.

To be eligible to sit for the certification examination you must have the following:

  • An active registered nurse (RN) license
  • A master's or doctoral degree in nursing with a primary emphasis in nursing or one of the following:
    • Master's or doctoral degree in nursing and a post-masters certificate in nursing education
    • Master's or doctoral degree in nursing and nine or more credits hours of graduate-level education courses

Read about post-master’s nurse education graduate certificate programs.

Where Does a Nurse Educator Work?

Nurse educators can be found working in a variety of settings, all of which offer nursing classes. Most often you will find nurse educators working in academic contexts; however, some nurse educators work in healthcare settings as staff development officers or clinical supervisors. The following examples are common workplaces where nurse educators are found:

  • Healthcare facilities
    • Hospitals
    • Long-term care facilities
  • Educational institutions/academic settings
    • Universities
    • Community colleges
    • Technical schools
    • Trade or vocational schools

Nurse Educator FAQs

A diabetes nurse educator is a nurse who specializes in the care and management of patients with diabetes. They can be registered nurses, advanced-practice nurses, or nurses working in an expanded role. They can manage patients with both Type I and Type II diabetes, as well as women with gestational diabetes. Diabetes education can be one on one with patients, or via a group class.

They teach patients the causes, pathophysiology, and symptoms of diabetes as well as hypo and hyperglycemia. Patients need to understand these concepts to remain compliant with treatment and follow-up. Patients need to learn how to assess their extremities, especially the feet, for wounds, lacerations, and ulcers as diabetes can affect healing. They need to get routine eye exams to check for retinopathy.

Diabetes nurse educators must also reach patients about the importance of diet and nutrition. Patients must learn to count carbohydrates and read food labels. They also need to learn to log their blood sugars and food to find out how they respond to the foods they choose. Patients must also learn about medications used for diabetes. They must learn timeframes in which the peak effect of the medication takes place, and what signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia are, and how to avoid "bottoming out." Insulin-dependent diabetics especially need close monitoring-they must learn about the different types of insulins along with their onset of action.

In years past, nurse educators developed curricula and taught the course material, while ensuring nurses demonstrated competency at the given skill or concepts. As technology has advanced, more online trainings are springing up in the clinical setting. However, there are pros and cons to this advancement in clinical learning.

Online learning is quick and cost-effective. Fewer nurse educators are needed to teach dozens of staff members clinical concepts. Competency is usually determined by passing an online exam, and completion is easily tracked electronically, which makes it easier for managers and nurse leaders to ensure all staff is trained. Moreover, staff complete online modules when they are able, rather than attending a class, which helps ease the burden of staffing coverage.

Conversely, online education has removed the hands-on approach to teaching. Students are unable to interact with an instructor, ask questions, and seek clarification of the content. While online learning is convenient, many nurses find they rush through the material as they must squeeze the courses in during their busy shift. Online learning lacks the practical approach to education - watching a procedure is far different than performing the procedure.

While nurse educators are still used in hospitals, sometimes they are used to develop online learning programs rather than leading classroom training.

What Does a Nurse Educator Do?

Nurse educators teach nursing students. They are responsible for designing, implementing, evaluating, and revising educational programs for nurses. Nurse educators may teach general nursing classes, or they might focus on specialized areas of nursing, like pediatric nursing, psychiatric nursing, or nursing informatics. Nurse educators may teach courses included in formal academic programs leading to a degree, or in continuing education or credential/certificate programs. At some point in a nurse educator's career, they will be expected to create a new nursing course or update an old course. It is for this reason that nurse educators are expected to be at the leading edge of clinical nursing practice. They must always stay current and up-to-date regarding the latest nursing trends, methods, developments, and technologies that are available. To achieve this, most nurse educators continue to work as professional nurses in their field and continue to actively participate in the larger nursing community through various professional nursing organizations. To be effective at their jobs, nursing education professionals need to have both excellent leadership skills and in-depth knowledge of their field.

What Are the Roles and Duties of a Nurse Educator?

Some common roles and duties of a nurse educator include, but aren't limited to, the following:

  • Designing curricula
  • Developing classes and programs of study
  • Teaching students
  • Advising students
  • Evaluating students
  • Evaluating and revising educational programs and individual classes
  • Promoting discussion among students
  • Overseeing students' clinical practice
  • Serving as a role model and mentor for students
  • Documenting outcomes of educational processes
  • Engaging in scholarly work (e.g. peer review, research, etc.)
  • Speaking at nursing conferences
  • Contributing to the academic community via leadership roles
  • Maintaining clinical competence
  • Writing grant proposals

Nurse Educator Salary & Employment

Nursing education is a career that is in extremely high demand. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported that almost 65,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools last year due to a shortage of nurse educators.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2022, the average annual salary for nursing educators and instructors was $75,470. However, this number greatly depends on the amount of clinical and teaching experience a nurse educator has and the particular location of employment. Teachers working during the academic year are paid their annual salary over a nine-month period. Compensation for summer teaching is usually paid separately from the main school year.

Annual salaries tend to rise for nurse educators who complete a doctorate and for individuals in charge of administrative or leadership responsibilities at academic institutions. Additionally, nurse educators can earn extra money by caring for patients.

Because experienced nurses can make more money caring for patients than they can teach, nursing schools are quickly moving to offer higher, more competitive salaries to attract more nurses into education.

Extreme shortages in nursing educators have prompted government agencies, professional groups, and some nonprofit organizations to launch campaigns that encourage young people to choose a career in nursing education.

Helpful Organizations, Societies, and Agencies

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