How to Become a Nurse Educator

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Nurse educators are both registered nurses and educators, applying their clinical expertise and advanced education to the teaching profession. Nurse educators, who may work in either a classroom or clinical setting, are responsible for educating both future and current nurses, as well as serving as leaders in the implementation of evidence-based nursing practice.

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The overriding responsibility of nurse educators is to prepare a strong nursing workforce through mentorship and quality educational experiences. Although a nurse educator’s job description varies according to the setting in which they work, the curriculum they are teaching, or the students to whom they are teaching, these nursing professionals are generally responsible for designing, implementing, evaluating, and revising academic content.

Nurse educators play a critical role in the preparation of our nation’s nursing workforce, which includes meeting the demands of a diverse, ever-changing healthcare environment. In addition to providing nursing instruction, they serve as leaders who document the efficacy of educational programs.

Nurse educators may teach everything from basic nursing courses to courses in advanced nursing specialties, such as pediatric nursing, nursing informatics, or oncology nursing. They may teach in nursing schools, junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities, teaching hospitals, and online institutions, and they may teach continuing education programs or formal courses in degree or certificate programs.

Nurse educators may teach part-time or full-time. Some educators prefer to continue practicing nursing, while others choose to dedicate their careers to teaching exclusively.

Advanced Roles in Nursing Education

Nurse educators with extensive clinical experience and advanced education often go on to serve in administrative roles, where they do everything from write nursing textbooks, to develop continuing education programs and manage nurse education programs.

Professional titles for nurse educators in advanced roles may include program development officer, continuing education specialist, and dean of nursing.

Many nurse educators, particularly those in advanced roles, engage in a number of activities, such as:

  • Participating in scholarly work and research
  • Serving as members of professional associations
  • Speaking/presenting at nursing conferences
  • Engaging in peer review activities
  • Writing grant proposals

How to Become a Nurse Educator: Education and Certification Requirements

Nurse educators always begin their career by earning their registered nurse license and gaining valuable clinical experience. Beyond this, aspiring nurse educators go on to earn graduate degrees and distinguish themselves through certification.

Education Requirements for Nurse Educators

While some nurse educator jobs in clinical settings require only a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), those in academic settings or that otherwise lead to a professorship, require a minimum of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Because the majority of RNs complete a nursing diploma or Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program as their pre-licensure educational pathway, they need to return to school and achieve both their BSN and MSN to become a nurse educator. As such, RN to MSN programs, designed specifically for licensed RNs, combine the BSN and MSN coursework required to become a nurse educator.

Unlike traditional BSN and MSN programs, RN to MSN programs allow for the advanced placement of RNs based on their previous education and work experience. Many RN to MSN programs are offered online or part-time, thereby meeting the unique demands of today’s practicing nurse.

An MSN program in nursing education is designed to prepare students for the nurse educator role, either in the academic or clinical setting. The curriculum of these programs is designed to integrate core master’s level concepts with advanced clinical foundations and education-focused courses. These courses generally culminate in an intensive practicum.

Core nursing coursework in an MSN in nursing education program includes:

  • Advanced nursing practice
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Advanced physiology across the lifespan
  • Advanced pathophysiology across the lifespan
  • Advanced concepts in health assessment
  • Trends in the management of major health problems
  • Clinical pharmacology in advanced practice nursing

Nursing pedagogy courses in an MSN in nursing education program often include:

  • Innovations in clinical teaching and evaluation
  • Integrating technology into nursing education
  • Innovative curriculum develop in nursing
  • Educational program evaluation and accreditation

Certification for Nurse Educators

Unlike advanced practice nursing, there are no national or state certification requirements for nurse educators; however, professional certification in this field is commonplace.

The National League for Nursing (NLN) offers the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) designation. Eligible candidates must be currently licensed as RNs in the U.S. and possess one of the following:

  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with a major emphasis in nursing education; OR
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and a post-master’s certificate in nursing education; OR
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and 9 or more credit hours of graduate-level education courses

Candidates may also achieve eligibility if they are currently licensed as RNs in the U.S. and possess both of the following:

  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing (with a major emphasis in a role other than nursing); AND
  • At least two years of experience in a nursing program in an academic institution within the past 5 years

The Demand for Nurse Educators in the U.S.

The National League for Nursing, through their NLN’s Annual Survey of Schools of Nursing Academic Year 2011-2012, found that a lack of nursing educators continues to be a significant obstacle to expanding nursing programs throughout the U.S. This means that professional opportunities are abundant for nurses seeking careers in education.

In 2012, the following proportion of qualified applicants was turned away due to a shortage of nurse educators:

  • 28 percent of qualified applicants for basic RN programs
  • 45 percent of qualified applicants for ADN programs
  • 36 percent of qualified applicants for BSN programs
  • 33 percent of qualified applicants for LPN programs
  • 15 percent of qualified applicants for BSN programs
  • 37 percent of qualified applicants in doctorate programs
  • 18 percent of qualified applicants in MSN programs

The NLN reported that a strong correlation continues to exist between the shortage of nursing faculty in pre-licensure RN education programs and the inability of nursing programs to keep pace with the demand for new RNs.

Salary Expectations for Nurse Educators

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary among nurse educators was $70,200, as of May 2013, with the top 10 percent earning an average of $106,470.

The top-paying industries for nurse educators during the same period were:

  • State government: $88,340
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $86,610
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $81,810
  • Drugs and Druggist sundries wholesalers: $74,650
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools: $72,590

The top paying states for nurse educators in 2013 were:

  • Maryland: $89,000
  • California: $87,420
  • Nevada: $84,330
  • Massachusetts: $82,200
  • New Jersey: $81,600

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