Careers & Credentials Updated March 28, 2017

The Rewarding Career of Nurse Educator

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Nurse InstructorMore and more registered nurses (RNs) are making the transition in their careers to nurse educator, and with good reason. Nurse educators enjoy their jobs and are in high demand. One significant reason RNs decide to become a clinical nurse educator is for more work/life balance. Nurse educators typically don’t have to work 12-hour shifts or overnight hours, as clinical nurses often do.

And nurse educators report a high degree of job satisfaction. Nearly 90 percent of nurse educators reported being happy in their job, as compared with 81 percent of all working RNs, according to a U.S. government survey.

The need for nurse educators is great. The U.S. Department of Labor reports 1 million more nurses will be needed by the year 2020, but there aren’t enough nurse educators to train them. Almost 69,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools in 2014 due to the lack of instructors, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Nurse educator at-a-glance

Minimum education required: Master’s degree
Median annual salary: $67,480
Number of jobs (2014): 69,000
Job outlook (2014-2024): +19%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nurse educator job description

Nurse educators are responsible for designing, delivering, evaluating and revising academic and continuing education programs for nurses. The majority of a nurse educator’s day is spent in an office or a classroom, preparing for classes, giving lectures, advising students, grading papers, attending faculty meetings and handling administrative work. Educators who oversee students in clinical settings may divide their time between campus and a nearby hospital or other health care facility.

The American Staffing Association reported nursing instructors were rated as one of the top 10 most difficult positions to fill in 2014, because of the ratio of demand versus supply.

Role of a nurse educator

Typical duties for a nurse educator include:

  • Assessing learning needs.
  • Designing curricula and developing courses.
  • Preparing and delivering lectures to undergraduate or graduate students.
  • Preparing course materials such as syllabi, homework assignments and handouts.
  • Supervising students’ laboratory and clinical work.
  • Evaluating and grading students’ classwork, laboratory and clinic work, assignments and papers.
  • Staying abreast of developments in the field by reading current literature and participating in professional conferences.

The role of a clinical nurse instructor extends beyond the classroom. Responsibilities may also include mentoring students, serving as an advisor to student groups, attending faculty meetings, serving on committees, conducting research, writing grant proposals and presenting at conferences. Nurse educators hired as adjunct (part-time) instructors may not have additional duties or administrative tasks.

Being eligible for tenure in academia requires being hired in a full-time faculty position on a tenure track, having a doctorate degree and seven years’ experience. Nurse educators on the tenure track are expected to conduct research in addition to teaching and administrative duties.

A growing number of nurse educators teach part-time while working in a clinical setting. This gives them the opportunity to maintain a high degree of clinical competence while sharing their expertise with novice nurses.

Where nurse educators work

Nurse educators typically work in academic settings at nursing schools, community colleges, technical schools and universities. And many opportunities for nurse educators exist outside of academia, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Community health agencies
  • Home care agencies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Senior communities
  • Medical device companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Medical device and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly hiring RNs to be nurse educators for patients. These positions are attractive to shift nurses because they are more autonomous and provide more schedule flexibility. On the flip side, some of these jobs require heavy travel.

Core competencies of nurse educators

Nurse educators love learning and enjoy helping others learn. A successful nurse educator is someone who is:

  • An exceptional communicator with good interpersonal skills
  • Able to project a professional image
  • Knowledgeable in theories of teaching, learning, and evaluation
  • Organized
  • Creative
  • Flexible
  • Emotionally intelligent
  • Open to feedback
  • Genuinely interested in students

How to become a nurse educator

The entry-level education requirements for a nurse educator are an RN and a nursing master’s degree. In academic settings, in order to be promoted to associate professor or professor and to be granted tenure, academic faculty typically must hold a doctoral degree.

Many working RNs attend master’s in nursing education programs online, as a more convenient way to earn a degree while juggling work and family responsibilities. Some programs can be completed in 2½ years while working full time.

Prospective nurse educators shouldn’t let funding obstacles get in the way of applying for graduate school. There are a number of funding sources available, including tuition reimbursement, student loans, grants and scholarships. If you’re currently working at a hospital, check to see if your employer provides tuition assistance. Additionally, the federal government has several programs to help nurses become nurse educators through grants and trainee programs.

Nearly 90 percent of nurse educators reported being happy in their job, as compared with 81 percent of all working RNs, according to a U.S. government survey.

Nurse educator certification requirements

Nurse educators aren’t required to be certified, however the National League for Nursing (NLN) offers a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) credential in an effort to distinguish nursing education as a profession. Nursing graduates with two years of work experience as a nurse educator can apply for the CNE program.

Clinical nurse educator salary

The median annual salary for nurse educators is $67,480, according to the BLS, with the range spanning from $41,490 in the lowest percentile to $112,680 in the highest percentile. Other employment-based websites report a slightly higher average salary:

  • $80,089
  • Glassdoor: $74,426
  • $69,108

And where a nurse educator works affects pay. Nurse educators who work in hospitals, psychiatric and substance abuse centers and in state government agencies earn slightly more on average, ranging from $81,810 to $88,340 annually. Salaries also increase for nurse educators who complete a doctorate.

Nurse educator job outlook

There is currently a shortage of nurse educators nationwide. The American Staffing Association reported nursing instructors were rated as one of the top 10 most difficult positions to fill in 2014, because of the ratio of demand versus supply. And nurse instructors were listed by the BLS as one of the fastest growing occupations between 2012 and 2022.

Considerations on becoming a nurse educator

  • Teaching is not as easy as it looks, and there is a common misconception that teaching comes naturally. When this doesn’t happen immediately, newbie teachers become frustrated and doubt their abilities as educators. It’s important that nurses get sufficient education and have access to mentors who serve as role models in order to make the transition to nurse educator smoother.
  • Universities are increasingly offering less-tenured positions and are instead hiring more teachers in either full-time non-tenured positions or part-time (adjunct) roles. Working as an adjunct instructor may be appealing to nurses seeking more flexibility in their schedules due to family responsibilities.
  • Being a nurse educator means you will spend a lot more time with student nurses, but you also give up time with patients unless you work part-time in a clinical setting.

Nurse educator professional associations

Nurse educator publications

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