Take Two: Nurse Educator as an Encore Career

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Nurse EducatorWhen nurses reach middle age, they become more reflective and reevaluate their career choices. While they still love helping people, many nurses suffer from emotional burnout. Others are physically injured and can no longer be a bedside nurse. One of the encore careers they gravitate toward is nurse educator.

Most nurse educators are over 45 years old. Sixty-three percent are 46 to 60 years old, and 30 percent are older than 60, according to the National League of Nursing. One big reason nurses transition to the role of nurse educators is for more work/life balance. Nurse educators don’t have to work 12-hour shifts or overnight hours, as clinical nurses often do.

Nurse educators also 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.

Shortage of nurse educators

The need for nurse educators is great. The U.S. Department of Labor reports the country will need 1 million more nurses by the year 2020, but there aren’t enough nurse educators to train them. In 2013, 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing schools because there weren’t enough instructors.

Teaching can be a rewarding career. For veteran nurses, it’s an opportunity to share their clinical knowledge and years of experience with the next generation of nurses.

How to become a nurse educator

To educate others, nurses need to return to school and complete a master’s degree in nursing education. In corporate and hospital settings, a master’s degree will suffice to be a nurse educator. However, if a nurse is interested in teaching in academia, a doctoral degree is required in order to earn tenure.

But going back to school needn’t be doom and gloom. The silver lining here is nurses with graduate degrees are more satisfied with their jobs, compared with nurses who hold undergraduate degrees.

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found family responsibilities, cost and scheduling around work hours to be the biggest barriers for nurses pursuing advanced degrees. As a result, many working RNs attend master’s in nursing education programs online as a more convenient way to earn a degree. Some programs can be completed in 2½ years while working full time.

Online colleges are growing in popularity. More than 6 million students have participated in at least one online course, and the majority of online programs in the U.S. are accredited. It’s important that the online program be regionally accredited. If in doubt as to whether a program is regionally accredited, consult the Council for Higher Education.

Tips for online nursing students

Online learning works better for self-directed individuals who don’t require classroom stimulation. And middle-age nurses, take heart. Even though you may be less experienced with the technology in online learning, you can still move to the head of the class. Graduate-level students are more self-motivated, better able to apply their critical thinking skills and are less likely to procrastinate than undergraduate students.

Here are some guidelines for success as an online student:

  • Develop short- and long-term goals to stay on track and motivated. Whenever you reach a goal, celebrate your accomplishment.
  • Set aside specific time slots for school. Even though your schedule is more flexible with online learning, you still need to block off time to study and participate in online discussions. Make school a priority among your many other responsibilities.
  • If you don’t understand something, contact your instructor. Your instructor can’t see the puzzled look on your face in a virtual classroom. Be proactive and reach out to get the help you need.
  • Participate. A lot of the learning occurs during the interaction with your instructor and peers. By participating in forum discussions and chats, you’re able to gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  • Practice “netiquette.” Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person and spell-check your content before posting in a discussion forum.
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