Whether you’re just starting your nursing career or have years of practice already behind you, you’re likely looking to the future and considering your long-term career goals. For experienced RNs with a passion for teaching, you might think about the transition into the world of nurse education.
Nurse educators use their years of expertise to teach future nurses. They help to shape the future of the profession. If you are considering venturing on this rewarding path, read on for the steps you’ll need to take, the skills you’ll need to possess, and the job market outlook you’ll likely encounter.
What Is a Nurse Educator?
A nurse educator is an RN with an advanced nursing education who works as a teacher. Most nurse educators have years of clinical experience and advanced degrees or certifications. While some work full-time in education, others continue seeing patients part-time, like working per diem weekends or over school breaks.
What Are Their Responsibilities?
With their extensive knowledge and skill bases, nurse educators prepare future nurses for clinical practice through teaching coursework and clinical placements. Job responsibilities include creating lesson plans, teaching general and specialized courses, evaluating educational programs, supervising clinical practicums, and serving as mentors and role models to students.
Experienced nurse educators may also take on higher-level administrative responsibilities. For example, they could take a management position over nursing school programs, develop continuing education programs, and write or review textbooks.
Where Do They Work?
Nurse educators often work in an academic setting, teaching at nursing programs in universities, community colleges, or technical schools. They may work a nine-month academic-year with summers off, or they may work year-round.
Regardless, school breaks and holidays are built into the schedule, and hours are typically more standard than in the clinical setting — for example, educators typically don’t work overnight or long 12-hour shifts.
Nurse educators can also work in health care organizations as staff development officers or clinical supervisors, or they may be actively involved in nursing research. Some professionals may even split their time between these multiple roles.
For example, a nurse educator may spend mornings at the local hospital supervising students, run a research lab in the afternoon, then teach a classroom course in the evening. The exact responsibilities and extent of the role will vary based on the needs of the academic institution.
How to Become a Nurse Educator
At a minimum, nurse educators need a valid RN license and several years of relevant work experience. But while an RN license is the minimum education requirement, nurse educators often earn a master’s degree before working at colleges or technical schools. To teach at the university level, you’ll typically need a doctorate degree — something that often comes with increased salary prospects and more opportunities for advancement.
In addition to extensive clinical experience and the appropriate credentials, nurse educators often earn advanced certifications in their areas of expertise. They may also go for additional certification or degrees in education to improve their teaching skills.
Five Qualities of a Good Nurse Educator
While being a nurse educator requires the right education and clinical experience, you’ll also need several “soft skills.” Many of these qualities are necessary to provide the best possible patient care, and they’re doubly important when you’re serving as a teacher and role model for your students.
That’s why good nurse educators must consistently cultivate the following soft skills:
1. Exceptional communication skills
From giving lectures to advising students to providing clinical feedback, nurse educators have to effectively communicate with their students. You also need to be able to convey information to other faculty and staff, particularly if you serve in an administrative role. In all interactions and modes of communication, nurse educators must be professional without losing the “human touch.”
Good nurse educators allow their love for nursing to shine through in everything they do. This not only includes a passion for providing quality patient care, but also for teaching, helping, and mentoring students.
In clinical work, nurses learn to put themselves in their patients’ shoes. As a nurse educator, you’ll also need to understand your students’ points of view and experience and then determine what will best help your students succeed.
Nursing students may not understand or recall concepts the first time around, or they may require different learning styles. They may also be nervous when performing skills tests or working in clinicals. Nurse educators have to recognize and understand these needs, and that means being patient and providing the information and guidance needed for students to thrive.
No matter how much an educator may prepare, things don’t always go according to plan. A strong nurse educator can continue to teach effectively while adapting to new circumstances — whether it’s a lesson that isn’t landing, a university-wide change, or evolving best practices in the field.
Job Outlook for Nurse Educators
The average salary for a nurse educator is around $75,000 per year. But the exact number will depend greatly on job location, education, and how much clinical and teaching experience you have. Compensation rises for nurses who complete a doctorate degree as well as those who take on leadership or administrative responsibilities.
Nurse educators are in high demand right now, and the field has an excellent job outlook in the coming years. The United States is facing a nursing shortage that’s only expected to increase, and a primary reason for this is a lack of qualified nurse educators. In 2018, U.S. nursing schools were forced to reject over 75,000 qualified applicants because their programs simply couldn’t accommodate everyone — and nearly two-thirds of the schools cited a shortage of faculty as a reason.
To help combat this problem, many nursing schools have started offering more competitive salaries and benefits to attract prospective educators. A greater number of qualified nurse educators means a greater number of qualified nurses, which will help mitigate employment shortages and improve health care conditions for staff and patients alike.