Advanced Practice Nursing

How to Become a Nurse Educator—And the Benefits of Landing the Job

How to Become a Nurse Educator—And the Benefits of Landing the Job
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be roughly 3.4 million registered nurses by 2028. That's a 12 percent increase over the decade, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. Image from Unsplash
Lillian Stone profile
Lillian Stone November 14, 2019

An ongoing nursing shortage is making nursing education a boom business. Becoming a nurse educator requires a lot of time and study, but it's worth it: training tomorrow's medical professionals is secure, remunerative, and satisfying work.

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An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but the need for nurses keeps on growing—apples or no apples. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be roughly 3.4 million registered nurses by 2028. That’s a 12 percent increase over the decade, making it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States.

Experts fear it won’t be enough, noting a nursing shortage that should only worsen as Baby Boomers approach retirement. Among the contributing factors: nursing schools are unable to keep up with the demand for new nurses. They turned away over 75,000 qualified applicants (from baccalaureate and graduate programs) in 2018, largely due to budget cuts and insufficient faculty. For that reason—and many more—nurse educators have a unique opportunity to improve healthcare directly. And, as nursing schools look to add faculty, there should be plenty of opportunities for them in the job market.

In this article on how to become a nurse educator we’ll cover:

  • Overview of the nurse educator position
  • Why become a nurse educator?
  • Education and experience requirements for nurse educators
  • Resources for becoming a nurse educator

Overview of the nurse educator position

Nursing is a difficult job that requires medical knowledge, interpersonal skills, and a surprising amount of endurance and physical strength. Someone has to prepare nurses for all these challenges awaiting them. That’s the job of nurse educators. Think of them as nursing’s drill sergeants.

Most nurse educators work in degree-conferring nursing education programs, with opportunities at:

  • Nursing schools
  • Traditional universities
  • Technical schools
  • Community colleges

Nurse educators juggle ongoing clinical training with classroom responsibilities such as:

  • Developing classes and programs of study
  • Teaching and advising nursing students
  • Facilitating discussion among nursing students
  • Tackling administrative tasks like grading papers and exams
  • Overseeing students’ clinical practice
  • Working alongside other nursing faculty on peer review boards or academic committees
  • Speaking at nursing conferences
  • Engaging in ongoing clinical competency training
  • Conducting research to advance the nursing practice
  • Writing academic grant proposals when necessary

While many nurse educators work in academia, some—called clinical nurse educators—may also choose to work as supervisors or staff development professionals in healthcare settings. Some nurse educators spend their summers—when the schools that employ them are out of session—performing such work in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities, and private practices.

But even those whose primary venue is the classroom divide their time between campus and the hospital. They need to help students through their clinicals while also grading papers, planning lectures, and taking continuing education courses of their own.

Why become a nurse educator?

Nurse educators enjoy competitive pay, a growing job market and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of students and their patients. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that nurse educators have to deal with the demands of academic life, such as:

  • Scheduling complications
  • Educational requirements
  • Student management

Still, it’s impossible to deny that nursing education offers a wide variety of compelling benefits, including:

  • Having an impact on healthcare quality: As an educator, you will be grooming the next generation of nurses. You’ll do your part to reduce the nation’s nursing shortage.
  • Enjoying (some) schedule flexibility: Nurse educators switch between academic and clinical responsibilities, so those notorious 12-hour shifts might come around less often—though some chose to continue clinical work throughout their careers. Many nurse educators get summers and holidays off as part of a standard academic year schedule, resulting in a better work-life balance than most clinical nurses enjoy.
  • High pay and benefits: As the demand for nurses grows, nurse educator salaries and benefits improve. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for nurse educators was $73,490 in May 2018. Those who choose to complete a doctorate or assume administrative responsibilities at their school should earn even more. Many nurse educators can also earn extra pay by working clinicals of their own. Of course, salaries can vary widely depending on the school and geography.

Education and experience requirements for nurse educators

Undergraduate education

At minimum, nurse educators must complete a master’s degree program in nursing. Some universities may require a doctorate in order to teach.

Before you can become a nurse educator, however, you must become a licensed and experienced registered nurse (RN). In order to do that, you must:

While you need only an ADN to become an RN, you typically need a BSN to earn an MSN (although there are a few RN to MSN programs that bypass the BSN). The MSN is the minimum prerequisite degree to become an NE. That’s a lot of acronyms!

Examples of undergraduate BSN programs:

Many of our articles about nursing recommend state programs for the BSN and MSN, and for good reason. They are generally excellent and are significantly less expensive than private institutions. If you aspire to become a nurse educator, however, you may want to consider attending a top school. Academia respects its own hierarchy, and you will have a much better chance of landing a plum faculty position with a degree from a school with a national reputation. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a successful career as a nurse educator with degrees from a state university. Rather, it’s just that a big-name degree should improve your prospects considerably.

We’ve listed some of the top BSN programs in the country below:

  • Duke University: Duke offers an accelerated BSN program that allows students to work toward their Bachelor of Science in Nursing in four consecutive semesters. The rest of Duke’s nursing programs are focused on graduate school, and can typically be completed in 16 months.
  • Case Western Reserve University: Students at Case begin their clinicals earlier in the program than anywhere else in the country (their first month), allowing them to accrue lots of hands-on experience and log over 1,300 hours of clinical time.
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor: Ann Arbor offers an extensive medical library system, a top hospital next door, excellent liberal arts, and study abroad opportunities for students with the travel bug. In-state tuition rates are extremely reasonable ($7,615 per full-time semester).

Experience and skill development

Teaching nursing requires a solid foundation in clinical experience. Many nurse educators spend several years working in clinical settings before pursuing postgraduate education. Clinical experience will test many of the skills you’ll need to be an effective nurse educator, including:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Public speaking
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Leadership
  • Love for teaching
  • Teamwork

Postgraduate education

Once nurses have completed their bachelor’s degree in nursing and clinical experience, they are eligible to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing. This degree is the minimum academic qualification required to become a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE).

Some nursing programs offer tracks that train RNs to teach other nurses. Topics include:

  • Adult education techniques
  • Curriculum development
  • Research methodology
  • Evaluation and assessment
  • Legal and professional behavior

After earning a master’s degree, many nurse educators choose to earn a doctoral degree in nurse education. Some institutions require their faculty to hold a doctorate.

Examples of graduate programs:

  • Georgetown University: GU boasts a renowned faculty who utilize Jesuit education principles to lead students into careers in government, military, academics, and traditional health system roles. GU offers its MSN online.
  • Johns Hopkins University: JHU is U.S. News & World Report‘s top-ranked school for both master’s in nursing and doctorate nursing programs.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: UNC offers standout clinical practice with an emphasis in local healthcare areas.

Certification for nurse educators

After two or more years of employment in a nursing program, it is possible to obtain a Certification for Nurse Educators (CNE). This certification, which is designated by the National League for Nursing, allows nurses to become faculty.

CNE certification is one more way to make yourself stand out as a nursing education professional. Although CNE certification is not always required for nurse educators, it improves the quality and scope of work opportunities by indicating excellent work in the field.

Resources for becoming a nurse educator

  • The American Association of College of Nursing: The AACN currently represents 825 public and private member schools of nursing. Designated AACN schools offer a mix of baccalaureate, graduate, and postgraduate programs. Not sure if a nursing school is a good fit for you? The AACN is a great resource to match you with your perfect program.
  • National League for Nursing: The NLN is the premier organization for nurse educators. With 1,200 institutional members, the organization offers a wide variety of services, including professional development, teaching resources, research grants, and public policy initiatives.
  • National Nursing Staff Development Organization: This organization concentrates on nursing professional development and its role in overall healthcare outcomes. Nurses interested in advancing their professional development should look no further than the NNSDO.
  • Journal of Nursing Education: Clinical journals like this one area great resource for nurse educators working to maintain clinical competence, even once they’re out of the clinical field and working exclusively in the classroom.

Not everyone eats an apple a day. (Also, eating apples has only a nominal salubrious effect.) That’s why the world will continue to need nurses, and as long as it does, it will also need nurse educators. If the junction of healthcare and education is your sweet spot, this could be the perfect career for you.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Advanced Practice NursingNursing & Healthcare