How to Become a Nurse Educator

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Nurse educators are critical to creating a robust, comprehensive educational experience for new nursing students and for those pursuing graduate studies to expand their professional opportunities. Nurse educators serve as leaders of the learning process, guiding students and producing a nursing workforce prepared to thrive in a diverse, ever-changing healthcare environment.

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Our nation’s nursing faculty shortage is a reality, with nursing schools limiting student capacity at a time when the need for a growing, qualified nursing workforce has never been greater. According to a 2014-2015 report published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), U.S. nursing schools turned away nearly 69,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs due to a lack of faculty in 2014 alone.

A number of major nursing organizations, including AACN, have begun focusing their efforts and leveraging their resources to get the word out about dwindling nursing faculty numbers, thus motivating many practicing RNs to complete a graduate-level program in nursing education and begin teaching in this swiftly expanding field.

Thanks to a renewed interest in the value of the nurse educator, institutions throughout the country now offer Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and doctorate programs with a concentration in nursing education, thus allowing RNs to easily transition from the clinical practice setting to the academic environment.

What Do Nurse Educators Do? Job Responsibilities and Duties of Nurse Educators

Nurse educators work in both the classroom and the practice setting, where they prepare and mentor current and future generations of nurses. These nursing professionals design, implement, and evaluate academic and continuing education programs for nurses at all levels. Nurse educators prepared at the master’s and doctoral levels teach in a wide array of settings, such as:

  • Colleges/universities
  • Junior/community colleges
  • Nursing/technical schools
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Community health agencies
  • Home care agencies
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Online/distance-based programs and courses

Nurse educators, as RNs with a graduate-level education and advanced clinical training in a healthcare specialty, are able to serve in a variety of positions, from a part-time clinical educator to the dean of a college of nursing. Just a few of the titles for nurse educators include:

  • Instructional nurse faculty
  • Administrative nurse faculty
  • Clinical nurse educator
  • Staff development officer
  • Continuing education specialist

Nurse educators identify student needs and design nursing curricula that build upon student strengths and future goals. In addition to teaching nursing programs, courses, or clinical experiences, nurse educators lend their expertise in academic and professional settings, where they:

  • Advise students
  • Engage in research and other scholarly work
  • Speak at nursing conferences
  • Engage in peer review
  • Participate in professional associations
  • Write grant proposals

While some nurse educators devote their careers to the learning process, others work in a part-time capacity so they can continue to work in a clinical setting. For many, this balance allows them to maintain a high degree of clinical competency. It is therefore commonplace for clinical nurse educators to teach nursing education programs that correspond to their clinical expertise.

How to Become an MSN Nurse Educator: Education Requirements

Individuals interested in becoming a nurse educator must first earn their registered nursing (RN) license and gain valuable clinical experience. Once they have established a sold clinical background, they must pursue a graduate-level nurse educator program. While some faculty positions require students to possess a doctoral degree, many enter the teaching field with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

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The MSN Nurse Educator

An MSN in Nursing Education allows nurses to build upon their clinical foundation and acquire substantive knowledge in an area of instruction. A Nurse Educator MSN provides students with advanced training and education in theories of teaching, learning, and evaluation, allowing them to design curricula and programs that reflect innovative educational principles.

Graduates of MSN Nurse Educator degree programs can anticipate the future role of nursing and adapt their curriculum and teaching methods to respond to a constantly evolving healthcare environment. They possess advisement, counseling, and research skills, as well as the ability to assess learner needs to produce a sound educational program.

The MSN Nurse Educator program takes about 18 to 24 months to complete on a full-time basis. To qualify for admission into an MSN Nurse Educator program, students must possess:

  • Valid and unencumbered RN license
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Many programs also require students to possess:

  • Minimum undergraduate GPA
  • Minimum GRE scores
  • Clinical RN experience

The curriculum of an MSN Nurse Educator program integrates core master’s-level concepts and advanced clinical foundations, including assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology, along with education-focused courses, such as:

  • Curriculum development
  • Principles of teaching
  • Educational program evaluation
  • Implementing the nurse educator role
  • Tests/measurements

Along with a comprehensive didactic component, MSN Nurse Educator programs include an intensive practicum during which time they may choose to specialize their clinical experiences in an area such as acute care, cardiology, oncology, pediatrics, etc. The focus of a clinical practicum is usually in the same area as the student’s clinical experience.

Thanks to a renewed interest in educating today’s nurses to be tomorrow’s educators, nursing schools and colleges/universities now offer MSN Nurse Educator programs in part-time and online formats, both of which accommodate working nurses. Online programs allow students to complete all of the program’s required coursework through distance learning and then complete their practicum at sites close to home. In many cases, clinical sequences can be completed at the nurses current place of employment.

Professional Certification for Nurse Educators

Many nurse educators look to professional certification as a meaningful way to demonstrate their expertise as nurse educators. Professional designation reflects a commitment to excellence in the field of nursing education.

The National League for Nursing’s Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) designation distinguishes academic nursing education as a specialty area of practice and as an advanced practice role within professional nursing. It is designed to recognize the nurse educator’s specialized knowledge, abilities, and skills in practice.

It is also designed to strengthen the use of the NLN’s recognized core competencies in nursing education practice—eight core competencies all nurse educators must be able to:

  • Facilitate learning
  • Facilitate learner development and socialization
  • Use assessment and evaluation strategies
  • Participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes
  • Function as a change agent and leader
  • Pursue quality improvement in the nurse educator role
  • Engage in scholarship
  • Function within the educational environment

Nurse educators can qualify to take the CNE exam in one of two ways:

Option A

  • Possess a current and unencumbered RN license; AND
  • Possess a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with a major emphasis on nursing education OR a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and at least nine additional credit hours of graduate-level education courses

Option B

  • Possess a current and unencumbered RN license; AND
  • Possess a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with a major emphasis in a role other than nursing; AND
  • Possess at least two or more years of experience in a nursing program within the past five years

Eligible candidates must complete an application and receive approval to take the CNE Examination. CNE holders must renew their designation every five years upon successfully completing at least 50 renewal credits or by taking and passing the CNE exam.

The Future of Nurse Educators: Salaries and Job Growth Projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a strong demand for nurse educators well into the future. According to the BLS, the U.S. will need nearly 35,000 new nursing instructors by 2022, due to faculty retirement and the strong need for an increased nursing workforce to meet the demands of a swiftly growing healthcare delivery industry.

According to the BLS, nurse educators earned an average annual salary of $70,650, as of May 2014, with the top 10 percent earning an average of $107,080.

The industries with the highest salaries for nurse educators during this time were:

  • Specialty hospitals: $116,210
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $88,810
  • State government: $88,050
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $83,650
  • Technical and trade schools: $73,400

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