By Michael Feder
The nursing profession has seen (and may continue to see) dramatic changes in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic, a global registered nurse (RN) shortage and other factors have revealed the need for well-trained nurses to take on a challenging era of health.
Clinical nurse educators play a crucial role in equipping RNs with the skills they need to care for patients. They can be seen presenting to the nursing team in a hospital on current evidence-based practices. They can also be seen in the classroom preparing the next generation of nurses with exams and experiments.
Wherever you find them, nurse educators make sure that registered nurses meet the required standards of quality patient care and have the latest strategies and info when it comes to improving patient outcomes.
While there are different types of nurse educator jobs, what they have in common is a focus on the competency and knowledge of new or practicing nurses. A job as a nurse educator is usually preceded by some time spent in clinical practice, and most nurse educators possess a bachelor’s degree. It is a way for those with experience in the nursing field to translate that experience to others.
The most hands-on of the nurse educator jobs, clinical nurse educators perform their work in healthcare facilities, such as hospitals and clinics. They work with nurse managers and other administrative staff to institute curriculum and develop policies and procedures.
Clinical nurse educators are responsible for making sure that registered nurses know the most current evidence-based practices when it comes to patient care. They work with RNs in both one-on-one and group settings to evaluate nursing practice competencies, train nurses on the use of new technology and provide professional development opportunities.
Nurse educators can also be found in classrooms and lecture halls in colleges and universities where they create innovative methods to teach and engage students and evaluate learning. Faculty nurse educators perform much of the work of a traditional university professor, in addition to using their personal nursing experience to supplement the material. They are responsible for developing curriculum, exercises and experiments, grading papers and exams, and guiding individual students.
At the graduate level, faculty nurse educators often oversee their students’ research, as well as conducting their own research in the field of nursing. By publishing their research, faculty nurse educators are able to have a big impact on how nursing is performed across the world.
Registered nurses can pursue becoming a nursing education consultant after they have gained the level of experience as a nurse educator required by their state, sector or employer. To help define their needs and strategies, nurse educators sometimes turn to nurse education consultants to weigh in.
Consultants can be involved in both school and clinical settings, as well as in private companies or serve at accreditation organizations and state boards of nursing.
Nursing education consultants are responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of nurse education programs, measuring outcomes and making recommendations. Their input can improve nurse education programs and introduce approaches that otherwise may not have been considered.
Though job requirements vary with the exact nurse educator role, here are some common responsibilities of nurse educators:
Nurse educators also generally have to maintain their clinical competencies, and sometimes must work with actual patients rather than just students.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse educators generally must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree for a teaching position. Some employers require a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree, and a terminal degree — the highest degree obtainable in a field — is often required to teach at a university. Some employers may also require a post-master’s certificate or a certificate in the specialty area that is being taught.
Before pursuing a master’s degree, nursing students must already be registered nurses and possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This means that RNs must have previously earned a diploma from an approved nursing program, an Associate of Science in Nursing degree (ASN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN); have passed the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN); and have experience as an RN in a clinical setting. Those without a bachelor’s degree may want to consider pursuing an RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to build the educational foundation for studies at the graduate level.
University of Phoenix offers a Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Nursing Education that helps prepare RNs to pursue a career as a nurse educator. In this degree program, students can expect to learn how to:
BLS provides some relevant data points for those interested in the current status of nurse educator jobs. The majority of nurse educator jobs are found in colleges and universities, with the rest spread out among junior colleges, general and surgical hospitals, trade schools and educational support services.
BLS reports that the annual salary range for nursing instructors and teachers in May 2021 was between $47,630 and $125,930.
The salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.
If you’re an RN interested in pursuing a career as a nurse educator, it is important to know the critical skills and qualities employers look for. The National League for Nursing (NLN) is an authority on nursing education and promotes initiatives to increase the presence of nurse educators in healthcare. The NLN proposes eight competencies as the essential qualities of a nurse educator:
Perhaps the most basic quality of a nurse educator is also one of its most important. Nurse educators can facilitate learning by creating a space, whether in a classroom or clinical setting, where students feel engaged and ready to learn. The educator is also responsible for providing the requisite materials and resources to support students in their learning.
Nurse educators are not just responsible for their students learning the curriculum. It is important nurse educators promote a spirit of lifelong learning and development in their students. That spirit can help students develop over the course of their career, even when they have left the classroom or laboratory. Nurse educators play an important role in training registered nurses to bring ethical values and integrity to their work.
It is important for nurse educators to track the progress and needs of their students. Assessing the competencies of their students through tests and exams, nurse educators can direct their curriculum to where it is needed most. After all, nursing students will ultimately be taking what they learn into clinical work with patients. That makes it doubly important that their skills and knowledge are properly evaluated and assessed.
Learning activities, curricula and lesson plans have to be constantly updated to keep up with trends and research. Nurse educators have a responsibility to make sure that what they are teaching is up-to-date and relevant to their students. Subscribing to research journals and attending nursing conferences can help nurse educators keep their skills sharp.
Not only should the curriculum be active and dynamic, but so should the nurse educator teaching that curriculum. As teachers, nurse educators have a unique responsibility to craft the future of nursing. That requires a certain level of leadership and forward thinking. For nurse educators, it is not just about making sure curriculum is passed on to students. The nurse educator job requires a wholistic appreciation for the impact that education has on healthcare in years ahead.
There is a running theme among the NLN competencies of constant updating and improvement. Besides updating the curriculum and incorporating new scholarship, nurse educators also should seek to improve their skills as educators. This might mean furthering their own education, such as pursuing a doctorate in nursing. Understanding how their students learn best can help make what is often challenging curriculum more accessible.
The NLN suggests that nurse educators take an active role in developing the discipline of nurse education. Through teaching, nurse educators can develop important insights that can improve outcomes for instructors across the field. When educators understand teaching as a learning experience in itself, they can adapt curricula around what they know to work.
Learning does not happen in a vacuum. There are a number of factors, ranging from the political to the social to the economic that affect the learning dynamic. The NLN suggests that nurse educators understand the context in which education takes place. This awareness can help nurse educators meet their students where they are, and better translate the curriculum to their students’ unique backgrounds.
If you are interested in having an impact on the future of nursing, a career as a nurse educator can have a big impact. That being said, it is not a career path for beginners. With little exception, years of clinical experience and a college degree are required to begin work in this field. Experience and a degree will help you develop your skills as an educator, so you can better translate your knowledge and experience to students.
Ready to take the first step? Consider a master’s degree in nursing with a concentration in nursing education from UOPX.
At UOPX, our nursing degree programs develop crucial skills to advance your nursing career. Learn more!
About University of Phoenix
As pioneers in online higher education since 1989, University of Phoenix is an accredited online university for working adults. We are proud to offer quality educational pathways through flexible, career-focused online degrees, certificates and professional development courses that fit into your life and options to save you time and money. Our students are supported every step of the way, including career services for life.
Let us help you take the most direct path to your future career goals. We’re ready when you are.
More than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ occupations.
Online courses and certificates
Explore professional development and earn credentials.
Ways to save
Learn ways you can save as you pursue your goals.