The Role of the Nurse Educator in Staff Development


A career in nursing means committing yourself to making a difference. One especially important role is that of the nurse educator which lends itself to cultivating rising nursing professionals.

In today’s article, we’ll explore the nurse educator role as it relates to staff development and discuss how Spring Arbor University’s online Master of Science in Nursing – Nurse Educator MSN Ed program prepares graduates in the field.


Nurse Educator Role Basics

Nurse educators are those who have completed advanced nursing degrees and have devoted their careers to teaching other aspiring nurses. 

Those who pursue such a role have options for their preferred working environment and schedule.

Collegiate v.s. Healthcare Settings

Many nurse educators take positions at the collegiate level, from vocational schools to post-secondary institutions, and foster student development within the classroom.

Other nurse educators find fulfilling roles within the healthcare setting working as practicum supervisors or staff development coordinators.

The role of the nurse educator in staff development in these hands-on capacities is crucial to reinforce what nursing students gain in the classroom.

Full-Time v.s. Part-Time Capacities

Those who pursue a full-time nurse educator role as professors will typically spend their day committed to the art of teaching.

This might mean more time is spent on course design, reviewing papers, and lecturing, but it can also mean time is spent on assessing learning outcomes.

Some full-time nurse educators also conduct research to advance the state of nursing education overall.

Those who choose to serve as a nurse educator on a part-time basis often split their time between their own professional practice and helping develop nursing students.

In this more clinically-focused role, nurse educators are invaluable in overseeing internships and clinical placements for students to enhance professional growth.

Regardless of how much time you might spend in the classroom or on the hospital floor, the role of the nurse educator in staff development is immeasurable. Nurse educators are directly responsible for developing the next line of leaders in the nursing field.

An ability to connect with students and a firm grasp on the evolving environment of healthcare are among the key skills which contribute to the success of someone in the nurse educator role.


Crafting Curriculum

You might know the key principles of the field, but how well can you present them to others?

Nurse educators are tasked with creating robust curricula that engage nursing students, while carefully explaining essential principles of the field.

This means having a keen understanding of how to deliver course materials that meet institutional and accreditation standards.

It also means having the willingness to continually update and edit class curricula in response to student input.

Nurse educators must balance the demands of academic requirements with consistently seeking new ways to engage students both in-person and in the online classroom.

The same is asked of those in the role of the nurse educator in staff development within various healthcare and clinical settings.

These professionals must find ways to keep those completing their practicum experiences or just beginning their nursing career engaged in the learning process without overwhelming them.

Many nurse educators also have direct experience in the field, so their professional expertise augments their academic proficiency.


Stay Ahead of Healthcare Trends

Key tenets are important, but without understanding how these principles apply to nursing scenarios of the modern day, students can fail to grasp how important they truly are.

Given this, it is also essential that nurse educators incorporate current trends in healthcare and discuss issues faced within the nursing profession.

Today’s healthcare environment is ever-changing and teaching nurses how to cope with the challenges of being short staffed, for example, allows for a transformative learning experience.

Nurse educators not only develop their students professionally, but help them gain tools they can apply in the real-world.


Maintain a Cutting-Edge Classroom

Between campus and the online classroom, a successful nurse educator must incorporate a myriad of learning opportunities into a course’s design.

This is particularly the case for online classes, where video clips, virtual demos, active discussion boards, and other real-life interactions can bolster the nursing student’s learning experience.

A nurse educator wants to create an academic experience that is both enriching and relevant.

Using technology tools and creatively finding ways to boost student engagement helps nurse educators promote learning and stand out as effective teachers.


The Importance of Nurse Educators

Beyond serving as contributors to the development of future nursing professionals, nurse educators also play an indispensable role in shaping the future of healthcare.

Many nurse educators serve as dedicated mentors for nursing students by becoming a valuable sounding board for questions.

They also often serve as a resource for reliable information and offer on-the-job guidance for less seasoned staff.

Nurse educators share an unwavering commitment to the field, and that level of enthusiasm can spread easily through the classroom.

By modeling professionalism and dedication, nurse educators can instill these qualities in students pursuing a career in the nursing profession.


Why Nurse Educators Are In Demand

The shifting nature of the healthcare industry, combined with the ever-changing demographics of the population, have contributed to an increased demand for nurse educators across the country.

According to the Administration on Aging, nearly 50 million Americans were over the age of 65 in 2016, and that number is slated to increase.

This heightened percentage of older Americans means more retirees from the nursing profession.

At the same time, it also statistically foreshadows an increased need for healthcare, as aging members from the community need more access to services.

To support this growing need, the healthcare field is actively working to build a trained workforce. Nurse educators are needed to create adaptable nursing teams capable of delivering quality patient care.

The nurse educator role is also essential in equipping future nurses to handle the challenges of a rapidly shifting healthcare environment.

In fact, the need for nurse educators is so high it's impacting nursing education as a whole.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a lack of nursing faculty led to more than 75,000 nursing school applications being rejected in 2018.

There were simply not enough nurse educators to lead necessary classes.

In short, there are many open positions for nurse educators in the field, and the benefits are rewarding.


Job Outlook

A growing demand for nurses, and nurse educators, means job outlook for those in the nurse educator role in a hospital setting, or other healthcare facility, is strong.

In addition to filling the nearly 8% vacancy rate of national nurse faculty, as reported by the AACN in 2018, nurse educators can rest assured their skills will be needed for years to come.

The nurse educator field is showing an above-average growth rate compared to other occupations nationwide (BSL).

As an added benefit, nurse educators enjoy substantial salaries. BLS reports, for example, the mean annual wage for nurse educators in 2018 reached $81,350.

Those in the 90% percentile salary range achieved an annual wage of more than $129,000.


Steps to Becoming a Nurse Educator

If more earning potential, stable job security, and helping others advance their knowledge in nursing sounds like the ideal combination for your professional aspirations, then the next logical question is, "What does it take to become a nurse educator?"

There are four steps involved in working towards a future nurse educator role:

1. Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

The first step toward becoming a nurse educator is to be an active RN with your Bachelor’s in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN should be earned in a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Upon graduation, you must successfully pass the National Council Licensure Examination - Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam. Afterwards, you can apply for state RN licensure.

2. Earn Your MSN-NE Degree

Earning a graduate degree will qualify you for jobs as a professor. Moreover, an MSN-Ed degree will enhance your knowledge in nursing with a focus on education.

You’ll learn the nuances of serving as an educator in the field, including everything from pedagogical concerns to student counseling and mentoring practices.

3. Pass Certification for the Nurse Educators Exam

The capstone to your academic preparation to enter a nurse educator role is to pass the certification exams designed by the National League for Nursing to ensure you meet the high standards expected from professionals in the field.

Students can choose from one of two formats of the exam:

  • The CNE Exam is designed for the academic nurse educator who wants to focus on designing and evaluating curricula and learning outcomes in addition to teaching and lecturing.
  • The CNE-cl Exam targets the academic clinical nurse educator who wishes to emphasize elements of clinical practice, such as supervised practice, internships, and placements, in addition to teaching and lecturing.

Both versions of the exam are:

  • Designed to gauge your knowledge of teaching and learning philosophies, your ability to facilitate learner growth, your curriculum development and learning outcome assessment skills, and how prepared you are to be active in both academic and research settings.
  • Comprised of 150 questions in length, though only 130 are graded, with the remaining questions unscored in the process of evaluation for a future exam.
  • Allotted three hours to complete.
  • Computerized, which means you can receive your score instantaneously following the completion of your exam.

Graduates from Spring Arbor’s CCNE accredited, online MSN-Ed program are prepared for both the CNE and CNE-cl exam.

4. Doctoral Degree (Optional)

While it is not mandatory, some choose to pursue doctoral level studies after their MSN degree, as some nursing faculty positions require such a credential. 

For many who choose to follow this path, though, the pursuit of the Ph.D. might come later in one’s professional career, or if one wants to commit more time to in-depth research initiatives.


Spring Arbor’s Online MSN-NE Degree

Knowing of the increased demand for nurse educators, Spring Arbor is aware nursing students need support to thrive. That’s why our online MSN-Ed degree is designed to accommodate working nurses. 

Online MSN-Ed students enjoy several benefits including:

1. Flexible Design 

The ability to complete your MSN-Ed degree online with no set log-in times means you can continue to work in healthcare with minimal disruptions to your busy schedule. 

Earn your degree, just one 7-week course at a time, and enjoy a week off in between classes.

2. Enriching Academic Curriculum 

Nurse educator students benefit from Spring Arbor’s robust and relevant curriculum. 

From coursework ranging from health assessments to instructional strategies, students are prepared to lead nursing education.

Online MSN-Ed graduates learn how to effectively manage academic and clinical developments both inside and outside of the classroom.

3. Sense of Community

Nothing shines quite like the togetherness experienced by a close community. Spring Arbor’s engaged faculty and supportive staff are committed to helping students reach their goals. 

Work side-by-side in a virtual capacity with other nursing students who are passionate about education and grow from insights shared by our online student community.

4. Principles of Christian Faith

Dedicated to the comprehensive growth of all students, Spring Arbor’s online MSN-Ed program is built upon the pillars of Christianity.

All students are empowered to develop their faith and professional competence through moral teachings.

Beyond gaining real-world skills, graduates from Spring Arbor’s online MSN-Ed program appreciate the value of commitment to compassionate and ethical nursing.


Inspire Others in Nursing

The role of nurse educator is significant as it helps shape the future of both nursing professionals and the field alike. 

If you want to touch countless lives and improve staff development, then the role of nurse educator may be for you.

Spring Arbor’s online MSN-Ed degree program prepared students for a successful future in nursing education through a solid academic foundation. Lead the future of nursing education and help bridge the gap in healthcare.

Read everything you need to know about What You Can Do with an MSN in Nursing Education.

Click here to learn more about Spring Arbor University’s online MSN-Ed program.


“CNE FAQs.” National League for Nursing.

“Creative Strategies for Teaching Millennial Nursing Students.” Nurse Educator, November/December 2017.

“Nursing Faculty Shortage.” American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

“The Future of the Nursing Workforce: National – and State-Level Projections, 2012-2025.” United States Department of Health and Human Services.

“25-1072 Nursing Instructors.” United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2018.

“2017 Profile of Older Americans.” Administration on Aging.