What Does a Nurse Educator Do?

Nurse Educator smiling with crossed arms
Nurse Educator smiling with crossed arms

Nursing is one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States, as well as one of the most respected. Yet nurses continue to face many challenges beyond simply staying current in their clinical skills. Determining how to advance in their careers for professional and personal satisfaction is one such challenge facing experienced RNs. One exciting option is to become a nurse educator.

Career Overview

Nurse educators are RNs who combine clinical skills with teaching student nurses, other nurses or patients. They have many job titles. Some of the most common are professor, instructor, clinical nurse educator, continuing education specialist and staff development officer. These professionals are in high demand.

An American Association of Colleges of Nursing report noted that nursing schools turned away nearly 69,000 qualified applicants in 2014. A major reason was lack of faculty. Many people assume nurse educators always work in schools of nursing. In fact, positions are available in almost any facility offering nursing classes, among them hospitals, long-term care facilities, and community colleges or technical schools. Individuals who are a good fit for this career should:

  • Possess sound clinical experience and knowledge.
  • Be a good teacher and enjoy teaching.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Not fear public speaking.
  • Have a good rapport with people.
  • Be creative.
  • Possess outstanding critical thinking ability.
  • Be able to clearly explain complex ideas.
  • Have substantive knowledge of their clinical subjects.
  • Possess a commitment to lifelong learning.

What to Expect

Most nurse educators teach courses matched to their clinical expertise. They can specialize in dozens of concentrations, including acute care, pediatrics, oncology or family health. Typical work responsibilities include:

  • Teaching and mentoring students
  • Curriculum design
  • Developing programs of study or courses
  • Evaluating education
  • Documenting the results of a program

In addition to teaching duties, those working in an academic environment should expect a nine-month appointment during which they participate in research, write grant proposals, advise students, make nursing-related presentations and have a role in peer review, all while maintaining their clinical knowledge.

These nurses usually interact with a dean or director of nursing and other faculty members, in addition to students. The interaction is primarily at a distance for online nursing programs. However, nurse educators who work on a campus or job site also sometimes interact with members of professional associations or the local community when they’re invited to give presentations.

Nurse educators can expect a median annual salary of $75,176, while some earn more than $120,000. In some parts of the country, experienced nurses earn more from direct patient care than from teaching. However, nursing schools now appear open to offering competitive compensation to attract qualified nurses.

How to Get There

An RN who is a nurse educator usually has at least several years of clinical experience. Nurses in academic settings must have a master’s degree. Many who want to advance in academia earn doctorates in nursing. Those in clinical settings must have at least a BSN degree, although many employers now require a master’s degree. Some graduate and post-master’s certificate programs are specifically designed to prepare nurse educators.

Nurse educators have a critical role in preparing the nursing workforce for a diverse healthcare setting in which change is the norm. Their passion guides thousands of students every year through the process of studying nursing and acquiring the skills and confidence necessary to succeed in this important profession.