Nurse educator teaching class

How to Become a Nurse Educator: Leading the Next Generation of Nurses

Nursing: Leadership, Education & Informatics

Healthcare institutions rely on nurses who are trained in the latest practices and procedures to deliver high-quality patient care. Nurse educators are responsible for equipping current and future nurses with the knowledge and skills that can help them provide quality patient care as well as advance in their careers. Nurse educators teach nursing classes in higher education and healthcare settings, a complex role that requires an advanced education, strong communication skills, and the ability to effectively lead and mentor nurses. Those who are interested in learning how to become a nurse educator should familiarize themselves with what these professionals do and which steps they need to follow to prepare for a career in this challenging but rewarding profession.

Overview of the Nurse Educator Position

To gain perspective on the nature of a nurse educator’s work, it is important to first recognize what types of organizations typically hire them. Nurse educators primarily work in higher education institutions, like colleges and universities or technical and trade schools, teaching in both classroom and online settings. Nurse educators who work in educational institutions typically conduct classes, advise students, and work with other faculty and staff to improve academic programs.

Clinically experienced nurse educators can also find employment with the training and development teams of hospitals, private practices, and other health care service providers. In these positions they are more likely to train nurses in specific skills, such as how to perform certain tests and procedures.  

Regardless of their specific work settings, nurse educators’ daily tasks often include supervising laboratory and clinical work, managing lessons and procedures, conducting research on a nursing-related topic, and working with internal and external educational partners to support instructional programs. To perform well while taking on several challenging tasks at once in their role, nurse educators should possess strong leadership, communication, research and managerial skills. According to the World Health Organization, other competencies in which nurse educators should be well-versed include theories and principles of adult learning, curriculum and implementation, nursing practice, collaboration and partnership, ethical/legal principles and professionalism, monitoring and evaluation, and advocacy. Although the median wage for nurse educators and instructors was $77,360 in 2017, educators who possess a deeper knowledge base and an advanced skill set may have more potential to attract a salary in the top 90th percentile, or $124,090 annually.

Suggested Steps for Becoming a Nurse Educator

Professionals may decide to pursue an advanced career as a nurse educator after earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and completing the requirements to become a registered nurse (RN). These are the typical steps necessary for becoming a nurse educator.

Gain Nursing Experience

RNs and advanced practice nurses (APNs) typically work in clinical settings for several years before progressing to the next level of their careers. During this time, they may gain experience in a specialized type of nursing, such as pediatrics, occupational health, informatics, or pain management. Throughout their career, it is also important for those seeking to be a nurse educator to work with a mentor. By working with a mentor, future nurse educators can start to develop valuable coaching and leadership skills that they can then impart to the next generation of nurses, according to Nursing Times.

Earn an Advanced Nursing Degree

After gaining experience in the field, many aspiring nurse educators enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. Earning an advanced degree is a critical step in this career field because many universities and healthcare facilities require candidates to have a MSN degree and several years of clinical experience. This requirement has become common as MSN graduates often have an advanced comprehension of clinical concepts such as pharmacology, health assessment, and evaluation methods, as well as education-related topics, including instructional practices and curriculum development—all core skills needed to succeed as a nurse educator.

Furthermore, after completing their MSN degree and attaining several years of instructional experience, some nurse educators consider further advancing their careers by pursuing terminal degrees, such as a PhD, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Education (EdD), or Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc). These degrees are not required, but they can help nurse educators qualify for more prestigious positions in universities or hospitals.

Attain Licenses and Certifications

After earning an advanced degree, such as a MSN, the next step toward becoming a nurse educator is typically to attain additional licenses or certifications. However, requirements vary by employer and type of practice.

Many universities and healthcare organizations require nurse educator candidates to have a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) or Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNEcl) credential, both of which are offered by the National League for Nursing. Graduates of master’s or doctoral degree programs with an emphasis in nursing education may be eligible to take the exams upon graduation to earn these certifications. Those who are interested in teaching a particular nursing specialty may need to attain additional certifications in those fields as well.

As healthcare trends evolve and patient care becomes more complex, there will be a growing need for experienced educators to mentor, teach and guide the next generation of nurses to meet those challenges head-on. By earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree, career-driven nursing professionals can develop the leadership skills and instructional capabilities needed to help them succeed as a nurse educator.

Learn More

Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their workplaces and communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume positions in nursing informatics, healthcare systems leadership, or nursing education. The program aims to develop students who could take a role in shaping health policy, in educating other nurses and health care professionals, and in providing advanced care to their patients. Norwich’s online nursing program coursework has been developed based on guidelines by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

Recommended Readings:

5 Nursing Theories for Nurse Educators

What to Expect from the MSN Curriculum at Norwich University

6 Common Nurse Leadership Jobs for Master of Science in Nursing Graduates


Better Prepared Workforce, Better Retention, The American Nurse
Your Path to Becoming a Nurse Educator, American Nurse Today
Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary, Bureau of Labor Statistics
Leadership Competencies: Knowledge, Skills, and Aptitudes Nurses Need to Lead Organizations Effectively, Critical Care Nurse
Mentoring Nurses Toward Success, Minority Nurse Magazine
CNE® Overview, National League for Nursing
Leadership Skills for Nurses, Nursing Times
Summary Report for: Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary, O*NET OnLine
Nurse Educator Core Competencies, World Health Organization