A nurse educator teaches a class to nursing students.

How to Become a Nurse Educator

Nursing: Healthcare Systems Leadership

Health care 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 health care 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 earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and 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 careers 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 carry out daily tasks that 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.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Educator

Professionals may decide to pursue advanced careers as nurse educators after earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and completing the requirements to become a registered nurse (RN). Following are the typical steps necessary regarding how to become a nurse educator.

1. 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 careers, 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.

2. Earn an Advanced Nursing Degree            

After gaining experience in the field, many aspiring nurse educators enroll in an MSN program. Earning an advanced degree is a critical step in this career field because many universities and health care 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.

As demand for nurse educators grows, the curriculum they are expected to teach is also rapidly evolving. To ensure that education and training methods are up-to-date, nurse leaders looking to take on an educational leadership role are typically required to have an MSN, with an emphasis on education and teaching.

Pursuing advanced degrees with a specialization in education can enable nurses to increase their own mastery, while advancing the field and sharing their passion with the next generation of caregivers and leaders. It also helps prepare nurse educators to use clinical best practices when creating curricula and instructional design that can better prepare students entering the medical field.

Becoming a nurse educator can magnify an individual nurse’s reach and impact. As role models, researchers, advocates, and experts, nurse educators are a pillar of American health care, with demand for the position expected to continue to grow over the coming years. Through their work as leaders and teachers, nurse educators can help shape the future of health care and the caregiving profession.

Furthermore, after completing their MSN degrees 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.

3. Attain Licenses and Certifications           

After earning an advanced degree, such as an 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 health care 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 health care 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 an MSN degree, career-driven nursing professionals can develop the leadership skills and instructional capabilities needed to help them succeed as nurse educators.

Opportunities for Nurse Educators

Individuals interested in becoming nurse educators should know that the demand for nurse educators is expected to grow by 18% between 2019 and 2029, creating around 12,800 new positions. Nurse educators are among the fastest-growing postsecondary teaching specialties in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for this position is also geographically widespread, with opportunities in both cities and rural communities across the U.S.

Top earning nurse educators tend to teach advanced practice specialties through hospitals, although there is growing demand for nurse educators at trade schools and universities, as well as in clinical organizations. Hospitals and university clinics seek nurse educators to provide continuing education and professional development to clinical staff, including RNs and APNs moving into specialty roles. Outside of this, nurse educators may even participate in research, guiding students through clinical trials or conducting their own research in instructional design and training methods.

Nurse Educator Salaries

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 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.

The median annual wage for nurse educators and instructors was $74,600 in 2019, according to the BLS.  Nurse educators who possess deeper knowledge and an advanced skill set may have more potential to attract a salary in the top 90th percentile, or $133,460, annually.

Learn More About Becoming a Nurse Educator

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’s online Master of Science in Nursing program helps students hone their knowledge and skills to assume positions in nursing informatics, health care 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. If you are wondering how to become a nurse educator, explore how Norwich’s MSN program can help you achieve your goals.


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


Your Path to Becoming a Nurse Educator, American Nurse
Leadership Competencies: Knowledge, Skills, and Aptitudes Nurses Need to Lead Organizations Effectively, Critical Care Nurse
Certification for Nurse Educators, National League for Nursing
Summary Report for: Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary, ONet Online
Nurse Educator Core Competencies, World Health Organization
Transitioning from Nursing Practice to a Teaching Role, The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Clinical Nurse Research Consultant: A Clinical and Academic Role to Advance Practice and the Discipline of Nursing, Journal of Advanced Nursing
Nurse Educator, Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow
Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Postsecondary Teachers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Registered Nurses, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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