What is a Nurse Educator?

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Skilled nurses are essential to functional healthcare systems worldwide, and nurse educators are the driving force behind the training of skilled nursing professionals. Nurse educators are registered nurses who combine their clinical experience and academic expertise to train students in nursing skills. They determine educational curriculum and standards, prepare students to successfully transition out of academia, empower new nurses to thrive in the nursing profession, and improve the systems that uphold nurse education.

Nurse educators can teach in universities, technical schools, hospital-based nursing programs. They can also work as administrators, consultants, or independent contractors in a wide variety of education-focused occupations.

The nurse educator position is going to become increasingly critical as healthcare in the U.S. evolves. Demand for healthcare and skilled professionals in the sector is increasing due to the aging U.S. population and retiring registered nurses leaving the workforce. The U.S. will need an active corps of competent teachers and savvy professionals who can improve and enhance the systems in which that education occurs.

Concerning new job creation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be a combined 795,000 new jobs created nationally for registered nurses, licensed practical/vocational nurses, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthetists between 2016 and 2026.

However, there will also be a significant number of vacancies, as an estimated 700,000 nurses are projected to retire or leave the labor force by 2024, according to the American Nursing Association (ANA). The BLS anticipates that through 2024, there will be a combined 144,590 job openings each year for these nursing positions. In total, by 2026, there will be an estimated 4.2 million nursing positions in the U.S.

Educating a workforce this large will ensure that there will also be an increase in demand for nurse educators. The BLS predicts that the postsecondary nursing instructor and teacher occupation will grow more than three times faster than the national average, at a rate of 24 percent between 2016 and 2026. The BLS anticipates that there will be a total of 84,200 nurse educator jobs available by 2026.

In addition to being in demand throughout the upcoming years, nurse educators can earn competitive wages. As of 2017, the median annual salary for a nurse postsecondary nurse educator was $71,260—90 percent higher than the national average. Postsecondary nurse educators earning in the 90th percentile make up to $124,090 annually.

What Does A Nurse Educator Do?

From a global perspective, the nurse educator community is responsible for ensuring that the nursing workforce has the accurate and up-to-date information, skills, and attitudes needed to provide effective care for patients across the entire human lifespan. Because this undertaking offers many different occupational pathways, what a nurse educator will do on a daily basis is determined by what part of the educational process they are working to impact.

Some nurse educators will spend much of their time preparing non-licensed students to transition into the workforce and implementing advanced degree programs for licensed RNs seeking advanced practice skills. In this circumstance, the nurse educator’s responsibilities will be academic in nature and include day-to-day tasks like curriculum building and improvement, teaching and advising students, assessing educational outcomes, and conducting academic research.

Many nurse educators have a hybrid role that combines nursing practice and teaching. Whether through a university, hospital, or other healthcare settings, nurse educators in this hybrid role continue to provide patient care while teaching less experienced nurses or nursing students who are doing fieldwork. This role combines the day-to-day responsibilities of the academic nurse educator with other tasks like mentoring, coordinating clinical placements, streamlining processes, and coordinating continuing education.

Teaching at a university or hospital may be the most common roles for nurse educators, but the nurse educator role is expanding far beyond these two areas. Nurse educators can coach other nurses, assist in life-care planning, teach patients how to navigate the insurance landscape, consult in legal or forensic capacities, and even work toward policy improvement in government or institutions.

Nurse educators uphold and improve the systems and structures upon which nurse education rests. They are continually creating new and innovative ways to approach nurse education.

What Specializations Are Available To Nurse Educators?

Because nurse educators are experienced nurses who pass on their earned and learned knowledge, the number of specializations for nurse educators matches the number of specializations for nurse practitioners. With more than 100 different specializations available to registered nurses, there is an equal number of specializations opportunities for nurse educators.

From the standpoint of need, the National League for Nursing (NLN) reports that there are some specialties for nurse educators that have vacant opportunities waiting for qualified applicants. Based on the NLN 2015 Faculty Census Survey, the following undergraduate specialty areas had budgeted faculty positions that remained unfilled:

  • Adult Health
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health
  • Maternal Health
  • Pediatrics
  • Community and Public Health
  • Critical Care

In addition to topic-based specializations, university-affiliated nurse educators have a choice for what level of education they would like to provide. Depending on their level of education, nurse educators can educate students enrolled in the following types of programs:

  • Practical or vocational nursing
  • Associate’s degree
  • Diploma
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Doctoral degree

According to the Biennial Survey of Schools of Nurses conducted by the NLN in 2014, a lack of faculty is the main obstacle in expanding capacity for all types of nursing programs, with the greatest need being reported at the doctoral level.

In addition to academic specializations, entrepreneurial nurses with unique career trajectories, or extensive experience in non-traditional specializations can leverage what they have accumulated to innovate as contractors, policymakers, and administrators.

Competencies, Skills, And Traits of Successful Nurse Educators

Being a successful nurse educator requires the combination of all the skills and traits of a successful nurse with all the skills and traits of a successful educator. According to the NLN and the World Health Organization (WHO), successful nurse educators are expected to:

  • Facilitate learning, especially in adults
  • Assess and evaluate learning outcomes
  • Participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes
  • Pursue continuous quality improvement programs as educators
  • Conduct research and engage in scholarship
  • Maintain and update clinical knowledge and skills
  • Demonstrate effective communication, promote collaboration, and enhance partnership
  • Practice and teach in a way that is ethical and legal

To develop the competencies listed above, successful nurse educators will work to develop the following skills:

  • Critical-thinking
  • Interpersonal
  • Instructional
  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Research
  • Clinical
  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Advisement
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration
  • Organizational

Because empowerment sits at the center of effective teaching and effective nursing, those people who can create open, welcoming environments where praise and critique can be freely communicated may experience the most success and satisfaction as a nurse educator. Being attentive, nurturing, flexible, having a sense of humor, and demonstrating concern for students are all traits that have been identified as ideal or most helpful in a nurse educator. Successful nurse educators should also demonstrate a passion for learning and teaching, forward-thinking skills, adaptability to the changing healthcare landscape, and the capacity to adapt training needs to staff with various professional ability.

Education And Experience Requirements For Nurse Educators

In addition to the competencies, skills, and traits listed in the previous section, nurse educator positions require a combination of the following:

  • A postsecondary degree in nursing from an accredited program
  • An active nursing license
  • A clearly stated amount of practical nursing experience or teaching experience
  • CPR certification
  • Professional certifications related to specialization

Postsecondary Degrees for Nurse Educators

To work as a nurse educator in academia, the minimum education level one must have is a master’s degree. Those with a master or higher can teach licensed vocational nurse (LVN), licensed practical nurse (LPN), associate, and diploma programs.

Generally, to teach at a four-year university at the undergraduate or graduate level, a doctorate is required. In rare circumstances, those with master’s degrees can be hired as professors or instructors at four-year universities if they possess many years of practical experience in a unique or novel specialty or have desirable, relevant previous teaching experience.

Outside of academia, the field is more open concerning what level of post-secondary degree is required for nurse educator positions. Some nurse educator positions require an experienced registered nurse (RN), while others need a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Regarding a minimum threshold, a bachelor’s of nursing (BSN) or MSN can open up the most nurse educator opportunities outside of the academic sphere.

Nursing Licensure for Nurse Educators

Because nurse educators are expected to be practitioners, an active nursing license in their state of employment is required. Licensure requires passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), establishing eligibility, and meeting all of the licensure requirements for the individual state in which the nurse will practice.

Some states have their own specific licensure requirements. There are 29 states in the U.S. that participate in the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). Nurses applying for an eNLC license need to meet universal requirements. After being issued an eNLC license, the nurse can practice in any of the participating states without having to reapply for licensure.

Clinical or Practical Experience for Nurse Educators

To work as a nurse educator, the minimum experience required as a practicing clinical nurse is one year. Many positions require multiple years of clinical or teaching experience.

Professional Certifications for Nurse Educators

Nurse educators who want a more competitive resume and a higher level of quality and professionalism can obtain professional certification. The Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) examination is one such certification that nurse educators can pursue to prove their quality of work. It focuses on promoting excellence in the role.

In addition to this generalized certification, some nurse education positions may also require education certifications explicitly related to specialization. Sometimes this requirement can be fulfilled through undergraduate, master’s, or doctoral study in the specialty, while in other cases certifications maintained by independent certifying companies may be required.