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Nurse Educator Career Overview

NurseJournal Staff
Updated November 29, 2022
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    Nursing educators are instrumental in providing patient care in a variety of healthcare settings. Find out how to be a nursing educator and learn about salary and job growth for this career.
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    how long to become

    job outlook

    job outlook9% growth from 2019-2029For Postsecondary Educators

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$74,470SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Nurse Educator Career in Brief

    msn or dnp required
    certification options

    Nurse educators provide education and training for nurses at all levels, including students in their first year of nursing school all the way to experienced nurses seeking professional development. They combine clinical expertise and experience to serve as guides and mentors to other providers.

    Nurse educators are experts in evidence-based practices and committed to continuous research, staying up-to-date on the latest ideas and developments in healthcare and the practice of nursing. They are leaders who direct teams, provide guidance, and exemplify best practices in nursing.

    Primary Responsibilities

    • Facilitate learning for nurses at all levels using multiple methods
    • Monitor, evaluate, and assess courses, nursing programs, and students
    • Motivate students and staff
    • Serve as mentors and role models
    • Integrate theory and practice
    • Research and report on the latest evidence-based best practices

    Key Skills

    • Clinical expertise
    • Leadership
    • Communication
    • Evaluation and assessment
    • Curriculum design

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    Where Do Nurse Educators Work?

    When you hear the word “educator,” you automatically think of a school or classroom setting, but colleges and universities are just one place where nurse educators work. Educators can be found in nearly every healthcare setting. Hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, public health centers, and hospice care are also common work settings for nurse educators.

    Although there are many opportunities for nurse educators, here are some specific responsibilities you might have in more common settings.

    • minusMedical Center/Hospital

      Nurse educators staff professional development, mentor nurses, participate in peer review committees, manage grant proposals, and advise leadership and staff. In acute care, they may collaborate with quality improvement departments to ensure the highest quality of care.

    • minusCollege/University

      Nurse educators lecture, act as a clinical supervisor, develop curriculum, serve on committees, and advise students.

    • minusBusinesses

      Nurse educators coach wellness and health seminars, lead CPR, first aid, and similar programs, and instruct continuing education and professional development classes.

    Why Become a Nurse Educator?

    Becoming a nurse educator is not right for everyone. Although many people thrive in roles providing education and training for new nurses, others would rather provide bedside care. As you explore your options, consider the following pros and cons and whether it is the right choice for you.

    Advantages to Becoming a Nurse Educator

    • check-circleRange of employment options, from colleges to medical centers
    • check-circlePersonal satisfaction of training new nurses
    • check-circleStructured work schedule with some flexibility
    • check-circleCan be less stressful than bedside/clinical nursing

    Disadvantages to Becoming a Nurse Educator

    • x-circlePotential for low pay with adjunct or part-time teaching positions
    • x-circleIndustry changes can make curriculum development challenging
    • x-circleStrict education requirements to enter the field

    How to Become a Nurse Educator

    Graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

    While you can also earn an associate degree in nursing, a bachelor’s degree is preferred by many employers for entry-level nurses. Additionally, a BSN is eventually needed to pursue a graduate degree.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure

    Once you have earned a degree, apply to take the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs, or NCLEX-RN, test. You will need to submit documentation to your state’s Board of Nursing to receive authorization to test.

    Gain registered nursing experience

    Some master of science in nursing (MSN) and doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs that prepare nurse educators require clinical nursing experience for admission. Admission is typically limited to working nurses, and clinical experience is necessary for employment after earning your degree.

    Apply to an accredited master’s or doctoral program in nursing education

    Explore MSN or DNP program options. Many schools offer these degrees with a concentration or major in nursing education.

    Graduate from an MSN, a DNP, or doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in nursing or education program

    Congratulations! You have finished your degree. You can now gain experience in nursing education by teaching courses, lecturing, or leading clinical groups. If you would like to work in academia, earning a Ph.D. in nursing or education (an option as long as you have an MSN) might be preferred since the academic setting is focused more on research.

    Apply to become a certified nurse educator (CNE)

    The CNE certification is not required but is preferred by many employers. If you have an MSN or a DNP in nursing education and an active nursing license, you can apply to take the certification exam without meeting the experience requirement. Otherwise, two years of employment is required.

    How Much Do Nurse Educators Make?

    Nurse educators earn higher-than-average salaries; those working in major metropolitan medical centers and hospitals are the highest paid with average annual salaries of $119,050. The Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metro region is the top-paying metro area for nurse educators with average salaries more than $20,000 higher than the next highest-paying area in Boston-Cambridge-Nashua.

    Colleges and universities, including junior or community colleges, are the lowest paying employers for nurse educators. Nurses teaching at junior colleges earn an average of $75,190 annually, whereas colleges and universities pay slightly better with an average salary of $84,320. Note that these salary figures are for full-time employment; many nurse educators work part time as instructors or adjunct faculty and are paid per course or per credit.

    Top Paying States for Nurse Educators
    Top-Paying StatesAverage SalaryTotal Number of Nurse Educators
    District of Columbia$111,940130
    New York$98,8505,100
    Source: BLS
    Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Educators
    Top-Paying StatesAverage SalaryTotal Number of Nurse Educators
    Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida$145,9902,140
    Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, Massachusetts-New Hampshire$120,0401,470
    Savannah, Georgia$117,61060
    Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California$112,4001,630
    San Diego-Carlsbad, California$111,970260
    Source: BLS
    Top Paying Industries for Nurse Educators
    IndustryAverage Salary
    General Medical and Surgical Hospitals$119,050
    Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals$95,430
    Business Schools and Computer and Management Training$90,080
    Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools$84,320
    Junior Colleges$75,190
    Source: BLS

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How long does it take to become a nurse educator?

    The time required to become a nurse educator varies depending on your current degree. Nurse educators must have an MSN, which can be earned in as few as two years if you have a BSN. For RNs without a BSN, earning a master’s degree can take up to four years or longer.

    Are nurse educators in demand?

    The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that nurse educators are in demand to the point where prospective nursing students are being turned away because there are not enough instructors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a higher-than-average increase in demand as well; between 2019 and 2029, demand is projected to increase by 9% for all postsecondary educators.

    Should nurse educators earn their DNP?

    Although earning a DNP is not a current requirement for a nurse educator, the National League for Nursing supports doctoral preparation for nurse educators. The NLN argues that educators with a DNP are well positioned to advance nursing education and respond to the changing healthcare landscape and demands on nurses. Also, while a doctoral degree is not a requirement to teach at the undergraduate level, it is most often required to teach at the master’s level or above, and in many academic institutions, to become a tenured professor or an administrative leader within a nursing school.

    How can I gain experience in nursing education?

    Nurses with the appropriate credentials, including an MSN and at least two years of clinical experience, can apply to teach as adjunct faculty in nursing programs, serve as guest lecturers, or lead clinical groups in a hospital setting. Many nurse educators begin their careers by teaching part time to determine whether it is a good fit before seeking certification and full-time employment. Check with your state’s Board of Nursing about nurse educator requirements, especially in the academic setting.

    Resources for Nurse Educators

    • National League for Nursing

      The NLN is the leading professional organization for nurse educators. They issue the CNE certification and provide a range of professional development opportunities, grants, and teaching resources. Anyone interested in supporting excellence in nursing education can join.
    • American Association of Colleges of Nursing

      AACN is a professional organization committed to excellence in nursing education. They establish quality standards for nursing instruction and support efforts to improve healthcare. Membership is limited to institutions; students at member schools have access to benefits including scholarships along with professional development and networking opportunities.
    • Sigma Theta Tau

      Sigma is an international honor society committed to the development of nurse leaders and improving healthcare worldwide. Membership is by invitation and extended to bachelors- and masters-level nursing students and nurse educators who demonstrate excellence in scholarship and nursing practice. Members enjoy professional education and development opportunities, networking, and access to grants.
    • Professional Nurse Educator Group

      PNEG is a virtual network of nurses dedicated to lifelong learning. Any nurse educator can join and participate in collaborative conversations to share ideas and foster community among nurse educators. The group also hosts an annual conference and recognizes individuals who represent excellence in the field.

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    Portrait of Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

    Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

    Brandy Gleason is a nursing professional with nearly twenty years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

    Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.

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