How to Become Nurse Educator

Ayana Dunn, RN
Updated May 2, 2024
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Examine the role of a nurse educator, the steps needed for proper certification, and the opportunities available for those who pursue the specialization.
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A nurse educator has trained every nurse you meet. These healthcare professionals instruct nurses at all levels of schooling in classroom and clinical settings. They work with other nurses instead of patients.

Are you exploring ways to become a nurse educator? Learn about schooling requirements, credentials, what to expect from work, and other aspects of this career path.

How Long to Become

2-6 Years

Degree Required


Job Outlook

18% Growth from 2022-2032

Popular Online MSN Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

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What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators play a significant part in the healthcare community. They work in academic institutions to prepare incoming nurses and advanced practice nurses. Some nurse educators work in hospitals to train current nurses on new and advanced nursing practices or provide continuing education programs.

With the different career options available to nurse educators, this role is a worthwhile option for nurses interested in making an educational impact on the future of nursing.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Educator

Becoming a nurse educator requires several steps. While specific criteria regarding licensure and experience may differ depending on the location, the basic requirements are similar.

Before becoming an educator, nurses need to fulfill academic and professional experience requirements. An advanced nursing degree, work experience as a registered nurse (RN), an active RN license, and certification are all required for those interested in becoming nurse educators.

  1. 1

    Earn a BSN Degree

    The first step in becoming a nurse educator is earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). A typical BSN program takes four years to complete if you take classes full time. Nurses with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program, which takes 1-2 years to complete.

    Accelerated BSN programs are available for those with bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing fields. An accelerated program can take up to 18 months of full-time enrollment.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX-RN

    After completing a BSN program, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to qualify for RN licensure. The exam tests nurses’ ability to apply their knowledge by analyzing healthcare scenarios. It consists of four parts: safety and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity.

  3. 3

    Gain Nursing Experience

    After earning RN licenses, nurses must gain nursing experience before applying to master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) programs. Nursing experience allows you to master fundamental nursing abilities, develop critical thinking skills, and apply what you learned in nursing school to real-world situations.

    This experience helps you advise incoming nurses as they learn to provide patient care. An advanced degree is required to become a nurse educator.

  4. 4

    Enroll In A Nursing Graduate Program

    A nurse educator needs a minimum of an MSN. However, many openings in nursing education require or prefer applicants to possess DNP degrees. Earning a DNP can provide additional opportunities, such as leading clinical studies, becoming a professor at more prestigious institutions, teaching at the MSN level, and being eligible to review colleagues.

    When enrolling in a graduate program, nurses will determine the educational role they want to pursue. These include clinical, instructional, and developmental.

    Clinical nurse educators work with nursing students in a hands-on capacity, while instructional nurse educators teach in academic settings. Staff development nurses provide training for new staff members in various healthcare settings.

  5. 5

    Earn Specialty Certification

    After completing graduate programs, nurses should complete the Certification For Nurse Educators (CNE) or the Academic Clinical Nurse Educator Certification (CNEcl) exams. Nurses interested in academic positions should take the CNE. Individuals looking to work in clinical settings take the CNEcl. While certification is not required, it is recommended.

Nurse Educator Schooling

At a minimum, a nurse educator must earn a master’s degree in nursing, which often requires a BSN. There are different schooling options for aspiring nurse educators that fit their unique needs. Let’s explore the following degree types.

BSN Degree

Before becoming a nurse educator, nurses must earn their BSN. Most graduate programs require this level of education for admittance. There are three ways to earn a BSN: a four-year BSN program, an ADN-to-BSN program, or an accelerated BSN program.

Upon completion, students must pass the NCLEX and earn RN licensure.

  • Admission Requirements: BSN programs typically require each candidate to have a 2.75 GPA, prior math and science coursework, references, a personal statement, and volunteer experiences.
  • Program Curriculum: While curricula vary among institutions, most schools require courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology, statistics, nutrition, pharmacology, nursing assessment, and nursing theory and research. Students must also complete clinical hours, which can range from 400-1000 hours depending on state requirements.
  • Time to Complete: The typical BSN program takes four years to complete when enrolled as a full-time student. Those who have already earned ADNs, which typically take two years, can then earn BSNs in 1-2 years, depending on the previous program and transfer credits for nurses.
  • Skills Learned: With a BSN, enrollees can master technical and soft skills for nurses. Professionally, A BSN teaches graduates to master nursing skills such as assessing patients, managing acute care situations, performing diagnostic tests, administering medication, communicating with patients, providing culturally competent care, and working as a team.

MSN Degree

Earning an MSN demonstrates your clinical experience and knowledge to employers beyond what’s offered in a BSN program. Clinical experience helps educators describe the practical applications of classwork, and graduating from master’s programs allows them to share in-depth knowledge unique to their specialties.

  • Admission Requirements: An MSN program typically requires a BSN from an accredited program and institution, a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, transcripts, recommendation letters, a personal statement, and an unencumbered RN license.
  • Program Curriculum: MSN programs for nurse educators typically include courses in advanced pharmacology, health assessment, pathophysiology, and population health. Programs also include classes specific to teaching and education, like the foundations of nursing education, teaching and learning methods, curriculum design, and assessment strategies. Students participate in guided experiences in nursing education settings and a clinical practicum.
  • Time to Complete: MSN programs take 2-3 years for full-time students, while part-time enrollment will likely extend this timeline beyond three years.
  • Skills Learned: Nurse educators learn advanced healthcare practice knowledge, the best ways to communicate that knowledge, and best practices to foster learning. They also learn to develop effective curricula and assess student development.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

Although having a DNP is optional, many nurse educator positions require this level of schooling. Earning a DNP allows you to deepen your knowledge, fill a niche nursing area, and pursue higher career positions. This unique perspective is invaluable to nursing students.

  • Admission Requirements: Most institutions require DNP applicants to have an unencumbered RN license and an MSN from an accredited college or university. Some schools accept applicants with only a BSN. They also require a GPA of at least 3.0 in all undergraduate and graduate coursework, along with transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.
  • Program Curriculum: DNP candidates learn more about research methods, advanced clinical study, pedagogy, curriculum development, and student assessment. They use this knowledge to convey their clinical knowledge to nursing students.
  • Time to Complete: DNP programs in nursing education typically take two years for full-time students to complete, though it depends on the school and program type. Part-time students finish in three or more years.
  • Skills Learned: Upon completion of a DNP, graduates can understand the principles of adult learning, implementation of curriculum, assessment and evaluation practices, and management and leadership abilities. Graduates dedicate themselves to a strict code of ethics while communicating and collaborating.

Nurse Educator Credentials

A nurse educator needs an MSN and an unencumbered RN license in all the states where they serve as clinical instructors. Nurse educators who teach in the classroom may only need licensure in the state where the program is based.

Certifications such as CNE or CNEcl exam are not mandatory for state licensure. Both the exams used to award these certifications verify the test-taker’s competency in nursing education.


  • Nurse educators specifically must have an MSN along with an unencumbered RN license in all the states that they teach.
  • Nurses earn their RN license by completing either an ADN, a BSN, or an MSN program, submitting a state licensure application, and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • While specific requirements may vary from state to state, nurses usually have to renew their licenses every two years. States require professionals to complete 3-40 continuing education hours for nurses within those two years, depending on the state.


  • The CNE certification is for nurses interested in academic positions, while the CNEcl suits individuals considering clinical roles.
  • While not required, the CNE and CNEcl certificates demonstrate a nurse’s qualifications.
  • The National League for Nursing (NLN) awards CNE and CNEcl certificates to graduates who pass the exam.
  • Nurses must renew their certifications every five years. A nurse must have an unencumbered nursing license, two or more years of employment as a nurse educator, and participate in professional development opportunities for renewal.

Working as a Nurse Educator

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18% employment growth rate for nurse educators from 2022-2032 and reports a median annual salary of $80,780 for the profession as of May 2023.

Nursing educators have career flexibility because they’re qualified to teach nurses in many settings: colleges and universities, medical and surgical hospitals, and businesses.

  • Colleges and Universities: Nurse educators who work in colleges and universities train and prepare new nurses and advanced practice nurses. They can teach in the classroom or supervise student nurses in clinical settings. They develop curriculum, teach, advise, mentor, and conduct research.
  • Medical and Surgical Hospitals: Clinical nurse educators in hospital settings assist the nursing staff, serve as clinical tutors, and examine the skills of new nurses. They advance nursing practices by educating staff. Sometimes, these training programs help nurses earn continuing education to renew their licenses. They also work with quality departments and administration to identify learning gaps. Based on those gaps, they can suggest quality improvement measures, educate nurses to improve care, and enhance patient outcomes.
  • Corporate Settings: Some nurse educators find employment in the private sector. They address employee needs together with human resources. They are responsible for drug screenings, first aid, and workers’ compensation investigations.

Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Nurse Educator

Becoming a nurse educator takes at least six years of schooling. BSN degrees require four years of full-time study, and MSN programs require at least two years of full-time study. Yet, the length of time it takes to become a nurse educator depends upon the path you take. Factors that affect how long you’ll spend in school include whether you earn a DNP, take classes part time, or have applicable transfer credits.

Page last reviewed on April 25, 2024

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