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How to Become a Nurse Educator

NurseJournal Staff
Updated February 26, 2024
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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average earning potential$82,040U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators are responsible for preparing incoming nurses or training current nurses on new and advanced nursing practices. Most work at academic institutions or acute care hospitals where they work directly with nurses rather than patients.

The role of preparing the next generation of nurses, training them to care for the health of others, makes nurse educators a significant part of the healthcare community. With the differentcareer options available to nurse educators, this role is a worthwhile option for nurses interested in having an educational impact on the future of nursing.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Educator

There are various steps necessary for those interested in becoming a nurse educator. While specific criteria regarding licensure and experience may differ depending on the location, the basic requirements remain similar from one place to the next.

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

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 attending class as a full-time student. Nurses who have earned their 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 a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field. An accelerated program can take up to 18 months to complete when taking classes full time.

Pass the NCLEX exam

After completing a BSN program, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Exam for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to be eligible to apply for an RN license. The exam tests a nurse’s 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.

Gain nursing experience

After earning their RN license, nurses typically are required to gain nursing experience before being accepted into a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice program (DNP).

An advanced degree is required to become a nurse educator.

Enroll in a nursing graduate program

Nurse educators need to have a minimum of an MSN; however, some choose to earn their DNP. Earning a DNP provides nurses with additional opportunities, such as leading clinical studies, becoming a professor at more prestigious institutions, and being eligible to review colleagues

Earn a specialty certification and/or Ph.D.

Nurse educators need to have a minimum of an MSN. But some earn their DNP or doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.). Earning a DNP or Ph.D. provides nurses with additional opportunities for career advancement.

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; instructional nurse educators teach in academic settings. Staff development nurses provide training for new staff members in various healthcare settings.

Earn Specialty Certification

After completing their graduate program, nurses should complete the certification for nurse educators (CNE) exam or the academic clinical nurse educator certification (CNEcl) exam. Nurses interested in academic positions should take the CNE, while those who wish to work in a clinical setting would take the CNEcl.

While certification is not required, it is recommended.
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Nurse Educator Schooling

After deciding to become a nurse educator, the program’s length depends on the nurse’s educational background and experience. The pathway for someone who has yet to earn a college degree differs from an individual who has experience working in the nursing field. Ultimately, prospective nurse educators need to fulfill the following academic requirements.

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 the appropriate degree: complete a four-year BSN program, an ADN-to-BSN program, or an accelerated BSN program.

Upon completion, students must then pass the NCLEX and get their RN license.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    BSN programs typically require students to have a GPA no lower than 2.75, prior coursework in science-related classes, references, a personal statement, and volunteer experiences.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    While the curriculum varies from one institution to the next, most schools require courses in anatomy, physiology, psychology, and statistics. Nutrition, pharmacology, nursing assessment, and nursing theory and research are also included. Students must also complete clinical hours, which can range between 300-700 hours depending on the program.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    The typical BSN program takes four years to complete when enrolled as a full-time student. Those who have already earned an ADN, which typically takes two years, can then earn their BSN within 1-2 years depending on the previous program and transfer credits for nurses.

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    With a BSN, nurses have mastered technical and soft skills for nurses. Professionally, they can assess patients, manage acute care situations, and plan treatment. They also perform diagnostic tests and administer medication. Nurse educators learn how to communicate with patients, empathize, manage their time, display cultural competence for nursing, and work as a team.

MSN Degree

After completing a BSN program, most nurses spend their time as an RN not only to gain experience but to become eligible to apply to earn an MSN. The minimum of an MSN is required to become a nurse educator. While nurses can also choose to earn their DNP, an MSN can be completed in less time.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirement

    An MSN program typically requires the following: BSN from an accredited academic institution, undergraduate GPA no lower than 3.0, transcripts, recommendation letters, personal statement, and an unencumbered RN license.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    MSN programs for nurse educators typically include nursing 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 also have guided experience in nursing education settings.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    MSN programs can range between 2-3 years for students who complete the program on a full-time basis. It may take longer than three years for part-time students.

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    While attaining advanced knowledge of healthcare practices is a significant portion of any MSN program, nurse educators are also taught the best ways to communicate that knowledge, develop curriculum that benefits students, best practices and techniques to foster learning, and how to assess student development.

Doctor of Nursing Practice

RNs interested in becoming nurse educators can choose to complete a DNP program. While the minimum for a nurse educator is an MSN, earning a DNP provides various benefits. They can gain employment at research universities, conduct and lead clinical studies, and gain access to funding for research.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    Most institutions require DNP applicants to have an unencumbered RN license and either a BSN or an MSN from an accredited college or university. Some schools prefer their applicants to hold an MSN. They also require an undergraduate/graduate GPA no lower than 3.0, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    DNP program curriculum for nurse educators focuses on techniques such as best practices when conducting research and advanced clinical study. DNP candidates also focus on learning more about pedagogy, curriculum development, and student assessment, so they can effectively convey their clinical knowledge to nursing students.

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    DNP programs in nursing education typically take two years for full-time students to complete, with part-time students finishing in around three years.

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Upon completion of a DNP program, graduates should have a firm grasp of 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 effectively communicating and collaborating.

Nurse Educator Credentials

There are two main types of credentials available to nurse educators: CNE and CNEcl. The exams used to award both certifications verify the test-taker’s competency in nursing education.

Passing either the CNE or CNEcl exam is not mandatory for state licensure. Students earn certification in the area that matches their graduate education: certified nurse educator or certified academic clinical nurse educator.


  • The CNE certification is for nurses interested in academic positions, while the CNEcl is for those 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 certificates every five years based on the certificate’s expiration date. To renew, nurses must have an unencumbered nursing license, two or more years of employment as a nurse educator, and participate in professional development opportunities.


  • Nurse educators are required to have an unencumbered RN license in their state of employment.
  • Nurses earn their RN license by completing either an ADN, a BSN, or an MSN program, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and submitting an application to the state. Nurse educators specifically must have an MSN along with the RN license.
  • While specific requirements may vary from state to state, nurses usually have to renew their license every two years. Most states require nurses to have completed at least 30 continuing education hours for nurses within those two years.

Working as a Nurse Educator

Nurse educators benefit from having access to jobs in various settings, including colleges and universities, medical and surgical hospitals, and businesses. A nurse educator career can provide professional flexibility. With an average salary of $82,040 and a positive job outlook, there are many beneficial settings for nurse educators.

  1. 1

    Colleges and Universities

    Nurse educators who work in colleges and universities train and prepare new nurses to work in healthcare. They are responsible for developing curriculum, teaching, advising, mentoring, and conducting research. The nurse educator’s main task is to provide students with the technical skills necessary to become skilled nurses.

  2. 2

    Medical and surgical hospitals

    Clinical nurse educators who work in a hospital setting assist the nursing staff in maintaining their competencies, and they advance nursing practices by educating staff. They serve as clinical tutors, examining the skills of new nurses. They also work with quality departments and administration to identify learning gaps. Based on those gaps, they carry out education to improve care and enhance patient outcomes.

  3. 3

    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.

Becoming a Nurse Educator: FAQ

question-mark-circleHow long does it take to become a nurse educator?

The length of time it takes to become a nurse educator depends upon the path you take. Nurse educators must have a BSN and an MSN. BSN programs take an average of four years to complete, while MSN programs take two. Therefore, with a four-year BSN program and a two-year MSN program, the process takes an average of six years of schooling.

question-mark-circleIs becoming a nurse educator worth it?

After making it through the entire process, nurse educators can earn a higher average salary compensation, work in a less stressful environment, and train the future of healthcare. Nurse educators also have the luxury of choosing from various settings, including hospitals, schools, or even at home, providing flexibility many in the nursing field do not experience.

question-mark-circleWhat are the qualifications to be a nurse educator?

Those interested in becoming a nurse educator must have a minimum of an MSN, though some choose to earn their DNP or Ph.D. Nurses are advised to complete the certification exam offered by the NLN.

question-mark-circleWhat is the CNE exam?

The CNE exam shows that nurse educators have a set of proficiencies laid out by the NLN. The exam itself determines if the nurse can facilitate learning, understand the development of learners, and use assessment and evaluation strategies.

Page last reviewed March 2, 2022

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