The demand for quality nurses is growing steadily as the general population ages and an increasing number of nurses approach retirement age. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job opportunities for nurses will grow by 15% by the year 2026, which is more than double the average rate for all occupations. This high level of growth in the field will make the role of competent nurse educators even more crucial well into the foreseeable future.
Becoming a nurse educator requires at least a master’s in nursing education, or more specifically, a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a nurse education focus. Each school offers a somewhat different curriculum, but all programs include a blend of courses covering advanced nursing practice and courses related to the principles, practices, and strategies of teaching and learning. Because teaching involves more than simply transferring information and demonstrating practices, some programs require students to take a course in statistical analysis so that nurse educators can clearly assess the impact of their instruction on new and practicing nurses.
MSN programs offer enough variety in content and format to accommodate the needs and interests of anyone desiring to become a nurse educator in either a clinical or academic setting.
What Degree Is Needed to Be a Nurse Educator?
Effective nurse educators must communicate very well, both orally and in written formats. The job also requires creativity and excellent critical thinking skills, which enable the educator to share their expertise with new and established nurses.
With respect to formal nurse education requirements, prospective nurse educators need to earn at least an MSN. Those pursuing a tenure track teaching position in a college or university must earn a doctorate in either nursing philosophy or nursing practice. However, an MSN suffices for nearly all clinical roles, as well as some lower academic positions. Many online programs provide flexible options for working nurses to earn an MSN.
Furthermore, becoming a certified nurse educator requires a solid clinical background as a full-time licensed registered nurse (RN). Most nurse education programs require at least three years of clinical experience. Those seeking certification must successfully pass the certified nurse educator (CNE) exam.
What Does a Nurse Educator Do?
- Nurse Educator: Also referred to as a nursing professional development specialist, nurse educators oversee the continuing education and evaluation of the nursing staff and related caregivers. This role often includes policy review and revision, as well as development of training priorities and materials. Some nurse educators teach nursing students in colleges and universities.
- Staff Development Coordinator: A nurse staff development coordinator develops and implements education and training in the nursing care department. The coordinator usually participates in the hiring process, initial training, and onboarding of new nursing care staff, as well as any required performance remediation work.
- Clinical Educator: Clinical educators focus on building their students’ proficiency in clinical knowledge, often in a specialized field. Some clinical educators provide training to groups other than nurses, such as clinicians-in-training, insurance personnel, and public healthcare workers. Others may occasionally provide information to patients and their home health caregivers.
- Registered Nurse: RNs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, medical clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and senior centers. They assess patient health problems in order to implement effective care plans. RNs administer care to patients while providing advice on health maintenance and disease prevention.
Common Employers for Professionals with an MSN in Nursing Education
Hospitals: Hospitals employ nurse educators in a variety of specialties, including oncology, critical care, and the emergency room. Effective patient care within those specialties requires a well-trained nursing staff with compassionate and highly skilled RNs as the foundation. A master’s in nursing education enables graduates to serve as professional development specialists who continually improve the quality of nursing care in the hospital.
Long-Term Care Clinics: Despite some similarities to acute care hospitals, long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, require a somewhat different skill set from the nursing staff. Nurses with an MSN in nursing education often pursue roles as staff development coordinators, clinical educators, or a combination thereof, depending on the size of the clinic.
Colleges and Universities: RNs with solid clinical expertise and a passion for teaching often find that their master’s in nursing education opens up opportunities to train the next generation of nurses through the junior college or university setting. However, academic positions, such as associate or full professor require a doctoral degree.
Salaries for Professionals with an MSN in Nurse Education
Salary Potential for an MSN in Nurse Education
|Entry-Level (0-5 Years)||Mid-Career (5-10 Years)||Experienced (10-20 Years)||Late-Career (20+ Years)|
|Staff Development Coordinator||$55,000||$55,000||$60,000||$62,000|
Is an Online Master’s in Nursing Education Right for Me?
Nurse educators blend a foundation of clinical expertise with a passion for teaching new and established nurses to successfully meet the existing and emerging challenges in the field of nursing. Acting as both advisers and role models, nurse educators must possess effective leadership, creativity, and critical thinking skills.
While specific responsibilities vary depending on whether the nurse educator works predominantly in a clinical or academic setting, all nurse educators devote themselves to instructional design, delivery, and evaluation. Within hospitals, nurse educators monitor clinical hours of their students. In all settings, nurse educators mentor their students in their careers, which requires a foundation of trust and accountability.
Getting Your Degree Online
To meet the need to train a growing cadre of nurse educators, colleges and universities now offer a variety of online programs to help busy nurses earn a master’s in nursing education. Consider these advantages to earning your degree online:
- Accessibility: With little more than a computer and a reliable internet connection, students can access online lectures and related coursework from anywhere. Earning an online degree negates the need to travel to campus, thus saving time and money. Students can pursue their degree from home, a library, or a favorite coffee shop.
- Flexibility: Most colleges and universities offer their online programs asynchronously, which means that students do not need to be logged in at a specific time each day to view course lectures. Furthermore, some programs provide three or more starting dates per year. Finally, students may pursue their degree full time or part time.
- School options: Online education renders geographical constraints meaningless. Online students enjoy much greater liberty in selecting a school and program that is best suited to their professional goals, without the limitations of which schools are nearby.
- Diversity: Online programs typically attract a more diverse student and faculty mix than many residential programs can offer. Expanded diversity usually leads to more enriching and valuable discussions and networking opportunities. Such exposure can help students sharpen their thinking while expanding their own views of the nursing profession.
- Technology: Online students access their coursework through a virtual learning environment or learning management system. These systems allow students to access everything they need for their course, such as the syllabus, course materials, and exams. Students can also access university resources, such as the library, financial aid office, and even tutoring. Virtual learning environments also allow students to interact directly with instructors and collectively with instructors and fellow students through discussion boards.
What Is Required Before Enrolling in an Online Nurse Educator Program?
Most people enrolling in a master’s in nursing education program have earned their bachelor of science in nursing and worked successfully for several years as an actively licensed RN. However, because of the high demand for new nursing professionals, some schools conditionally admit applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a field related to health or science.
Beyond the undergraduate degree, typical nurse education requirements include an active RN license, several years of successful clinical experience, and several letters of recommendation. Some programs also require applicants to submit GRE scores, though some schools waive this requirement for those with a certain undergraduate GPA.
What to Expect from an Online Master’s in Nursing Education Program
About the Program
The typical online master’s in nursing education takes about two years for a full-time student to complete. Some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in 12 to 15 months. Most schools allow part-time students to take up to four years to complete the program, while some schools permit up to six years. Programs vary in their credit requirements, with most programs built on a course of study ranging from 36 to 42 credits.
Nurse educators work in a variety of settings, including long-term care facilities, clinics, hospitals, colleges, and universities. Nurse educators can also teach in a range of specialties. Some online programs allow students to specialize in a certain clinical area, helping them prepare for their chosen career path. Regardless of the program’s focus, all online MSN education programs prepare students for successful performance on the CNE exam.
Typical Curriculum for an Online MSN in Nursing Education
Most MSN in nursing education programs require students to take a course in applied statistics prior to admission. Those entering the program without the statistics course must take it during their first term. Other core MSN classes address ethics in healthcare, research methods, healthcare law and policy, and contemporary issues in healthcare.
Nurse educators also complete a set of specialization courses, such as foundations of nursing education, the role of the nurse educator, teaching and active learning strategies, and curriculum design and evaluation. Some schools include a class addressing the role of technology in nursing education. Many programs also include one or more electives within a clinical speciality. During the last year of the program, students must complete a practicum, which may or may not involve a capstone project. The practicum usually involves about six credits worth of work.
Graduates from an online MSN in nursing education leave the program with a greater awareness and understanding of the current state and emerging trends of the nursing profession. Having developed ties with a network of nurse educators, they can leverage their skills and passion to better equip new and established nurses in their chosen workplace and specialty area.