The aging of the baby-boom generation and an increasing incidence of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and dementia are two factors driving the U.S. nurse shortage. The American Nurses Association predicts that there will be far more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession by 2022.
This shortage impacts not only registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and clinical nurse specialists but also nurse educators, as college and hospital nursing programs predict a shortage of instructors. As a result, nurses who want to move into leadership positions in the field have many exciting opportunities to pursue.
Nurses with a passion for clinical care and teaching, for example, may be interested in learning how to become a nurse educator.
What Does a Nurse Educator Do?
As leaders in their field, nurse educators oversee the education and training of nursing students, preparing them for careers as registered nurses. Nurse educators hold faculty positions in nursing programs at colleges or work at teaching hospitals, providing students with classroom instruction as well as clinical training. They may teach general nursing courses or specialized ones based on their area of expertise, such as gerontology, pediatrics, or women’s health.
Nurse educators design curricula based on the course objectives and learning outcomes established by the department. When courses become outdated, nurse educators help create the parameters for new ones. To that end, they must stay up to date on trends and changes in the field, including evolving policies and emerging technologies. Those who work at research universities can coordinate studies and publish their findings. They also engage in other scholarly tasks, such as reviewing the studies of their peers.
Nurse educators also help develop programs of study and serve as advisers to nursing students. Many nursing students view their instructors as mentors, gleaning wisdom from them in the classroom and applying their instruction in clinical rotations. While nurse educators don’t primarily work as clinical nurses, they observe nursing students who work directly with patients and provide feedback.
Steps to Becoming a Nurse Educator
Nurses who are interested in taking on this leadership role should understand exactly how to become a nurse educator. The following steps outline the education, experience, and skills necessary for a career in nurse education.
Step 1: Earn a BSN
Prospective nurse educators can begin their careers by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, which typically takes four years. After earning the degree, nursing students should pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed as registered nurses. To practice, registered nurses may need to meet various state requirements, such as earning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), basic life support (BLS), or advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certifications.
Step 2: Gain Experience
Once licensed, registered nurses can seek entry-level RN jobs. There were 3.1 million RN jobs in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The two largest employers of RNs were hospitals (60%) and ambulatory healthcare centers (18%).
Registered nurses gain valuable hands-on clinical experience in different medical settings and learn how to deliver quality patient care. This experience is valuable for nurses who are looking to advance their careers and become nurse educators.
Step 3: Develop Essential Skills
During an undergraduate program and while working in entry-level nursing jobs, nurses develop many essential skills that they will use throughout their entire careers. Some of the most important ones include:
- Communication. Nurses must effectively communicate with patients, patients’ families, doctors, and other nurses regularly, sometimes under stressful or hurried conditions. In the same way, nurse educators must be able to clearly and concisely convey nursing principles and best practices to their students.
- Leadership. Successful nurses develop strong leadership skills no matter their position, but those skills become even more important for nurses looking to move into advanced roles. For example, nurse educators must encourage and inspire their students, lead by example, and advocate for the curriculum that best serves students and ultimately the healthcare field.
- Clinical and technical skills. Nurses who want to become nurse educators must develop the necessary technical skills and medical knowledge. This includes staying up to date on new practices and techniques, equipment, and technologies.
- Interpersonal skills. While knowledge related to clinical nursing is important, nurse educators should also have strong interpersonal skills. As leaders inside and outside of the classroom, they should create an environment of professionalism, respect, and kindness.
Step 4: Earn an MSN
After gaining experience as a registered nurse, prospective nurse educators can pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a nurse educator concentration. These programs offer specialized courses that prepare registered nurses to take on leadership roles as instructors.
Job Outlook and Salary of Nurse Educators
Because of health trends and demographic changes, the job outlook for nurses in general is promising. The BLS projects the overall employment of advanced practice registered nurses — such as nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners, as well as nurse educators — to grow 45% between 2019 and 2029.
Although multiple factors (job location, education level, and years of experience, to name a few) influence salaries, the BLS estimates the median annual salary of nurse instructors across the country to be $74,600. The lowest 10% earn an estimated annual salary of $41,130, while the highest 10% reportedly earn as much as $133,460 per year.