How to Become a Nurse Educator with a DNP

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A DNP nurse educator teaches a class of nursing students.

Registered nurses are on the front lines of care, whether they work in hospitals or rural health clinics, or specialize in delivering primary care to families or acute care to patients in the emergency room. The nursing workforce is vast and skilled, and almost every nurse who actively practices owes something to the nurse educators who helped prepare them and shape their skills.

Nurse educators are critical to the nursing world. Imparting their experience, insight and knowledge ensures that the next generation of registered nurses is highly skilled and prepared to tackle future care challenges. The importance of these clinical educators has perhaps never been more emphasized, as a shortage of skilled nurses continues to affect health care in America.

Transitioning to a more formal role in nursing education may be the right choice for those who currently work in nursing and enjoy mentoring and cultivating others’ careers. Examining the job description of a nurse educator with a DNP degree may help nurses better understand the role.  Nurses should consider how earning an online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can help them grow personally and professionally.

What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators are qualified, licensed professionals who teach nursing students. Essentially, education is the nurse’s practice area. They may work as part of a hospital staff or faculty in a nursing college. The type of classroom doesn’t necessarily matter; however, as all nurse educators need a high level of skill and a long professional track record. This academic proficiency and clinical experience are critical to effective education, whether the topic is nursing science, evidence-based practice, nursing ethics or pharmacology.

These nurses take on a number of administrative and organizational duties, reflecting their importance to overall health care. While their primary responsibility is education, nurse educators advise students, create curricula and evaluate programs. Some of the common job duties of a DNP-prepared nurse educator include the following.

  • Explaining complex nursing subject matter and ensuring student mastery
  • Supervising and supporting nurses as they make clinical rounds or perform procedures
  • Establishing learning outcomes and monitoring student progress
  • Developing and implementing curricula
  • Mentoring students on personal and professional goals and helping them craft performance improvement plans
  • Collaborating with other faculty and stakeholders on lessons or guest lectures
  • Managing budgets and department- or team-wide performance if in a leadership position
  • Engaging in research, contributing as an author or writing grant proposals
  • Participating in professional organizations and advocating nurse education standards

These job responsibilities may change depending on the years of experience the nurse educator has, the work environment and the type of nurse the educator teaches. For instance, nurse educators teaching future family nurse practitioners may have different duties than those teaching bachelor’s-level nursing students.

Nurse Educator Salary

Overall, salaries for DNP-prepared nurse educators vary widely. However, median annual salaries for nurse educators nationally fall between $56,000 and $103,000, according to the compensation website PayScale. The median annual salary for nurse educators was about $76,000, as of December 2020.

A number of factors will affect a nurse educator’s salary and contract. Years of experience, skill level and work environment are three important aspects. The work environment relates to both the geographic location as well as the institutional demand for nurse educators. Some of the most common employers of nurse educators include those listed below.

  • Universities and colleges
  • Nonprofits
  • State, local and private hospitals
  • Community centers and regional systems
  • Research institutions and policy centers
  • Private professional practice (as a consultant)
  • Vocational or nursing-specific schools
  • Rural health systems
  • Mental health care clinics

Nurse Educator Job Outlook

There is a high demand for nurse educators. However, the supply of qualified educators is not keeping up with this need, which affects the current overall nursing shortage. According to a 2019-2020 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), U.S. nursing schools rejected about 80,407 qualified applicants because of insufficient faculty numbers during the academic year.

What’s causing the educator shortage? A high rate of retiring faculty is one large factor. The AACN has identified solutions to this challenge that include new funding, state initiatives and program innovation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), states with the highest employment include: New York, Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Ohio. The job outlook is projected to grow for nurse educators across the entire country.

How to Become a Nurse Educator

The process of becoming a DNP-prepared nurse educator can take several years. While teaching may be a long-term goal for many nurses, they begin by becoming registered nurses and gaining practical experience in the field.

Nurses Educator Requirements

Prospective nurse educators should begin by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, passing the NCLEX-RN exam and becoming registered nurses. They also need a master’s degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing, to work and gain the necessary experience as advanced practice registered nurses.

After working in the field for several years as clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners, many individuals consider earning a doctorate. This degree can provide prospective educators with the highest level of skill, insight and knowledge. The decision comes down to two choices: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or the Ph.D. in nursing.

While some may lean toward the Ph.D. because they associate it with education and academia, the DNP might be better suited for educators. The Ph.D. is largely sought by nurses who work in research, while the DNP is for clinical and practice-focused nurses. Completing a DNP program may allow educators to build competency and leadership capacity for the classroom.

What skills do nurse educators need?

DNP-prepared nurse educators need diverse soft and hard skills to carry out their job duties effectively. Not only must they be clinical experts, they must also understand teaching methods, performance and program evaluation, and the role of educator as mentor.

The National League for Nursing (NLN), the main professional body for nurse educators, lists the following core competencies nursing education professionals need to possess:

  • Competency I: Facilitate Learning. Nurse educators are responsible for creating an environment in the classroom, laboratory or clinical setting that facilitates student learning and the achievement of desired educational outcomes.
  • Competency II: Facilitate Learner Development and Socialization. Nurse educators have a responsibility to help students develop as nurses by exemplifying the expected values and behaviors and integrating them into education.
  • Competency III: Use Assessment and Evaluation Strategies. Nurse educators must employ a variety of strategies to assess and evaluate student learning.
  • Competency IV: Participate in Curriculum Design and Evaluation of Program Outcomes. Nurse educators are responsible for formulating program outcomes and designing curricula that reflect health care trends and prepare graduates to excel.
  • Competency V: Function as a Change Agent and Leader. Nurse educators act as agents of change and leaders to create a desired future for nursing education, profession and practice.
  • Competency VI: Pursue Continuous Quality Improvements in the Nurse Educator Role. Nurse educators recognize their role is multidimensional and that ongoing commitment to continuing education and improvement in the role is essential.
  • Competency VII: Engage in Scholarship. Nurse educators acknowledge scholarship is integral to the role and teaching is a scholarly activity.
  • Competency VIII: Function Within the Educational Environment. Nurse educators are knowledgeable about the educational environment they practice in and recognize how political, institutional, social, cultural and economic forces impact them, their students and the quality of learning.

Earn you DNP from from Bradley University

Earning a DNP can help nurse educators advance their careers, open new doors and even increase their earning potential. If you’re interested in becoming a DNP-prepared nurse educator, consider Bradley University’s online DNP program. You can study when your personal and professional commitments allow, as well as select your own local sites and supervisors for clinical hours.

Recommended reading:

Understanding DNP vs. NP: What do the terms mean?

Which Nursing Career Is Best for You — Nurse Educator or Nurse Administrator?

What Is a DNP Degree?


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Nursing Faculty Shortage”

National League for Nursing, “Nurse Educator Core Competency”

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  Nursing Instructors and Teachers