According to a 2016 article in The Atlantic, nurses represent the largest professional workforce. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that there were 2,751,000 registered nurses working across the country in 2014. This number is expected to increase by nearly half a million by 2024.
To continue to ensure that these new care team members are properly educated, there is also a large demand for nursing educators. These individuals educate new nurses to ensure that staffing levels remain adequate as more seasoned professionals retire.
If you currently work in nursing and enjoy mentoring and cultivating others’ careers, transitioning to a more formal role in nursing education may be the right choice for your career trajectory. With a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, you can train the future generation of health care professionals as a nurse educator.
Recognizing the importance of nurse educators
You likely are familiar with the value of a dedicated teacher. After all, nurse educators are the people who educated you for your own career. Whether you are currently a registered nurse or hold a higher degree, a number of faculty worked to give you the knowledge and skills required to succeed in the field.
Nurse educators are critical for ensuring the future of the nursing profession. Without qualified professionals to pass on the existing body of knowledge and continue to press the boundaries, health care teams would not be able to continue to provide quality care for patients.
Nurse educators play an important part in educating aspiring nurses at every academic and professional level, with responsibilities that include the following:
- Teaching: A nurse educator’s primary duty is to teach students. This education may take place in a variety of settings, including both academic and clinical environments. Some nurse educators also help design and implement academic programs.
- Supervising: Nurse educators often are called on to supervise the hands-on portion of education, such as clinical rounds, where students implement the skills they have been learning.
- Mentoring: Nurse educators do more than simply instruct their students. They set an example as mentors to the next generation of nurses, which may involve providing career advice and helping with networking.
- Researching: While not every position involves research, it is often a responsibility of nursing faculty, particularly at research hospitals or institutions. Nurse educators in these roles work to advance the existing body of scientific knowledge while educating new nurses.
Although some nurses continue to practice in a clinical setting while teaching, others retire from that aspect of their career to focus completely on teaching and possibly research. The hours and responsibilities required can vary largely by position and institution.
Nursing faculty are incredibly important for the industry’s future, but finding qualified candidates to replace professionals who retire can be challenging due to the additional education required. For some schools, this issue is resulting in an educator shortage and increasing student-to-faculty ratios.
“As those numbers [of nurse educators] drop, schools have to maintain critical student-to-teacher ratios,” Pam Cipriano, president of the American Nurses Association, told The Atlantic. “Preparation for most nurse faculty is a doctoral degree, and you can’t just replace someone in that position. The trajectory of timeline to fill jobs that nursing faculty are retiring from is much longer.”
Nurses who have completed — or are completing — a DNP degree are well-placed to meet this need and instruct new nurses.
Beginning a career as a nurse educator
To begin a career educating nurses, you will need to start by gaining clinical experience in order to properly instruct students in clinical best practices. Many nurse educators have spent decades working in the field, though that extent of experience is not generally a requirement.
While working in the clinical setting, you simultaneously should be developing the traits that you will need to excel as a nurse educator, many of which also aid in providing patient care. The qualities of a good nurse educator include the following:
- Creativity: When you work with students, you quickly will discover that there is no one-style-fits-all solution. Knowing how to tweak your curriculum to best educate your students will make you a more effective teacher.
- Patience: To instruct your students well, you may need to go over the same material multiple times. Consequently, you will need to develop patience, a quality that likely serves you well in patient care, as well.
- Dedication: Though you work in a teaching position, you need to be a lifelong learner to excel as a nurse educator, which requires extreme dedication to your field and your own learning. Continuing to stay abreast of new developments will help you provide the best possible education to your students.
- Enthusiasm: Part of teaching is inspiring the next generation, which you can accomplish by showing your students enthusiasm for your field and the patients for whom you care. That kind of energy is contagious.
Once you have clinical experience, your next step is to ensure that you have the proper educational credentials. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) qualifies candidates for some teaching roles, and other positions require a DNP degree. Earning the higher degree will leave your options open and help you to qualify for as many positions as possible.
Though it is not required, you additionally have the option of taking the National League for Nursing’s Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) examination. To be eligible to take the test, you must be licensed to practice as a nurse in the state in which you wish to work and meet one of the following educational qualifications:
- A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing education.
- A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and a nursing education post-master’s certificate.
- A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and at least nine graduate-level education credit hours.
In addition to being a fulfilling career option, working as a nurse educator also may be rewarding financially. According to the job and salary website Payscale, the median annual salary of a nurse educator in the U.S. is $72,290. However, there is the potential to earn even more, with the top 10 percent of salaries approaching six figures. The exact number will vary with your experience, education and other qualifications.
If you are interested in pursuing a career as a nurse educator, consider enrolling in Bradley University’s online DNP program. The leadership emphasis will help to prepare you to educating the next generation of nurses, ensuring quality patient care across the country.
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