Graduates Can Serve as Educators for The Next Generation of Nurses

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Nurse educator teaching students during lesson.

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. The experience, insight and knowledge they impart ensures the next generation of 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.

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. Examining the job description, degree requirements and the average nurse educator salary may help you plan. Let’s look at those areas and how earning an online doctor of nursing practice (DNP) can help you 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 nurse educator include:

  • 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.

What skills do nurse educators need?

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.

Are nurse educators in demand?

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 2018-2019 survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), U.S. nursing schools rejected more than 75,000 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.

What’s the average nurse educator salary?

The salary range for nurse educators is a bit difficult to pinpoint because there is no U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data kept for the role specifically. However, a number of salary and jobs sites collect self-reported information that can help determine the average salaries nurse educators could expect.

Overall, salaries for nurse educators vary widely. Job experience and education level will determine what salary you see, as will your contract type.

However, estimated salaries for nurse educators nationally fall between $72,000 and $90,000. On the lower end of that range were ZipRecruter and PayScale. The latter said the reported average educator salary in 2019 was $74,926, while the former said it was $75,233. At the top end of the range, Glassdoor data found the national annual salaries for clinical nurse educators in 2019 averaged $86,809. Indeed came up with a similar number, calculating the average base salary at $88,483. Neuvoo, another jobs board, said the best-paying states for nurse educators were:

  • California
  • Maryland
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Washington

One outlier for salary range data was The site measured annual average pay for training and clinical educators at $120,294.

Where do nurse educators work?

A number of factors will affect what salary numbers nurse educators see. Years of experience  and skill level are two main aspects, and the work environment is another important one. This relates to both the geographic need of the area, as well as the institutional demand for nurse educators. Some of the most common employers of nurse educators include:

  • 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

Is a DNP or Ph.D. the best degree for nurse educators?

Nurse educators need at least a master’s degree to work and become certified. However, many consider earning a doctorate. This degree can provide educators with the highest level of skill, insight, experience and knowledge. The decision comes down to two choices: the doctor of nursing practice or the Ph.D. in nursing.

Many may lean toward the Ph.D. because they associate it with education and academia, but 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.

Earn you DNP online from Bradley

Earning a DNP can help nurse educators advance their careers, open new doors and even increase their earning potential. If you’re interested in completing a doctoral degree, consider Bradley’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. Interested in learning more? Contact an enrollment advisor today.

Recommended reading:

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

What is a DNP Degree?


National League for Nursing

American Association of Colleges of Nursing