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

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administrators at a conference table

There are many nursing career paths, which makes it a popular and fast-growing field. In all, employment of registered nurses is expected to increase 15% between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure is more than double the average for all occupations. Also, specific positions like nurse practitioner are expected to grow even faster in that time frame.

Qualified and skilled nurses are constantly in demand. However, given the diversity in nursing careers, it can be difficult for students to choose one pathway. Finding a specialization that aligns with personal and professional interests is always a good starting point, and some may also want to consider trending occupations within the nursing field such as nurse educator and nurse administrator. To prepare, students can earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice to ensure they have the knowledge and competencies to excel in the field. Here’s more information about nurse educators and administrators, their job responsibilities and where they work.

What is a Nurse Educator?

As the name indicates, nurse educators are professionals who teach other nurses, sometimes in the classroom and other times in the hospital unit. Nursing requires a high level of knowledge and practical skills. Nurse educators are crucial because they can use their existing academic and clinical experiences to not only teach students about sciences and nursing theory, but also help them apply and refine skills in a real-world setting.

Why Are Nurse Educators Important?

A nurse educator’s primary responsibility is to educate the future nursing workforce, ensuring they are adept and skilled enough to tackle the modern challenges of health care. This is more important than ever, as the industry deals with a continued nurse shortage. The nurse educator role is essential to the education of nurses, whether that occurs in a university setting or in a training course held at a medical facility. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), a shortage of educators is directly tied to the overall nurse shortage. Increasing the number of educators is one strategy the AACN has recommended to solve the current problems.

What Do Nurse Educators Do And Where Do They Work?

While a nurse educator’s specific responsibilities may vary based on setting and seniority, each will in some way teach or instruct fellow nurses. Other crucial duties can include:

  • Identifying, establishing and assesing learning outcomes in educational programs.
  • Developing programs for student/personnel improvement, taking time to coach on a personal level.
  • Advising students/personnel on goals and performance and helping them craft improvement plans.
  • Monitoring and documenting progress of students/personnel.
  • Collaborating with other stakeholders on lessons or guest speaking opportunities.
  • Engaging in research and contributing as an author.
  • Participating in professional organizations and giving feedback on standards.

Nurse educators can be found in several workplaces. Commonly, these include universities, hospitals and research institutions. They make also find employment in private professional practice as a consultant, or elsewhere in the education system at vocational or nursing-specific schools. Furthermore, nurse educators can work in rural health systems or mental health care clinics.

What Skills Do Nurse Educators Need?

Nurse educator roles not only demand a strong grounding in the sciences and nursing theory, but also softer skills like communication and mentorship. Nurse educators, after all, help shape students or personnel into the best professionals they can be. Accomplishing this requires a scientific approach to instruction, as well as strong interpersonal relationship skills. Some interested in nurse educator careers may want to consider earning a DNP to prepare. At Bradley, online DNP students in the leadership track can work on these areas by completing courses like Theoretical Foundations of Nursing and Leadership in Advanced Practice Nursing. To gain experience in the education field, students can also use clinical hours to work with a preceptor in an educational setting.

Who Are Nurse Administrators?

Nurse administrators are more focused on operations. In the pantheon of nurse management careers, nurse administrators often work at a higher level, sometimes acting as directors or executives in charge of system- or hospital-wide nursing departments. Such nurses may oversee budgets, staffing, performance management, policy and other mission-critical duties. Administrators at a lower managerial level may be responsible for recruiting and interviewing job applicants or scheduling workforce shifts. Any nurse administrator will assume accountability for direct charges, which is a key function of this career.

What Do Nurse Administrators Do and Where Do They Work?

No hospital or health system can consistently provide high-quality care without optimizing all the backend operations. This is where nurse administrators come in: It is their primary duty to ensure operational efficiency and effectiveness. This guiding principle often leads to nurse administrators taking on many different tasks and responsibilities, which may include:

  • Overseeing departmental finances, which may range from managing supply chain vendor relationships to patient billing
  • Monitoring the delivery of care and services, and developing initiatives to improve such delivery or patient safety
  • Collaborating with stakeholders across the managerial spectrum, whether nurse managers or board members
  • Communicating policy and procedure to staff and ensuring directives are clearly understood and enforced.
  • Maintaining compliance with state and federal laws and regulations, which may result in taking action in cases of noncompliance
  • Working with IT-focused staff to leverage data and mine insights that can identify opportunities for operational improvement

Nurse administrators work predominantly in business settings, mainly hospitals, regional health systems, private practices, long-term care facilities and outpatient or emergency care centers. However, nurse administrators can also be found in public settings, whether in government or nonprofits. Administrators may also work for nursing schools within universities.

What Skills Do Nurse Administrators Need?

Nurse administrators need a robust set of skills to carry out their major job responsibilities. For instance, managerial aptitude will draw on interpersonal skills, while budgeting savvy requires a grasp on health care economics and operational finances. Nurses who want to improve these skills may want to consider earning a DNP. In Bradley’s online program, they can gain skill and knowledge through courses like Management in Healthcare Organizations, Health Care Economics and Finance and Advanced Health Informatics.

Earn Your Degree from Bradley

Interested in becoming a nurse educator or nurse administrator? Contact an enrollment advisor at Bradley today to learn more about our online DNP program and leadership track.


Recommended Reading

Explore Your Potential Career as a Nurse Educator

What Are The Benefits of an Online DNP Education?

Bradley University Online DNP Program



Bureau of Labor Statistics – Registered Nurses

Association of American Colleges of Nursing