Pursuing a career in nurse education will put you at the forefront of training the next generation of nurses. In this role, you will design and teach nursing courses, oversee your students’ clinical practice, and serve as their mentor.
You will also help to address one of the biggest challenges in health care — a shortage of nurse educators and nurses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected about 175,900 new openings each year for registered nurses (RNs) between 2019 and 2029. More than 1 million RNs are also expected to retire by 2030 in the U.S. alone.
You might wonder: How do I learn how to become a nurse educator?
Many nurse educator positions require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Pursuing higher education degrees can empower you with the skill set to navigate your career path as you’d like.
Why pursue a career in nurse education?
The nursing profession has proven resistant to automation and outsourcing. The need for nurse educators only grows as the U.S. population becomes older and in greater need of health care services. Accordingly, demand for nursing professionals remains robust, and qualified instructors — who are themselves nurses — are necessary to train them.
● In 2050, 1.5 billion people around the world will be 65 years or older, compared with only 1 in 727 million in 2020, according to the United Nations.
● Meanwhile, over half of RNs were at least 50 years old in 2018.
Historically, nurse educators have been difficult for employers to find in sufficient numbers. Key nurse educator jobs like an assistant professor and an adjunct instructor can take as many as 64 days on average to fill, as educational institutions search for the right candidates amid a limited pool of potential faculty. This is in part because many individuals may not exactly know how to become a nurse educator and start the career process.
In addition to the high demand for education positions, some other advantages of this career path include the following:
Strong growth prospects
It is projected that postsecondary health specialty teachers and nursing instructors will see an approximately 9% increase in total employment between 2019 and 2029, a growth rate that is much faster than the average for all occupations.
Flexible time commitments and career options
You may opt to work as a nurse educator in a full-time or part-time capacity. That means you can choose to make teaching your primary focus or pursue it alongside your existing clinical work. The annual demographic reports from the National League for Nursing (NLN) have shown that part-time nurse educators are relatively younger than their full-time counterparts. As your career progresses, you might reorient your time commitment to teaching or clinical practice, depending on your preferences.
Lower stress and more predictable schedules
Understanding how to become a nurse educator can give you the knowledge to pursue job opportunities and develop a work schedule that’s more comfortable than what you might have experienced as a clinical nurse. Instead of 12-hour days and overnight shifts, your hours will likely fall within a more manageable time block.
Among nurses in general, shorter hours yield a lower rate of burnout. This gives nursing professionals more stamina to provide patients with quality care. A nurse educator career may be an appealing alternative to extended shifts, whether you remain in clinical practice or pursue teaching exclusively.
Varied working environments
Nurse educators may work in or out of academia. Four-year colleges, universities, and professional schools, as well as junior colleges, are the largest employers of nurse educators. At the same time, health care providers are major employers of nursing teachers. Nurses have the option to split their time between these different working environments if they are part-time instructors.
Industry trends in nurse education
Here’s a quick look at trends in this industry, according to Burning Glass Technologies:
Growing use of simulation and online education
High-quality simulation technology can replace a portion of traditional clinical hours for nursing students. With clinical sites for nursing students often unavailable, simulators and online instruction have helped to close this gap and educate nurses in a wider range of environments.
Focusing on the faculty shortage
As more nurse educators retire and the overall demand for nurses remains robust, nursing schools have explored creative options for continuing to train enough students. One example has been increased partnerships with health care providers to let their staff nurses also teach students. Incentives for nurse educators, such as state-level loan repayment programs, have also been set up to encourage more nurses to focus on teaching.
Areas of opportunity for nurse educators
When looking into how to become a nurse educator, it's important to consider which industry or industries you'd like to work in. The industries with the highest levels of employment of nursing instructors and teachers are:
● Colleges, universities, and professional schools
● Junior colleges
● General medical and surgical hospitals
● Technical and trade schools
● Business schools and computer and management training
● Educational support services
Meanwhile, the industries with the greatest average compensation for nurse educators are:
● General medical and surgical hospitals ($119,050)
● Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals ($95,430)
● Business schools and computers and management training ($90,080)
● Colleges, universities, and professional schools ($84,320)
● Junior colleges ($75,190)
Where are the nurse educator jobs
The U.S. cities with the highest levels of nurse educator employment include a mix of the country’s largest cities and some much smaller ones, which nevertheless have high concentrations of this occupation:
● New York City ($102,270)
● Philadelphia ($83,060)
● Los Angeles ($112,400)
● Miami ($145,990)
● Chicago ($76,50)
● Boston ($120,040)
● Dallas ($59,660)
● Phoenix ($71,460)
Likewise, the states with the most employed nurse educators don’t map perfectly to a list of the most populous U.S. states, as the top five are:
● New York
Of the 10 metropolitan areas with the highest mean compensation for nurse educators, Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach pays the highest mean compensation: $145,900. Surprisingly, the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area pays nurse educators a mean compensation of $101,890.
It’s estimated that nurse educators with under a year of experience earn a salary of approximately $73,000, according to PayScale. This is not far off the average salary of about $77,000 for the occupation overall. However, nurse educators in New York City earn almost 40% more than the average, while those in Seattle and Houston also see pay differentials of about 16% and 12%, respectively.
Advanced job options
Learning how to become a nurse educator will help you discover the many opportunities to specialize in certain types of nursing. You can choose to earn an advanced degree to pursue career opportunities with higher compensation, superior job security, or both.
Although an MSN is required for most nurse educator jobs, a DNP is often necessary to teach at a university and compete for managerial roles. Examples of these positions are:
Percent of 2019 job postings requiring a DNP
Average starting salary
Chief medical officer
Medical affairs director
Nurse educators are overwhelmingly employed in two sectors — academia and health care provider settings, especially in hospitals.
Nursing colleges, including stand-alone institutions and ones housed within larger schools, are the largest overall employers of nurse educators. Nursing teachers and instructors employed by these organizations will create curricula, lead class lectures and exercises, and evaluate student performance. The end goal is to ensure that nursing students are prepared to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and other nursing certifications.
The long-term push to ensure that most nurses have at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) has made nursing colleges central to the retraining of many nurses. In 2010, the Institute of Medicine set an ambitious goal of 80% BSN attainment among nurses by 2020. This project aimed to ensure that nurses could deliver increasingly complex care to patients, according to AMN Healthcare Education Solutions.
Health care providers
Many nurse educators also work in clinical environments, such as hospitals, where they have different responsibilities than in academic settings. They might assist with onboarding, which was the fastest-growing skill in MSN job postings; employee training; professional development; mentorship; and general administration and oversight of the nursing staff. These particular skills can also provide relevant experience for exploring leadership roles, such as medical director or director of nursing.
Top skills and digital tools for nurse educators
Being a nurse educator requires being a nurse and possessing all of the particular expertise that comes with that position. When learning how to become a nurse educator, you should be imparted with a blend of certain soft and hard skills to help you excel in whatever role or industry you choose.
The most sought-after skills
Nurse educators must impart specific, specialized knowledge to their students and mentees while also being adept personnel managers and communicators. Burning Glass Technologies has compiled projections on which skills you will need when applying for nursing positions requiring a DNP:
Projected Posting Growth (2018-2023)
Critical care nursing
Environmental health and safety
A similar set of competencies leads the pack for MSN job postings. A few additional ones, such as managing interactions with patients and medical personnel and ensuring patients’ comfort, also make that list.
Burning Glass Technologies has found that the following soft skills are the most common in job postings for nurses with a DNP, expressed as a percentage of all job postings that included them:
What relatively new skills will you most need as a nurse educator in the years ahead? The top ones are:
Projected Posting Growth (2018–2023)
Primary care provider
The Microsoft Office suite is the dominant technical tool for nurse educators. Other important software includes Moodle and Blackboard LMS/CMS.
Nurse educator industry groups
There are numerous organizations focused on the interests of nurse educators, and nurses more broadly. By joining one or more of these associations, you can stay informed about developments in the field, network with other professionals, pursue funding opportunities, and earn additional certifications:
● American Association of Colleges of Nursing
● Association of Community Health Nursing Educators
● National League for Nursing
● National Organization of Practical Nursing Education and Service
● National Practitioner Associates for Continuing Education
A career with many paths
Nurse educators train the nurses of tomorrow and ensure that today’s nurses continue to develop and grow. With the demand for new nurses in the U.S. staying strong for the foreseeable future, there will also be an accompanying need for more nurse educators.
If you choose to go down this career path, you’ll have the opportunity to leverage your experience and expertise as a nurse in new ways, while maintaining the flexibility to continue in clinical practice.