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.
Plus, you will be helping 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 more than 220,200 new openings for registered nurses between 2019 and 2029. More than 1 million registered nurses are also expected to retire by 2030 in the U.S. alone.
Either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is required for many nurse educator positions. And this higher education 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. In fact, the need only grows with the U.S. population becoming older and in greater need of health care services. Accordingly, demand for nursing professionals is robust, and qualified instructors — who are themselves nurses — are necessary to train them. This is where you come in as a nurse educator.
One in six people could be 65 years or older in 2050, compared to only one in 11 in 2019, per the United Nations.
Meanwhile, over half of registered nurses 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 assistant professor and 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.
Why else might you consider becoming a nurse educator? In addition to education positions being in such high demand, some other advantages of this career path include:
Strong growth prospects
It’s projected that postsecondary health specialties teachers and nursing instructors will see approximately a 9% increase in total employment between 2019 and 2029, 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 National League for Nursing’s (NLN) annual demographic reports 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
Becoming a nurse educator can give you a work schedule that’s shorter and less hectic 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 are generally associated with lower burnout and better patient outcomes. A nurse educator career may be an appealing alternative to extended shifts, whether you remain in clinical practice or decide to 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 also 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:
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.
As more nurse educators retire and 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
The industries with the highest levels of employment of nursing instructors and teachers are:
Colleges, universities, and professional schools
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 ($121,180)
Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals ($93,650)
Business schools and computers and management training ($86,720)
Colleges, universities, and professional schools ($83,240)
Junior colleges ($75,430)
Where are the nurse educator jobs?
The U.S. cities with the highest level 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 ($101,860)
Los Angeles ($106,470)
Washington, D.C. ($120,980)
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:
Of the 10 metro areas with the highest mean compensation for nurse educators, three are in New York, led by Rochester at $108,490. Washington, D.C., is first at nearly $121,000.
It’s estimated that nurse educators with under a year of experience earn a salary of approximately $71,000. This is not far off the average salary of $75,000 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 20% and 15%, respectively.
Advanced job options
Nurse educators may opt to specialize in certain types of nursing and/or 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 to compete for managerial roles. Some examples of these positions include:
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 standalone 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 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 nurses could deliver increasingly complex care to patients, according to AMN Healthcare Education Services.
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, employee training, professional development, mentorship, and general administration and oversight of the nursing staff. In fact, onboarding was the fastest-growing skill in MSN job postings. 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. Beyond nursing knowledge, nurse educators also need a blend of certain soft and hard skills.
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
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
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:
Communication skills: 31.5%
Problem solving: 9.3%
Organizational skills: 8.3%
Compared to soft skills, these skills are more technical and specialized. Here are the most in-demand hard skills in terms of how many DNP job postings ask for them:
Patient care: 10.6%
Clinical experience: 8.1%
Staff management: 7.8%
Curriculum development: 5.8%
Practicing medicine: 5.0%
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
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
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 of 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 attain 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 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, too.