How to Become a Nurse Educator

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Smiling female nurse in front of desk Experienced nurses can redefine their nursing careers by transitioning to nurse education. By becoming a nurse educator, a nurse can move from clinical practice to focus on cultivating future generations of nursing professionals. Pursuing higher education is usually the best way to become a nurse educator. Master of Science in Nursing programs, such as the online MSN at Ohio University, offer nurse education curricula that discuss the foremost theories and practices used in nurse education. Upon graduation from an MSN program, nurses often find they’re equipped with the tools they need to develop nursing curricula, teach courses, and contribute to nursing academia as a whole.

What Does Becoming a Nurse Educator Mean for Your Career?

Professionals who are interested in learning more about how to become a nurse educator should know that teaching future nurses is radically different from working in a clinical environment. Rather than working to solve patients’ issues in a clinical setting, nurse educators train students and facilitate their learning. Nurse educators should be able to develop and implement education plans that feature an array of different teaching methods, such as simulations, online education, and traditional face-to-face lectures. As educators, nurses become mentors who are vital to stimulating progress in the nursing field.

Nurse Educator Requirements and Job Responsibilities

Nurse educators are primarily responsible for designing and teaching the nursing curriculum. Some nursing programs lead to a degree or a certificate in nursing, while others are less formal and are designed to meet the specific training needs of nurses and nursing students.

Nurse educators can teach in a classroom or clinical setting. Some serve as adjunct faculty members at nursing colleges, while others work in health care facilities. They advise students, conduct research, and contribute to their profession by taking on administrative roles in nursing associations and presenting at nursing conferences.

To do this effectively, nurse educators must be adept at evaluating students’ learning needs and using their observations to implement optimal teaching strategies. Online MSN courses on curriculum development and teaching strategies, such as those offered by Ohio University, are critical to mastering this skill set.

Skills Nurse Educators Need to Succeed

Nurse educators need a flexible set of skills to perform well in both academic and clinical settings. Master of Science in Nursing programs point student nurses in the right direction by offering them the opportunity to develop the following practical skills:

  • Leadership: Nurse educators must become leaders who can set meaningful educational goals for their students and implement plans that can help them achieve those goals. To this end, MSN programs cover the nurse educator’s role as a leader in the classroom.
  • Mentorship: While leadership is a way to set goals and drive students toward them, nurse educators use mentorship to leverage their own experience and knowledge to guide others. Mentorship skills allow educators to maximize their impact on their students’ education.
  • Research: As members of academia, nurse educators must also contribute to the study of nursing practice. Through their coursework, Master of Science in Nursing students experience the leading research techniques used by nurse educators today.
  • Interpersonal Communication and Presentation: Communication is central to education, as students are more likely to understand information that has been communicated articulately. Communication skills are also valuable to faculty members, as a good communicator is well equipped to present research findings to others and network with peers.

In addition to delivering their own lessons, nurse educators may also be tasked with evaluating the performance of other nurse education programs. This involves reviewing other educators’ methods and consulting with them directly or through communication with management to improve their performance. To prepare their students for these administrative responsibilities, MSN programs also highlight a nurse’s role as a member of the faculty.

How to Become a Nurse Educator

For students exploring how to become a nurse educator, the education path is as follows:

  1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
  2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
  3. Earn an MSN.

Nurse educators must also gain work experience in clinical, research, and other health care settings before qualifying for a teaching position. Certification programs for nurse educators may allow them to teach various specialties in health education, such as geriatrics, community health outreach, and family health.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Choosing an undergraduate program in nursing starts by confirming that a school is accredited at two levels: the university or college in general and the nursing program in particular. Baccalaureate nursing schools must be approved by the state board of nursing in order for graduates to take the licensure examinations of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). An undergraduate program must also meet the requirements of a nursing accreditation group recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

BSN programs prepare students for emerging decentralized health care systems. Today, nurses are more likely to work in outpatient facilities, specialty clinics, community centers, and private businesses. Hospitals are increasingly reserved for critically ill patients; in fact, the term “hospital” may soon be replaced by the more accurate “acute care center.”

BSN programs increasingly serve as the foundation for postgraduate studies in advanced nursing professions such as nurse educator. Undergraduate coursework goes beyond anatomy, chemistry, and other staples to include health promotion, genetic screening, family planning, home health care, and disease prevention. Nursing students need to understand the social and environmental conditions that affect their patients’ health.

Step Two: Earn a Master’s Degree

An MSN or other postgraduate degree is a requirement for becoming a nurse educator. MSN programs build on the broad education of a bachelor’s degree and focus on a single practice area, such as nurse practitioners, certified nurse anesthetists, and nurse educators. Students learn scientific theories and concepts as well as innovative approaches to the management of health care and enhanced health care.

An important part of the master’s program is the development of leadership and interpersonal skills. A successful career as a nurse educator also entails mentoring and inspiring students as a role model and ambassador for the nursing profession. For example, the MSN Nurse Educator program at Ohio University includes courses in academic role development, teaching techniques, and evidence-based instructional strategies.

Many students in postgraduate nursing programs work while completing their degree, so it is important for them to find a flexible master’s program to fit their classwork into their work schedules.

Step Three: Gain Work Experience

An important criterion in how to become a nurse educator involves acquiring the knowledge and acumen needed to instruct students in a nursing specialty. It is only with hands-on clinical experience that a nurse educator can provide students with practical skills to meet their patients’ health care needs. Experience is a critical component of the evidence-based nursing education promoted by NCSBN. In evidence-based nursing education, students learn how to view all available information when considering a treatment plan. For example, the patient’s medical history, the attending physician’s examination notes, and details about the patient’s work and living situation all contribute to determining the best course of action.

Optional Nurse Educator Requirements: Obtain Certification

Nurse educators may earn a certificate for nursing education. The primary certification for nurse educators is the Certification for Nurse Educators (CNE) from a program accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), such as the CNE program from the National League for Nursing (NLN).

Eligibility for the CNE examination requires one of the following:

  • Master’s or doctorate in nursing with an emphasis in nursing education
  • Post-master’s certificate
  • Nine or more credit hours of postgraduate education courses

Two or more years of experience working in a nursing program at an accredited institution within the past five years may substitute for the added academic requirements of the CNE.

Different Types of Positions for Nurse Educators

Not all nurse education jobs are the same. For example, some positions are year-round, while others are nine-month-long contract jobs in academia. Nurse educators also have the option of teaching full time or part-time.

The rank of a nurse educator typically depends on his or her clinical experience and academic credentials. While all jobs involve teaching, advising, service, practice, research, and scholarship in nurse education, the work environment can vary across different positions. Students who pursue academic nurse education may find themselves teaching in classrooms or leading online courses using distance learning software. Those who choose clinical nurse education would instead serve as mentors in active health care environments, teaching nursing techniques to the local team.

Nurse educator requirements include a commitment to learning the different processes involved in teaching nursing curricula to student nurses. The most direct path to learning these skills is first becoming a registered nurse, then gaining several years of work experience to develop clinical competence, and later earning a Master of Science in Nursing to learn how to teach nursing students. MSN graduates should have lucrative career advancement opportunities ahead of them, such as entering a career in academia or pursuing further certifications in their current fields.

Nurse Educator Job Outlook and Salary

The outlook for nurse educators can be summed up in one word: growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that demand for postsecondary teachers, including nurse educators, is forecast to grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the average growth projection for all other occupations. The BLS further reports that as of May 2018, the median salary for nurse educators was $73,490; for nurse educators in general medical or surgical hospitals, $123,760; and for nurse educators in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, $94,380.

Learn More

Aspiring nurse educators are likely to find that completing an advanced degree, such as the online Master of Science in Nursing from Ohio University, can provide them with the skills and acumen they’ll need to be successful.

Discover how the online Master of Science in Nursing from Ohio University can help you develop the teaching techniques and evidence-based instructional strategies that you’ll need to be an effective nurse educator.

Recommended Reading

Ohio University Blog, “How Nurse Educators Use Simulation as Teaching Tools”
Ohio University Blog, “What Is an MSN Degree? Definition of a Master of Science in Nursing”
Ohio University Blog, “Why Get a Master’s in Nursing?”


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Baccalaureate Education
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Faculty Shortage
American Nurse Today, “Career Options for Nurse Educators”
CNN Business, “Nursing Schools Are Rejecting Thousands of Applicants in the Middle of a Nursing Shortage”
National Council of State Boards of Nursing, Evidence-Based Regulation of Nurse Educators
National League for Nursing, Certification for Nurse Educators
National League for Nursing, CNE Eligibility
Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, Nurse Educator
Ohio University, The School of Nursing, Nurse Educator
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers