How to Become a Nurse Educator

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Smiling female nurse in front of desk

The nursing profession is undergoing tremendous change — nurses are taking on new roles and responsibilities each year. This transformation is driven in part by new technologies as well as cultural and demographic changes that make the roles of nurses more important than ever to the health and well-being of communities.

Those charged with preparing nurses to meet the present and future health care needs of patients, namely nurse educators, are also growing in importance. This trend has led more people to investigate how to become a nurse educator. What they are discovering is a dynamic profession in health care with a promising future.

What Nurse Educators Do

Nurse educators are registered nurses (RNs) who have attained a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or other advanced degree and are trained in a medical specialty. They develop curricula for courses and conduct academic and continuing education programs. Some of the 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 classroom settings or clinical settings. Some nurse educators work 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.

Serving as leaders is arguably the greatest role nurse educators play in health care. They promote best practices to improve health outcomes and provide a positive, rewarding work environment for nurses. Nurse educators are active in maintaining clinical standards at their medical facilities, in writing grant proposals, and in participating in peer reviews.

Nurse educators are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact on the health of their communities and the world. They do so directly by serving as role models for their nursing students and indirectly as a result of all the good work done by those students postgraduation.

What It Takes to Become a Nurse Educator

The education path for students exploring how to become a nurse educator 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 specialty roles 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 like nurse educators. 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 the health of their patients.

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 an 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 schedule.

Step Three: Gain Work Experience

An important criterion for becoming a nurse educator is acquiring the knowledge 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 the health care needs of their patients. Experience is a critical component of the evidence-based nursing education promoted by NCSBN. In evidence-based nursing education, students are taught how to view all available information when considering a treatment plan. For example, medical history, the examination notes of the attending physician, and details about the work and living situation of a patient all contribute to determining the best course of action.

Optional: Obtain Certification</h2?

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
  • Postmaster’s certificate
  • Nine or more credit hours of postgraduate education courses

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

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 the 2017 average salary for nurse educators was $71,260; for nurse educators in general medical or surgical hospitals, $89,390; and for nurse educators in specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals, $96,170.

Demand for nurse educators is forecast to grow at 24 percent over the 2016–2026 period, and the need for postsecondary teachers in health specialties will increase 26 percent in the same period, according to the BLS. The duties of nurse educators are expanding just as quickly in response to changes in the health care industry.

Among the top 10 reasons to become a nurse educator, according to the NLN, are the chance to work in an intellectually stimulating environment, the opportunity to shape the future of health care, and the chance to have a positive impact on a community. But the No. 1 reason is that students can teach what they love.

Learn More:

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.


Recommended Reading:

Online Master’s in Nursing

Unlicensed Personnel Vs. Nurses: Education Is Critical

Why Medical Waste is More Than ‘Garbage’



American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Baccalaureate Education”

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Master’s Education”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Nurse Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary”

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Postsecondary Teachers”

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”, “Nurse Educator Careers & Salary Outlook”

Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow, “Nurse Educator”

Ohio University, The School of Nursing, “Nurse Educators”