Leading the Next Generation: The Role of the Nurse Educator

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Nurse and doctor discuss over clipboard

Learning never stops in health care professions, and nurse educators play a key role in developing the next generation of medical caregivers. These professionals have specialized skills to provide other nurses with the information they need and to keep their own hospitals running smoothly. Because of their clinical experience, nurse educators understand the difficulties nurses face and know the best ways to convey critical information effectively.

Nurse educators are registered nurses (RNs) who have advanced clinical training in a medical specialty, along with other advanced education. They hold master’s or doctoral degrees and often serve as adjunct faculty members at a nursing school. Many nurse educators work in clinics and hospitals while teaching part time. In clinical settings, nurse educators must adapt their programs to incorporate continually evolving medical technologies.

Nurse educators are responsible for preparing all nursing staff members for today’s dynamic health care industry. They ensure a quality learning experience and document the success of their programs as part of the feedback loop that keeps the education programs effective and relevant. In addition, nurse educators serve as role models and mentors for professional nurses and nursing students.

The role of the nurse educator requires communication skills, creativity, flexibility, critical thinking, and clinical experience. Most importantly, nurse educators must be committed to lifelong learning grounded in theories of teaching, student comprehension, and assessment. They base their programs on established educational approaches while also innovating as technologies and health care environments continually change. Nurse educators enjoy teaching and are responsive to the needs of learners.

A Day in the Life of a Nurse Educator

In academic settings, nurse educators advise students, conduct research, write grant proposals, and ensure that their clinical skills are always up to date. Nurse educators are active in professional associations. They participate in peer reviews and take leadership roles in the academic community. They draw from their firsthand clinical experience when developing curricula, tailoring lessons to meet the needs of their students. They guide and evaluate the progress of learners, documenting educational outcomes accurately and in a timely manner.

Beyond the technical training they provide, nurse educators prepare nursing staff to provide both acute and preventive care and to participate in advocacy and patient education. Health education also encompasses community care, which encourages healthy lifestyles and holistic patient care.

Work Environment and Employment Opportunities

A growing number of nurse educators work in practice settings, where they evaluate the skills of nurses in clinics and hospitals. They collaborate with nurses and nurse managers to devise learning strategies that bolster critical clinical skills. Their students include recent high school graduates who are new to the nursing field, nurses pursuing postgraduate degrees, and practicing nurses who want to learn specialty medical skills.

By splitting their time between the classroom and clinical environments, nurse educators play a pivotal role in creating, implementing, analyzing, and revising nursing programs at academic and continuing education institutions. These nursing programs include those that confer degrees and certificates, as well as continuing education programs that are less formal and more focused on specific health topics.

The demand for nurse educators is expected to skyrocket in the coming years as baby boomers age and average life expectancies increase. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that about 500,000 experienced registered nurses will retire by 2022. This will make the current shortage of nurses even more critical: BLS estimates that 1.1 million new RNs will be needed by 2022 to replace retirees and to fill the 100,000 new RN positions that open every year.

Leadership and Other Skills

Whether in a classroom, a laboratory, or a working clinic or hospital, nurse educators share their passion and enthusiasm for the nursing profession as a driving force for healthier communities. Nurse educators serve as change agents in their efforts to shape the future practice of nursing and to advocate for the health of their communities.

The scholarly aspects of the field are as important to nurse educators as the hands-on clinical components of their education programs. In addition to being advisors and counselors to their students, nurse educators participate in research and collaborate with many other disciplines to develop curricula that balance the practical and theoretical aspects of the nursing field.

The National League for Nursing’s nurse educator core competencies are intended to allow faculty to illustrate the many dimensions of the profession. The first two competencies are to facilitate learning and to imbue their students with the values and standard practices of the nursing profession. Nurse educators devise methods for assessing student progress in all areas of the curricula, whether in classrooms, labs, or clinical settings.

Other nurse educator competencies include evaluating program outcomes; improving the competency of nurse educators in their many different roles; and effectively managing the political, social, and economic forces that impact the nursing-education environment.

Career Specializations

The specialties in clinical nurse education include family medicine, oncology, psychiatrics, cardiology, pediatrics, and acute care. Certified nurse educators with a master’s degree in nursing and appropriate clinical experience have a choice of specializations, although some employers look for candidates with teaching experience. As nurse educators advance in their careers, they may also seek opportunities to become a public health nurse, clinical faculty member, continuing education specialist, staff development officer, or professor, dean, or associate dean of a nursing school.

Some nursing specialties are growing faster than others, including geriatrics, informatics, and care coordination. Nurse educators who work for specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance abuse facilities) had an annual mean salary of $96,170, according to BLS figures as of May 2017. Close behind, with an annual mean wage of $89,750, are nurse educators employed by psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals. The annual mean salary for the profession as a whole is $71,269.

Why Nurse Educators Are So Important to the Field of Nursing

A recent study by Johns Hopkins University found that medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. Eliminating those fatal mistakes is the clarion call of nurse educators in their role as leaders in the health care sector. Nurse educators help mitigate errors by training less experienced nurses to face common challenges and communicate effectively to avoid mistakes.

Nurse educators use their training to improve health care outcomes, streamline procedures, and enable other nurses to spend more time working directly with patients. They bring new nursing hires up to speed quickly to help address the critical shortage of nursing staff. Most importantly, they share their commitment to patient health and their joy of learning, both with nurses currently working in the field and with students who will join the nursing profession in the future.

Learn More

Online MSN programs can help aspiring nurse practitioners develop the skills and experience they need to pursue advanced careers in nursing. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program today.

Recommended Reading:

A Blueprint for Becoming a Nurse Educator

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Nursing?

Five High-Paying MSN Careers for Nursing Graduates




Daily Nurse

National League for Nursing

Nursing World

Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary