Doctor and nurse consulting a chart

How to Become a Nurse Educator

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Doctor and nurse consulting a chart

Nearly everyone can remember a favorite teacher from school who made learning enjoyable, taught essential life lessons, or was just there when you needed somebody to talk to. Some people are simply born to teach, and it’s a talent that’s especially valuable in the nursing field. If you’ve always had a passion for sharing knowledge with others and helping people get healthier, a career as a nurse educator could be the perfect fit! Becoming a nurse educator is a natural career path for nurturing types who love helping others reach their full potential, and it’s also a great way to earn a living. In fact, we recently featured nurse educators on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a nurse educator, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a nurse educator is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest-paying nursing jobs.

Nurse Educator Definition

What is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators are the people responsible for training and teaching the next generation of healthcare heroes. They are experienced registered nurses who teach nursing students, practicing nurses, and other healthcare professionals the knowledge and skills they’ll need to thrive in their nursing career or a particular healthcare environment.

Nurse Educator: Job Description

What Does a Nurse Educator Do?

The duty of educating other nurses is a multifaceted one. Nurse educators are often responsible for developing their own curriculum or training programs and teaching the material to up-and-coming nurses.  Nurse educators also function as trusted role models and even guidance counselors at times. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, many nurse educators continue to practice in a clinical setting. The old cliche “those who cannot do, teach” definitely does not apply to nurse educators! After all, you want only the best and brightest nurses teaching their habits to future healthcare professionals

Nurse Educator Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of nurse educators include:

  • Developing course curriculum or training programs
  • Teaching and mentoring nursing students or trainees
  • Monitoring, evaluating, and documenting students’ progress
  • Acting as a mentor and role model to students
  • Performing ongoing clinical work within their chosen specialty

Nurse Educator Skills

Nurse educators must possess natural leadership skills and an innate desire to help others reach their full potential. Excellent communication skills are also important to becoming an effective nurse educator, as you’ll need a knack for making complex material easy to understand. Finally, you’ll need the same attention to detail and focus under pressure required from any nursing career. After all, you’ll need to become an expert in your chosen nursing field before you can become a nurse educator.

Group of medical students with their instructor

Where Do Nurse Educators Work?

Anywhere nurses are being taught and trained, you’ll find nurse educators working hard to pass on their knowledge to the next generation. The most common workplaces for nurse educators are at colleges, universities, technical schools, and within hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Nurse Educator Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Educator?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Nurse Educator?

There are no shortcuts on the way to becoming a nurse educator—though, for people who relish the chance to earn a fantastic living while enriching others’ lives, the payoff is certainly worth the time investment! You’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! The majority of nurse educators also earn a postsecondary degree, most commonly a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a nurse educator is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a nurse educator:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your nurse educator training is enrolling in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. Nursing careers are more accessible than you might think—your willingness to work hard now is more important than whether you were an honor-roll student in high school. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any other nursing specialty, your career as a nurse educator starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. All these courses will help you become a more well-rounded leader and communicator and prepare you to succeed once you’re in charge of your own classroom as a nurse educator.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning all the different aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess patients and best care for all different patient groups from pediatric to geriatric. Others will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the nursing field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes focused on building leadership skills and improving your evidence-based decision-making.

In tandem with your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. A well-rounded knowledge of medicine will not only be important while working in a clinical setting, it’s essential to master the fundamentals so you can teach nursing students of your own one day.

Finally, you’ll need to complete a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in an actual clinic or hospital. Studying in a classroom or performing simulated training exercises is certainly helpful, but applying your knowledge in the real world is what will build the skills and confidence you’ll need to succeed first as a practicing nurse, and eventually as a nurse educator.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one that goes the extra mile when it comes to supporting students after graduation. Schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even received your diploma!

Close up of a man using pen and paper

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The final step for anyone before becoming a registered nurse (and eventually a nurse educator) is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. It’s a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions, if you’re getting all the right answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. While test day is always a little nerve-racking, you’ll be well-prepared after completing your BSN program, and practice exams are widely available for you to get familiar with the exam format ahead of time.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, so you’ll have the flexibility to work just about anywhere. With so many different nursing specialties out there, you’re free to pursue any area of nursing you’re passionate about. Any RN experience will be essential to pursuing a future career as a nurse educator. However, you may benefit by seeking out employers like university hospitals, where you’ll have a chance to be around other nurse educators and observe their leadership and teaching skills. Most employers will look for at least two to five years of experience as a practicing RN before considering you for a nurse educator job.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs, you should be eligible for renewal without much hassle.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

The majority of nurse educators earn a postgraduate nursing degree, most commonly a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). If you’re interested in teaching a specific field of nursing, you may want enroll in an MSN program that focuses in that area, though you’ll also find MSN programs with a focus on nursing education. The specific nursing master’s degree you earn will likely not be as important as your experience and overall competence, as well as a proven ability to be an effective teacher and mentor.

You’ll find a large variety of MSN programs available from schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs around 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)

After gaining experience as a registered nurse and earning a graduate degree in nursing, you’ll be eligible to become a Certified Nurse Educator via the National League for Nursing, which is the most-recognized credentialing organization for nurse educators. This certification shows potential employers you’ve mastered all aspects of nursing education, and have the skills and experience to foster a healthy and effective learning environment.

Nurse Educator Salary

How Much Do Nurse Educators Make?

According to Salary.com, the average salary for nurse educators throughout the United States is nearly $94,000 per year, which works out to more than $45 per hour. Nurse educators in the top 10% of earners can expect to bring home $110,000 or more per year.

Nurse Educator Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Nurse Educators?

The demand for healthcare services is expected to continue rising, as a large percentage of the population enters old age and requires increasing medical care. More nurses entering the workforce means more people will be needed to teach and train them, which bodes well for the long-term job security of nurse educators. The BLS estimates a 7% growth in nursing careers by 2029, which is nearly double the average growth rate for all other jobs (4%).

Medical professional in a lab coat

Ready to Start Your Career as a Nurse Educator?

If you’re equally passionate about sharing your knowledge and caring for others, becoming a research nurse could be the best nursing specialty for you! Few other careers offer the chance to provide hands-on patient care while also offering the opportunity to become a mentor to the next generation of healthcare workers. Not only is a career as a nurse educator one of the highest-paid nursing specialties, but it’s also incredibly rewarding work for natural leaders.

Ready to start taking steps toward a long and fulfilling career as a nurse educator? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and get started on the road to your new career in nursing today!