How to become a Nurse Educator in The USA?

By ShiftMed Team//Nursing Profession
Nurse educator with a nursing student

Nurses need nurse educators. Continuing the legacy of nursing, providing the best patient care, and fulfilling nursing roles across the country falls on the shoulders of dedicated educators. 

Nurse educators are more than just teachers; they’re mentors their nursing students can turn to and trust as they develop their nursing skills. In addition, these educators are responsible for training the next generation of nurses and helping current RNs improve their care delivery and learn new skills as technology and healthcare evolve.

If you’ve been an RN for a while, you might wonder what your career options are from here. If you’re ready to step off the floor and assume a more administrative, academic role, then becoming a nurse educator could be right for you.

Read more: What is a nurse educator?

What are the steps to becoming a nurse educator?

If you’re not an RN yet, you’ll have several years of hard work before you’re eligible to teach others. Nurse educators have, on average, over ten years of experience as practicing RNs before they enter the classroom.

It’s essential to dedicate yourself to years of professional development before becoming a nurse educator, so you can ensure your students learn from a truly experienced, qualified instructor. 

Let’s walk through the entire nurse educator career path, starting by earning your degree.

1. Earn an ADN or BSN

Nursing degrees can be associate’s or bachelor’s degrees, but there is a caveat. All nurse educators must hold a master’s degree, which means they’ll have to complete a BSN at one point or another.

You can earn your bachelor’s the first time you’re in nursing school; you could also complete an RN to BSN program later, allowing you to gain clinical work experience as you complete your degree. 

Make sure that you attend an accredited nursing school program. Nursing school accreditation comes from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the American American Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). 

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

Before you can work as a nurse, you have to earn a license. Getting your degree prepares you for the next step of licensure, which is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. 

The NCLEX-RN, or National Council Licensure Examination, is issued by the NCSBN. It is the official licensing exam for nurses in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. 

You can use free NCLEX study guides to prepare for the big day. Once you pass the adaptive scoring exam, you’ll be ready to register with your state’s board of nursing. 

The NCLEX provides applicants with questions until the computer is 95% certain of their score. After that, you’ll either pass or fail the exam; in the case of the latter, you can retake the exam in 45 days.

3. Gain work experience

Nurse educators must come from solid backgrounds in nursing. You’ll have to be a seasoned RN before you can teach others how to perform well in the role. In addition, nurse educators come from many different areas of medicine, so you can work in various fields to discover your passion as you shape your career. 

What matters most is that you’re committing to several years of work as a full-time RN. This will make you the most desirable candidate for a master’s program. You can also pursue nurse specialty certifications during this time, which would qualify you to teach particular skills and courses as an educator.

3. Earn an MSN degree

Your master’s of science in nursing will have to focus on nursing education. During this time, you’ll explore ethics and issues in modern healthcare, nursing education basics, teaching methods, and student assessment, and complete a nurse educator practicum. 

You can complete a nurse educator master’s degree online, but you may have to attend virtual or in-person events depending on the school. 

The good news is that you can earn your master’s in nurse education while you work as an RN. 

4. Consider a nurse educator certificate 

Nurse educators can become certified by taking the CNE exam through the National League for Nursing. The CNE, or Certified Nurse Educator, exam demonstrates your excellency and expertise in nurse education. It is a significant credential to have if you want to pursue careers in academia and if you hope to one day have tenure at a nursing school.

The CNE requires all nurse educators to have a valid, unencumbered RN license where they live, a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis on nursing education, or a post-masters certificate in nursing education. You could also apply if you have at least nine graduate-level credits in education courses, such as curriculum development, principles of adult learning, and assessment and measurement. 

Nurses with a master’s degree without an emphasis in nursing education can apply for the CNE credential if they have at least two years of experience working as a nurse educator in an academic setting within the last five years.

Read the full guide to nurse educator certification on the National League for Nursing’s website.

5. Apply for nurse educator jobs

With your degree and possibly certification, you can go on to apply for nurse educator roles. You can work as a nurse educator in many places, including nursing schools, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.

Some nurse educators specialize in healthcare policy, and they serve as a member of the faculty in a hospital or other facility. They may design and implement professional development courses for a staff of nurses to improve patient care.

You could also work directly with nursing undergraduate students, teaching them the core knowledge and clinical skills they’ll need as RNs.

Can you become a nurse educator online?

You can complete a master’s degree in nurse education online from most universities. However, some still require in-person attendance for specific events. In addition, you may be able to attend some events virtually via Zoom. 

If you’re an undergraduate student, you can do your basic coursework online, but you’ll still have to attend clinicals and possibly skill labs in person.

Nursing school clinicals are usually several 8 to 12-hour shifts per week or around 120 to 140 hours per semester. 

What is the difference between a nurse educator and a registered nurse?

Nurse educators are RNs with master’s degrees or doctorate degrees in nurse education. They specialize in teaching other nurses or nursing school students rather than treating patients. 

You may enjoy becoming a nurse educator if you’ve worked as an RN for years and want to apply your knowledge in a new way. It can also offer a break from years of direct clinical work that is refreshing for nurses looking for a less patient-focused career. 

What positions can you progress to from being a nurse educator?

Nurse educators can go on to pursue doctorate degrees in nursing with the hopes of becoming professors of nursing. For even further medical expertise, you could become a nurse practitioner.

Nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses with a master's degree or doctorate. They specialize in a particular area, like family medicine or women’s health, and can also become nurse educators. 

Do your nurse educator qualifications expire?

You’ll have to renew your CNE every five years if you are a certified nurse educator. Nurse educators with master’s or doctorate degrees don’t have to do anything other than renew their RN licenses according to their states’ guidelines. 

How much do nurse educators make?

Our research shows that nurse educator salaries in the U.S. range between $43,536 to $96,871. However, wages are somewhat lower on average than an RN, likely because a nurse educator doesn’t provide direct patient care. 

If you become a nurse educator, expect to earn approximately $65,381 a year, or make $31 an hour. 

Read more about nurse educator salaries here

How long does it take to become a nurse educator? 

Nurse educators have at least six years of education, and many also work several years between their degrees. Therefore, expect to take at least 8 to 10 years to become a nurse educator. 

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

FAQs about becoming a nurse educator

Are nurse educators in demand?

Given the national shortage of nurses, the need for qualified nurse educators is higher than it's ever been. In addition to teaching aspiring nurses, healthcare organizations need nurse educators to help existing nursing staff improve their care and develop new skills that align with best practices and nursing standards. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roles for health educators are growing at a rate of 12%, which is much faster than the national average for all other occupations.

Is there a difference between a nurse educator and a clinical nurse educator?

Clinical nurse educators work in a healthcare setting to oversee their students’ development of clinical nursing skills. Nurse educators tend to work in an academic environment or within healthcare facilities as faculty members in an office. 

Clinical nurse educators work on the hospital floor alongside other nursing staff. They can also work on faculty as educators for existing nurses, helping them develop new skills and refine their practices. 

What do nurse educators teach?

Nurse educators can teach various nursing courses, such as health assessment. If you instruct graduate-level students, you will likely teach courses in advanced nursing practice or organizational leadership. 

The courses you teach will depend on whether you’re an undergraduate or graduate nurse educator and whether you work in an academic or medical setting. You could, for example, lead professional development courses in healthcare facilities for fully licensed RNs.