Nurse educator walking through a hospital

Nurse educators are experienced nurses who train future generations of nurses. These experts combine their nursing and clinical care expertise with a passion for education and teaching others.

Nurse educators are registered nurses who teach nursing students and RNs to enter the workforce.

A nurse educator can work with nursing students preparing to earn their licenses or train RNs pursuing master’s degrees and certifications.

Nurse educators specialize in nursing science and education. They combine clinical practice with teaching to help nurses of all levels learn new skills and reach their goals. 

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

A nurse educator and nurse practitioner hold advanced degrees, usually a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). The most significant difference is their job focus. A nurse practitioner examines, diagnoses, and manages their patients' healthcare. Nurse educators focus on training aspiring nurses and RNs pursuing advanced credentials. 

Both nurse practitioners and nurse educators specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as:

  • Family Health

  • Gerontology

  • Oncology

  • Acute care

  • Pediatric care

  • Mental health/psychiatric care

  • Neonatal health

Nurse educators are qualified to treat patients in their specialty, but they dedicate most of their time to teaching other nurses how to do so. They may choose to work at the undergraduate level, preparing aspiring nurses for their NCLEX exam; they could also work at a higher level and teach RNs about specialty areas. 

Nurse educators can also work outside of the classroom setting. For example, many work in hospitals and healthcare businesses, advancing professional development, giving seminars, and leading continuing education courses, among other things. 

What qualifications does a nurse educator need? 

A nurse educator must have an advanced nursing degree, either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DPN). Nurses with MSNs tend to focus more on direct patient care or education, while DPNs often specialize in research, development, and nursing science. 

Furthermore, nurse educators need ample experience working as registered nurses. Having an education alone is not enough to succeed in this role. You have to develop a strong background in tending to patients, so you can draw from that experience and understanding as you instruct your students. 

Nurse educators can hold various nursing certifications in their specialty, such as a CEN (Certified Emergency Nurse) or CCRN (Critical Care Registered Nurse). 

Recommended Reading - How to become a Nurse Educator in The USA?

What does a nurse educator do day to day?

Nurse educators work in various settings, and their job tasks will change based on the scope of their role—for example, nurse educators in a hospital specializing in professional development for RN staff. In addition, they work on developing and implementing clinical programs that help nurses improve patient care.

At a vocational school or college, they deliver lectures and lead skills labs to help nursing students master everything they need to enter the field. 

In all areas of their job, nursing educators must demonstrate strong leadership and organization skills. In addition, they collaborate with critical decision-makers and healthcare administrators to provide the highest quality service.

Whether they’re training students or developing better nursing practices, all nurse educators significantly influence patient care.

Where do nurse educators work?

You can find nurse educators in all areas of healthcare, including hospitals, clinics, colleges, technical schools, and universities. It all depends on their career goals and specialty. 

Nurse educators who work in academic settings help develop lesson plans and lead nursing courses as instructors. They don’t only give lectures on nursing and science — they also lead skills labs that help nurses develop the life-saving techniques they’ll need to implement on the job.

They can also oversee their students’ clinical practices and serve as role models and mentors. A nurse educator must embody all the most vital qualities of a good nurse and strive to help bring out these qualities in their students.

Being a nurse educator grants you access to various job opportunities. According to Zippia, 45% of nurse educators work for private companies, 28% work in education, 22% work for private companies, and 6% work in government jobs.

What is it like to be a nurse educator?

Being a nurse educator is a hands-on, communication-driven role. Nurses often focus on patient care, but nurse educators must focus on teaching and guiding students and fellow RNs. 

In hospital settings, nurse educators must implement nursing skills on their floor, document staff progress, and help nurses improve their care delivery. They must do so in complete accordance with existing care models, so research is essential. 

Nurse educators collaborate with other faculty to ensure that their students’ education meets all requirements.

As a nurse educator, you are prone to working irregular hours. In hospitals, nurse educators work when their staff does, which means they can be on a shift overnight or all weekend. Nurse educators also tend to work five days a week, rather than an RN's typical 3 or 4 days.

Some nurse educators don’t work in hospitals, so their jobs are slightly less stressful. Instead, they teach, grade, and mentor in classroom settings and from home. In addition, nurse educators who teach online nursing programs can enjoy even greater flexibility thanks to remote work.

Overall, being a nurse educator is an exciting job that’s great for anyone passionate about teaching other nurses and nurses-to-be. It’s less physically demanding than bedside nursing but requires just as much mental and emotional commitment. 

Even if you aren’t tending to patients directly, you’re helping shape the care they receive through your instruction.

How much do nurse educators make? 

Most nurse educators get paid more on faculty in hospitals than in academia unless they have tenure. On average, a nurse educator in the U.S. can expect to earn around $65,381.98. 

Salaries for nurse educators in America range from $59,000 to over $110,000 (via Payscale). 

Read more: How much do nurse educators make in the USA?

Advantages and disadvantages of a career as a nurse educator

Is becoming a nurse educator worth it? It depends on whether you have the level of passion for education required to commit fully to the job. If you’re in it for the pay alone, you probably won’t find it the best career choice.

However, if you’re guided by a passion for nursing education and leadership. 

Here are some pros and cons of becoming a nurse educator to help you choose the right path for your career. 

Advantages of choosing a career as a nurse educator

1) Less stress than clinical nursing

Since you won’t be on the floor treating patients every shift, nurse education is an excellent change of pace. In addition, it allows you to work with nurses and nursing students rather than patients. Although you’ll still need a strong background in clinical practice, your job focuses on training and instruction rather than patient care.

2) Become a mentor

You get to inspire other nurses as a mentor in their education or on faculty in the hospital. It’s a lot of responsibility, but it also feels lovely being able to help nurses achieve their dreams and reach their goals.

3) Diverse work opportunities 

Nurse educators can work in hospitals, clinics, colleges, technical schools, or even remotely. There are many options, so it’s easier to shape your work environment and schedule to your tastes. 

4) Job security

Nurse educators are advanced registered nurses with high degrees and clinical experience. Many also boast specialty knowledge that helps them improve nursing in various areas of medicine. 

Nurses will always be in demand; therefore, nurse educators will be too. In addition, the training and education you receive on your path to becoming a nurse educator will make it easier for you to secure various jobs throughout the field. 

Disadvantages of choosing a career as a nurse educator

1) Extensive educational requirements

Nurse educators must be experts, requiring at least a master’s degree in nursing. You'll need additional training and certifications if you want to train nurses in a nursing specialty. With a BSN, you must commit to at least three years of schooling before qualifying as a nurse educator. 

2) Expensive degrees

Along with their education comes the cost of tuition. While nurses can qualify for lower tuition and even reimbursement through their jobs, many still graduate with student debt. So make sure you consider your financing options before committing to higher education. 

3) Not a major pay increase from being an RN

While some nurse educators earn six figures, many earn about as much or slightly under an RN. So while they do what they do out of passion, money is still an important consideration. 

You’ll commit to this career for years — it’s your life’s work! However, if the compensation isn’t a fair trade-off for the achievement, you may not find the job worth pursuing. 

How to become a nurse educator

All nurse educators must be registered nurses with masters or doctoral degrees. So, you’ll have to work your way up by earning a bachelor’s in nursing (BSN), then completing a master’s program. To specialize as a nurse educator, you’ll have to consider different branches of medicine and certification requirements for nurses. 

Nurse educators must commit at least four to six years on top of their primary education to become qualified instructors. 

Frequently asked questions about nurse educators

How long does it take to become a nurse educator? 

From earning your bachelor’s and a master’s degree to obtaining clinical experience, it takes about 6 to 8 years to become a nurse educator. 

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

Is being a nurse educator stressful?

Like any nursing job, nurse education can be stressful, too. The difference is that your stress usually comes from challenges in the workplace, like meeting certain milestones, rather than any pressure from patient care. 

What does a nurse educator in a hospital do?

In hospitals, nurse educators are valuable faculty members who help improve nursing models within the organization. In addition, they create professional development opportunities, lead training, and help nurses become better at their jobs.

What is the average age of a nurse educator?

As experienced registered nurses, you won’t see nurse educators in their 20s. The average nurse educator in the U.S. is 44 years old.

In theory, you could become a nurse educator as early as 26, but this is unlikely. Most nurse educators spend years honing their clinical expertise before they leave direct care to teach. 

Nurse education could be a good fit if you’re a nurse looking to change your role without leaving healthcare altogether; nurse education could be a good fit.