Looking for new professional challenges? Consider teaching nursing. This country has a growing need for academic nurse educators—nurses who teach students enrolled in formal academic nursing courses. The National League for Nursing defines academic nurse educator as a “specialty area and advanced practice role within professional nursing.” In this article, we use the terms nurse educator and faculty member interchangeably.
Why should you think about making nursing education your career? First, it can be highly rewarding to educate the next generation of nurses. It’s exciting to see the nurses you’ve taught help to improve patient care and lead the profession. Secondly, the nurse educator role offers variety and flexibility, with each day bringing different activities and challenges. Other advantages include flexibility in types of positions available and the variety of education programs, roles, and settings.
Educational institutions set faculty requirements based on their own expectations as well as those of regulatory agencies and accrediting organizations. However, some general qualifications exist. Nurse educators must hold a current, active nursing license and, depending on the position, may need other state credentials for advanced practice.
Generally, nurse educators must have at least a master’s degree; doctoral preparation is preferred. Although most employers require a graduate degree in nursing, some schools accept a non-nursing graduate degree or major if nursing is the applicant’s first degree. Applicants with a PhD (a research-focused doctorate) are attractive to nursing schools with a research mission. Some schools accept applicants with a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree (a practice-focused doctorate); check with the nursing program you’re interested in to be sure. Some may accept applicants with a doctor of education (EdD) or doctor of nursing science (DNSc) degrees. Having completed academic courses in educational theory and practice is a plus.
Educational programs look for faculty with expertise in a clinical specialty or content area, such as evidence-based practice, management, nursing education, health policy, ethics, pharmacology, or pathophysiology. Several years of registered nurse (RN) experience as well as specialty certification may be required. If you hold a doctoral degree, you may be expected to have research experience.
Types of positions
Nurse educators may teach full time or part time. Some positions are year-round; others are 9-month academic appointments. Many educators start as part-time clinical instructors or specialty course lecturers.
Most academic institutions appoint full-time educators to a certain rank, such as instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. The rank at hiring depends on clinical practice experience, academic preparation, and type of educational institution. Nurse educators may work toward a higher rank by achieving organizational requirements.
Educators are appointed to one of two tracks.
- Tenure-track educators are expected to meet certain academic standards within a specific number of years to achieve tenure status. Once tenured, they have more academic autonomy and greater permanency in the organization.
- Nontenured educators typically have contracts for a certain period.
Roles and responsibilities
Nurse educator roles include teaching, advising, service, practice, research, and scholarship. Within each category, performance expectations depend on the type of appointment, rank, and institution. Faculty roles may vary according to the mission of the college or university. In some institutions, faculty roles include research and scholarship.
Educators may teach in one or more settings, including classroom, distance learning (including online), laboratory or simulation settings, and healthcare organizations. As advisors, nurse educators support students’ progress and may mentor other nurse educators.
Nurse educators engage in professional service by participating in programs or committees in their educational institution as well as in professional organizations or perhaps community programs. They also may serve in leadership positions to advance nursing education and practice through program management, curriculum development and evaluation, influencing policy, or consulting with external organizations.
Professional scholarship may include engaging in activities to advance educational theory and practice, translating evidence to nursing practice, conducting research to create new knowledge, and disseminating information through national presentations and publications. The focus and extent of expectations for research or scholarly work vary significantly with the type of academic institution, educational program, and specific position or appointment.
Resources for nurse educators include the websites of schools of nursing, national nursing education organizations, and journals, such as the Journal of Nursing Education, Nurse Educator, and Nursing Education Perspectives. (See Organizations that focus on nursing education.)
Are you interested?
If you’re considering becoming a nurse educator, answer the questions in Self-assessment quiz. Then update your résumé or curriculum vitae and search for positions advertised in newspapers or journals or posted on Internet career websites or the websites of nursing education programs, colleges, and universities.
American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Nursing Faculty Shortage. Last updated August 18, 2014. www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/fact-sheets/nursing-faculty-shortage.
National League for Nursing Certification Commission. The Scope of Practice: For Academic Nurse Educators—2012 Revision. New York: National League for Nursing; 2012.
Deborah Lindell is director of the graduate-entry nursing program and assistant professor of nursing at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Cleveland, Ohio. Debra Hagler is a clinical professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and a Teaching Excellence Coordinator, Health Solutions, at Arizona State University in Phoenix. Kathleen Poindexter is an assistant professor and CNS Education Concentration program coordinator at Michigan State University’s College of Nursing in East Lansing.