Without dedicated and professional nurse educators, our healthcare system would find it impossible to meet the massive, nationwide demand for qualified nursing staff. It would also be impossible to meet the continuous professional development needs and standards that underpin modern healthcare.
Nurse educators are also highly instrumental in improving professionalism in this field but also standards of patient care in general and the research underway to support medical advances.
As nurse educators play such a crucial and varied role, it is a potential career move that many current and future nurses may wish to consider. It may even incentivize someone to switch careers and work towards the qualifications and experience needed to fill this vital position.
The basic journey of a nurse educator is usually to gain a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to become a registered nurse (RN). After obtaining their registration, nurses need to acquire several years of clinical experience, followed by earning an advanced nursing degree.
The examinations needed to become a qualified nurse educator may include completing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) Principles.
This provides an excellent grounding in the skills and knowledge that educators will require to pass on to new and qualified nurses who are needed to engage in regular training updates. It also builds the educator’s confidence and interpersonal skills, which helps to ensure they can guide students through often intense and detailed study activities.
What else is involved in becoming a nurse educator, what sort of settings and situations do they work in, and are there personal attributes that you need to be successful in this role?
The background picture
Let’s start by looking at how essential it is to recruit more people for this position to ensure that healthcare providers have enough qualified and professionally supported nursing personnel.
Nurses are the largest professional group within the essential healthcare labor force in the US and worldwide. They work in many specialties and locations, carrying out vital health diagnoses, treatment and management services, and social care duties.
As the population is aging and medical advances continue rapidly, the need to recruit and train nurses grows increasingly vital.
No profession in the US is recruiting at the same level as nursing, according to The American Nurses Association (ANA). The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that an additional 275,000 nurses will be required to fill vacant posts between 2020 and 2030.
To ensure we have enough nurses, there is a fundamental need first to recruit and train enough nurse educators.
This means that if this a career of interest to you, then it is a superb time to take the first step! There is evidence that the number of students able to take nursing qualifications is limited in some places due to insufficient people qualified to support their vital training and education.
According to a report in Nurse Journal: “The nursing faculty shortage continues to increase across the country. Faculty shortages increased slightly to 8.8% in 2022 compared to 8% in 2021”, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The rise of online learning for nurses
One saving grace for this situation is the possibility of gaining a high-quality nursing education via remote learning. This helps in two ways. It represents an excellent and flexible route to gaining qualifications for nurses, but it also allows more people to complete the steps involved in becoming a nurse educator. Reputable institutions such as The University of Indianapolis offer online post-master’s DNP programs to allow working nurses to gain advanced skills in leadership, advocacy, research, and policy. Completing this online DNP program is also an excellent way for future nurse educators to gain important managerial skills.
Experience counts too
It is believed there are well over 23,000 nurse educators currently employed in the US. It may not be a surprise to learn that women fill many of those roles, but it is a career that both genders now embrace.
Another key statistic is that the average age of nurse educators is 43 years old. This hints at one of the important aspects of this practical teaching role in healthcare. Several years of practical experience in nursing enables applicants to move seamlessly and effectively into nurse educator positions.
The experience needed to fulfill this career post is not simply about acquiring clinical knowledge and skills within health service facilities or the community.
Nurse educators need to be responsive to the needs of their students and show emotional intelligence in how they support learning journeys. People learn at different paces and respond best to various teaching and knowledge acquisition methods. The most successful nurse educators must be empathetic, versatile, and creative in working with each learner or group of learners.
Where are nurse educators based?
Mention has already been made of how nurse educators are at the forefront of developing the best remote learning qualification programs for nursing professionals. This means universities are one of the most prolific employers of personnel with the appropriate qualifications, experience, and personality for this crucial healthcare role.
Within universities, nurse educators often lead in communicating with colleagues in other disciplines, too, and collaborating on any study programs that involve a blend of learning modules and outcomes.
However, the likely workplace setting for anyone pursuing a career in this field can be much more varied than educational institutions. This is especially true as nurse educators are not solely tasked with supporting new nurses in gaining the necessary skills and clinical experience.
Qualified nursing professionals, like other healthcare personnel, are required to complete continuous professional development (CDP). This ensures that they benefit from constantly refreshed abilities and knowledge and keep pace with advances in medical diagnosis, treatment, and management.
It stands to reason, then, that hospitals, major clinics, and primary and community healthcare providers are among the organizations that recruit nurse educators. Nurse educators often play a role in assisting registered nurses to advance in their careers through experiential learning opportunities within hospital departments.
Having sufficient faculty leads to deliver consistent on-the-job training for nurses is vital for health service providers. It can be the only way that organizations of all types and sizes can maintain their quality care standards, patient safety, and records for positive outcomes.
Nurse educators in hospitals, clinics, and practices may also be involved in health promotion and collaboration projects. They provide advisory, administration, and coaching services, supporting other healthcare personnel. This may include helping the work of colleagues engaged in research and development initiatives.
This job role includes a wide spectrum of responsibilities in clinical environments. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) describes the duties of a nurse educator as covering three broad areas. They provide services as a collaborator, director of student learning, and role model.
This last category — being a role model for new and advancing nurses — links to another aspect of this career. Nurse educators work within clinical settings of all types and sizes to help create and sustain resilient teams. This may include advocating not just for patients but also for learners, ensuring that everyone benefits from a positive work environment and job satisfaction.
Nurse educators in pharmaceutical and biotechnology roles
This is possibly one of the lesser-known workplaces where you will find qualified nurse educators. The pharmaceutical industry is an enthusiastic recruiter of nurses with advanced qualifications and the experience required to promote learning.
This is logical when you consider how rapidly scientific understanding is advancing. It can take many years to gain approval for new treatment and diagnostic protocols — and to market them. However, thanks to massive investment in medical research globally, there is a constant stream of breakthroughs and new drugs and devices coming on the market.
This leads to a pressing need for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to employ clinical nurse educators.
A pharmaceutical clinical educator performs various tasks, including working with patients during clinical trials and disseminating knowledge and skills to other healthcare professionals following drug or device approval.
In some situations, this may involve the clinical educator working with the sales team, demonstrating the potential and use of a particular drug or device, for instance. However, sometimes, it is a role that revolves more around supporting nursing teams, who are engaged in managing and treating patients during clinical trials or early adaptation of an approved drug or device.
The tasks nurse educators perform.
Though the place you work as a nurse educator may vary, some of the core tasks performed in this role remain unchanged.
For instance, nurse educators teach clinical skills and patient care. This involves working with individual learners and groups of student nurses or qualified nurses working to enhance their professional development.
Nurse educators evaluate each learner’s progress against the various educational requirements and provide any additional support or encouragement needed to attain a positive result.
They also support learners through their clinical rotations, helping them to analyze and optimize their practical learning opportunities.
Some nurse educators will also be involved in developing and shaping the curriculum and learning journeys of future nurses. This may include building policies and processes to monitor and evaluate learner progress.
Nurse educators can also be tasked with adding their unique insights to hospital research or the pharmaceutical developments referenced above.
As they are advanced nurses with valuable teaching experience, nurse educators may also be tasked with fulfilling leadership roles in healthcare and in developing training and certification in particular.
What personal qualities do nurse educators need?
You may want to research tips on making a successful career change before completing a second degree in nursing or transitioning from a practical health professional to a nurse educator role. It is also helpful to consider what employers look for when someone applies to fill this vital educational role.
Nurse educators require advanced nursing degrees from a reputable university. They must also demonstrate a significant amount of on-the-job experience and a clear appreciation of the workload and pressures that nurses must now handle.
This is because they will assist countless other personnel to improve their efficiency and effectiveness, navigate modern nursing requirements, and cope with the mental and physical demands of nursing.
This requires that nurse educators be invested in their personal and professional development, including a strong emphasis on enhanced soft skills. This covers interpersonal abilities such as empathy and being able to motivate and inspire future and improving nurses.
Communication skills are also vitally important to nurse educators.
This doesn’t simply mean being able to deliver knowledge and skills clearly and memorably. Teachers, trainers, and coaches in healthcare posts need to be active listeners, too. For instance, they need to know what questions to ask to ensure that their learners are comfortable and confident in the training content they are focusing on. It is also invaluable to read non-verbal cues, such as the body language of learners who may feel confused, distracted, or overwhelmed.
Primarily, though, nurse educators need to be genuinely passionate about the important job they are doing and authentically eager to inspire nurses to rise to the many challenges of modern medicine and social care.
The best nurse educators don’t just launch new nursing professionals onto their chosen career path. They also continue to inspire, and sometimes even mentor and advise, nurses for the rest of their work lives.