Skilled nurses are the driving force behind the medical profession. They are the staff members that measure vital signs, administer injections, provide hands-on care, offer health counseling, and otherwise take care of patients. These nurses must be trained, and it’s the role of the nurse educator to provide that training.
Nurse educators are registered nurses who have advanced nursing degrees and are qualified not only to deliver nursing care themselves but also to teach the next generation of nurses. A clinical nurse educator will usually have an MSN degree, and some even have doctoral degrees. They have many years of experience working in health care settings themselves and deliver training either in a nursing school or a hospital setting.
Some nurse educators focus on classroom teaching, designing and developing the nursing curriculum, reviewing courses, delivering teaching materials, and assessing students. Others still engage in nursing practice themselves and supervise less experienced nurses, helping them gain the experience they need during the early stages of their nursing careers.
In some cases, nurse educators provide information and training to patients, for example helping a patient learn how to manage a long-term illness or administer their own medications.
What a nurse educator does
A nurse educator will spend most of their time in an academic environment, but they are sometimes found in health care facilities too. Wherever there are nursing students to be found, there’s a need for nurse educators to guide and train them.
Where does a nurse educator work?
Nurse educators typically work in universities or colleges where nursing classes are offered, however, you may find them in other contexts too. Some large hospitals and clinics have nurse educators on staff as clinical supervisors or providing staff development services.
Nurse educators can be found in:
- Community colleges
- Traditional Hospitals
- Care homes
- Teaching hospitals
What is a nurse educator and what does one do?
Most nurse educators focus on teaching nursing students. They are responsible for creating training materials for nursing students, evaluating and improving existing programs, and teaching classes. Some nurse educators teach general nursing skills, while others focus on nursing specializations. An advanced practice nurse who has retired from active nursing practice may teach less experienced registered nurses about the finer points of their specialization, such as nursing informatic, pediatrics, or psychiatric mental health.
It’s common for nurse educators to be entirely focused on education rather than nursing practice. However, these nurses are still expected to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the nursing space. Best practices and treatment protocols are constantly evolving, so a nurse educator needs to know what’s going on in the profession so they deliver correct information to their students.
In educational institutions with teaching hospitals attached to them, nurse educators might continue to practice part-time, making it easier for them to stay up-to-date. Some clinical nurse educators do all of their teaching via hands-on training and serve more as a guide to assist registered nurses with their professional development.
The nursing profession is a broad one and the difference in the level of education and experience between a recently qualified nurse with an associate’s degree and a nurse with a doctoral degree is massive. Nurses at all levels require support, teaching, and guidance, so there’s room for educators to specialize or focus on specific areas that interest them.
What specializations are available to nurse educators?
So far, we’ve focused on nurse educators who work in universities, colleges, and other educational institutions or clinical nurse educators who focus on teaching student nurses, and those who are at the beginning of their careers. Not all nurse educator positions are focused on teaching nurses, however.
Some nurse educators do specialize in teaching a specific area of nursing, such as:
- Nursing informatics
- Pediatric nursing
- Psychiatric-mental health nursing
- Neonatal nursing
- Orthopedic nursing
However, other nurse educators take on a more healthcare-focused role, teaching patients. For example, a diabetes nurse educator will work with patients who have gestational diabetes, Type I or Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes nurse educators teach patients about the condition, its symptoms, and how to manage the condition. They also learn about the signs of hypo or hyperglycemia as well as why it’s important for people living with diabetes to take good care of their hands, feet, and eyes.
Historically, hospitals would have a nurse educator in-house who would deliver classroom training and work to ensure nurses had up-to-date certifications. Today, there’s less need for this sort of oversight from a specialist educator, because so many aspects of certification are handled online.
Hospitals do still need to ensure the nurses they have on staff are properly trained, however, so there’s often room for someone who fills a hybrid role as a nurse administrator or leader and a nurse educator. These nurses take on less of a faculty role and focus more on administration and management. They still need some understanding of both nursing and educational practices, though, because they’ll sometimes be called upon to help nurses plan their progression or understand new systems.
Today, many nurse educator positions expect that the nurse will have a doctoral degree because they’ll be not just repeating material to educate new nurses but also producing new learning materials. It’s therefore vital they have a very deep understanding of the material.
Factors that can affect a nurse educator’s salary
Nurse educator salaries can vary dramatically depending on the type of institution they work in, where they’re based, and whether they deliver general nursing material or focus on more specialized content. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary of a postsecondary nurse educator is $83,160. This covers nurse educators who teach in a variety of settings.
What factors determine a nurse educator’s salary?
The salary earned by nurse educators varies depending on where they live and the setting in which they’re teaching. For example, the BLS reports nurse educators in technical and trade schools earn less than average, with salaries of around $73,100. Nurses in junior colleges command similar salaries, earning around $75,430.
Nurses working in colleges and universities earn salaries close to the median ($83,240), and those who are based in hospitals have the chance to earn far more than average, at $121,180.
Why does the salary of a nurse educator vary from city to city?
The salaries earned by nurse educators can vary dramatically depending on which city they work in. Some of these salary differences can be attributed to the cost of living in those cities. In addition, some cities have more demand for nurse educators than others. If there’s a skills shortage in a city, the trained nurses that are there will be able to command higher salaries.
Since nurses who work in a general hospital or a surgical hospital have higher earning potential than those who work in a junior college or a technical college, there could be a significant disparity in average earnings there too. Some smaller towns and cities only have technical colleges and don’t have a major teaching university or hospital with enough funding to employ lots of nurse educators or nurse administrators that also fulfill an education role.
Nurse educators who want to maximize their earnings should consider relocating and compare the cost of living and average earnings in various cities before deciding whether relocating might be worthwhile.
Nurse educators working in the District of Columbia typically earn the most compared to nurse educators in other states, with an average yearly income of $153,830. Nurse educators in Connecticut earn far less than nurses in the District of Columbia, but still more than the average for the profession, with average incomes of $101,760. Earnings for nurse educators are similar in California, at $101,320.
The state where nurse educators are paid the least is Arkansas, where they earn an average of $54,920. This isn’t just lower than the national average for nurse educators, it’s below the national average of $79,790 for registered nurses with a Bachelor’s degree. Nurse educators in West Virginia and Wisconsin also earn far less than average, with average salaries of $58,530.
Some of this earning disparity can be accounted for by the difference in the cost of living in different states and/or cities. Many cities in California, for example, have very high costs of living so it makes sense for people living and working there to earn more than those who live in a smaller city in Arkansas. This means it’s a good idea to research the costs of living in a new area before making a decision about accepting a job there.
How does nursing education and experience affect a nurse educator’s salary?
Nursing experience and education are both important for nurse educators. Nurse educators who have completed a doctorate degree are more desirable to employers and can command higher salaries as a result of that.
In addition, a nurse who is qualified to doctorate level may be able to work as a nurse practitioner as well as working as an educator. Experienced nurses are always in demand to provide patient care, and many nurses do double duty, working at teaching hospitals or providing patient care part-time in addition to their teaching jobs.
In most cases, a family nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist would be able to make more money by working in a hospital or clinic in a patient-facing capacity than they would by teaching. There are some perks to teaching, such as more predictable shifts, shorter hours, and work that is less physically demanding, but educational institutions are well aware of the pay difference and many of the higher-profile institutions are raising nurse educator salaries to attract more nurses to this career path.
To access the higher salaries, you’ll need to have a strong academic background and be an advanced practice nurse. The most high-profile institutions want top-quality nurses to join their faculty. Pursuing either a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Ph.D. in nursing is a good idea for those who are interested in moving into the world of academia.
How much a nurse educator can expect to make
The average salary for a nurse educator is $83,160 per year. The exact earnings for a nursing educator will vary depending on where they’re working. For example, the average salary for a nurse educator at a junior college is lower than average, but as we mentioned earlier those who work in medical and surgical hospitals can earn much more.
How can you know if you are being paid fairly as a clinical nurse educator?
Because salaries can vary so much in this profession, it can be hard to feel confident that you’ve been offered a fair salary when you go looking for a new job as a clinical nurse educator. It’s usually not a good idea to look at the national average salaries, since cost of living differences from state to state can make a huge difference.
For example, if you’re a nurse educator working at a major hospital in the District of Columbia and you have a doctoral degree, your earning potential would be towards the upper limit for nurse educators, with incomes of around $150,000 being considered reasonable for your location. That’s far more than the national average.
Conversely, if you’re in a state with a much lower cost of living, you’re likely to be disappointed if you hold out for a job with a salary of $80,000 or more.
You can get a reasonable idea of what other nursing educators in your area are earning by looking at popular websites such as PayScale or Glassdoor. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers some state-by-state income statistics, including information on average wages by area.
Don’t forget to take into account the budget of the institution you’re working for. A non-profit college in a small town is unlikely to have the staffing budget of a major university. Some people enjoy working at smaller institutions because of the atmosphere, staff-to-student ratios, or simply because they like having the freedom to explore their own interests and have an influence on the curriculum.
As a highly qualified nurse educator, you’ll have the freedom to decide whether you want to work with students who are just entering postsecondary education or provide access to continuing education for registered nurses. You can feel confident that your skills will always be in demand, and you’ll have the option of moving between institutions, switching specializations, or relocating as your life and career needs change.
Steps to become a nurse educator
To become a nurse educator you will first need to train as a registered nurse. This means earning either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, then taking the NCLEX-RN examination to earn your nursing license.
While you can call yourself a nurse with just an associate’s degree and the RN license, most nurses today opt for a bachelor’s degree. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, nurses with a bachelor’s degree can command higher salaries and will find it easier to find employment.
Secondly, in some states nurses who have an associate’s degree are required to upgrade to a bachelor’s degree within a set period of time after earning their license. New York was the first state to introduce this rule, with the BSN in 10 law. Other states started examining their own licensing rules after this, as it has been found that nurses with a bachelor’s degree offer better care and produce better patient outcomes.
It takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, on average. Some nurses earn their associate’s degree, pass their licensure examination then work in a clinical setting while studying for their bachelor’s degree part-time.
Whichever route you take into practice, you’ll spend some time earning valuable clinical experience and learning about the different specializations available to nurses. As a registered nurse, you have a limited scope of practice compared to an advanced practice nurse or clinical nurse specialist, but you can work in many different departments under the supervision of a nurse practitioner or a specialist.
You can use the first year or two after licensure to learn as much as you can about the different departments and pass some entry-level certifications. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers several certifications for early-career registered nurses that equip them with the skills they need to pursue higher-level specializations.
Being well-rounded is important for a nurse educator because there’s a chance you’ll be asked to teach general nursing skills. You will eventually want to choose a specialization, however, and that means earning a post-graduate degree.
What nursing degrees are best suited for a nursing educator career?
The primary route into nursing education is the master’s degree route. A Master of Science in Nursing Education is considered the minimum requirement for getting a job as a nurse educator. It’s not uncommon for nurses to study to be a clinical nurse specialist or some other advanced practice specialization, then study a DNP with a focus in Nursing Education.
There are many universities offering MSN degrees with a focus on nursing education. Some of these programs are offered for online study, letting nurses complete them from anywhere in the country. Course fees for online MSN degrees are usually fairly affordable, and your employer may be willing to provide some support with those fees if you are planning to stay on with them and take on a nurse educator or nurse administrator role once you’ve completed your studies.
Some popular options for aspiring nurse educators include:
All of these universities have nursing programs and offer Master’s degrees in Nursing education for distance learning.
In some cases, students may wish to study for a master’s degree via the traditional route, attending classes at a campus and studying full time. This may require relocating, so think carefully about the overall cost of studying this way. Don’t forget that there’s more than just course fees to pay.
How much does it cost to study to become a nurse educator?
The cost of studying to become a nurse educator is similar to the cost of other APRN programs. Depending on the institution you choose to study with, the cost of a master’s degree could be between $60,000 and $200,000 for tuition at a traditional university.
Online study is usually far less expensive, and there are programs costing as little as $35,000. These costs are for tuition only, however, and you’ll need to factor in the cost of textbooks, equipment, uniforms, travel, and in some cases exams.
Most nurses don’t pay for the whole of their costs out of pocket, especially at the postgraduate level. If you opt to take out student loans, you can usually request to have them written off via a loan forgiveness program if you spend time working at a non-profit hospital.
Scholarships are widely available, too. If you’re worried about being able to cover the cost of tuition for your master’s degree, contact the student services or student finance departments at the institution you’d like to apply to and ask for information about scholarships.
Other options for covering your tuition fees included employer sponsorship, and programs such as the Nurse Corps Scholarship, which offer full tuition in return for a period of service after graduation.
In most cases, it’s well worth the investment in time and money that it takes to become a nurse educator. Even those who work as nurse educators in some of the lowest paying cities in the country earn far more per year than the national average wage, so over the course of your career, you’ll more than make back the cost of the time you spent studying.
Can you become a nurse educator if you don’t have a BSN?
If you are a registered nurse with an associate’s degree and you’d like to become a nurse educator, you have two options. Many nurses complete a top-up degree to go from the ADN to the BSN. This is usually considered the best idea because it keeps your options open and means you’ll be able to access a wider variety of postgraduate courses once you’re qualified.
The other option is to complete an RN to MSN bridge program. These programs are offered by some universities, such as Western Governor’s University, and allow a nurse who has some clinical experience but no bachelor’s degree to earn their BSN and move straight on to the Master’s in a slightly compressed time frame.
The MSN degree itself is just as respected as an MSN earned from a BSN to MSN program, and as long as you have a valid RN license and the required clinical experience for any specializations you’re hoping for, you’ll be able to complete any certifications.
The availability of these options makes nursing a great career choice for people from non-traditional backgrounds or who perhaps weren’t academically inclined when they were younger. Hard work, study, and attention to detail pay off.
How long do you have to go to school to be a nurse educator?
It takes two years to complete a master’s degree full-time. This means in most cases it would take six years to go from deciding to pursue a career in nursing to become a qualified nurse educator. In many cases, it takes longer than this because people choose to study part-time while working as a nurse.
Aspiring nurse educators can speed up their route into practice by studying an accelerated BSN if they have very good grades and a strong understanding of the sciences, but there are no shortcuts to specialization. You’ll need to earn the required clinical practice hours to get your RN license and complete a demanding program of postgraduate studies.
What are the long-term prospects of a nurse educator?
Working as a nurse educator is the end goal for many nurses. After spending time focusing on the practical side of nursing care for a few years, many nurses want to move on to a less patient-focused role, and training the next generation of nurses is a great way to do that.
Some nurses do see the nurse educator job title as a stepping stone, however, and work in this area of nursing for a few years after earning their master’s degree, before studying a doctoral degree and moving into the research side of academia or taking up an administrative position in a hospital.
Because nursing is such a broad occupation, there are many options for promotion and for taking up extra specializations. Nurse educators are some of the highest-paid nursing professionals, but those who wish to increase their earnings could become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, for example.