How to Become a Nurse Educator

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Nurse educator at the hospital with young nurses in the background.Nursing care is a critical component of patient health and recovery. That’s why effective nurse education is so important. Nurses who choose to teach the next generation of students to lead, coach, teach and mentor nursing students. They ensure that patients receive optimal care from nurses who have the best training in their field. Nurses with a master’s degree in nursing can leverage their knowledge to prepare students for this challenging and rewarding career.

What Does a Nurse Educator Do?

Nurse educators work in academia and in clinical settings. They teach and mentor nursing students and nurses who’ve just started their careers. They educate students in science, nursing practice, clinical techniques and patient care. Nursing instructors don’t just teach hard skills — they also make sure that nurses have the well-rounded background they need to provide evidence-based patient care.

Whether nurse educators work in the classroom or a hospital, they’re responsible for teaching students to master the following competencies:

  • Critical thinking. Nursing is a science-based profession. Nurses must make decisions based on their education, training and data to provide the best patient care.
  • Detailed. Providing quality, error-free care is crucial. Nurses must be detailed when monitoring patients, entering data into electronic health record (EHR) software and administering medicine.
  • Communications. Nurses must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with patients and their families, colleagues, and administrative staff.
  • Compassion. Nurses must be compassionate and understanding as patients deal with illness and anxiety.
  • Emotional stability. Nurses need to be able to protect their own emotional well-being and cope in stressful situations.
  • Organizational skills. Nurses must be able to coordinate treatment for several patients in their care.
  • Strength. Nurses often have to lift and support patients.

College Faculty

Nurse educators work as nursing faculty in colleges, universities and vocational/training programs. Whether students are getting an associate degree (two year) or a bachelor’s degree (four year), the goal of a nursing program is to make sure that students pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is required before nurses can become RNs.

Accredited nursing programs must make their NCLEX passing scores public, so students can be sure that they’re getting the proper education before taking this rigorous exam.

What does a nurse educator do though? Nursing school faculty have the following responsibilities:

Develop Lesson Plans

Faculty members are responsible for developing lesson plans and coursework that prepare nursing students for the NCLEX. These courses cover topics such as nursing fundamentals, biostatistics, anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. Students must also take courses in writing and research.

Teach Courses

Faculty members are responsible for lecturing, grading and teaching labs. They also teach practical skills that are part of the job. Students will learn how to administer medicine, insert an IV and change a dressing, for example. Faculty members also guide and monitor student research projects and lab work.

Evaluate Education and Training Programs

Nursing faculty and administration must evaluate the effectiveness of their degree programs. Are students successfully passing the NCLEX? Should the curriculum incorporate new evidence-based techniques or standards? Nurse faculty members who move into administrative roles, such as dean, become influential in shaping the nursing program at their school.

Oversee Clinical Practice and Internships

As students near graduation, they transition into their professional careers. Students take on internships, projects, and clinical or nursing practice experience. Faculty members guide students through these first steps to help make sure that their graduates are successful.


Mentorship has long been a part of the education and training of nurses. Faculty members act as mentors to nurses throughout their education. For many nurses, this relationship lasts well into their professional careers. Faculty members coach their students as they learn each new skill, and they also provide guidance as students prepare for the NCLEX.

Clinical Nurse Educators

Nurse educators who work in hospitals are responsible for making sure that new nurses successfully transition into their professional careers and experienced nurses build on their knowledge and experience.

Nurse Preceptors

Nurse educators are often called preceptors, and the two roles are similar. The role of the nurse preceptor is to guide novice nurses at the start of their career. They’re teachers, coaches and influencers. They provide feedback, teach hospital protocols and encourage new nurses to think through problems. The goal of the nurse preceptor is to help new nurses successfully transition to being experienced nurses who’ve gained confidence in their skills.

Mentor and Train New Nurses

Just as academic nurse faculty members mentor students, nurse educators mentor novice nurses. This can mean providing encouragement and training guidance. A hospital environment is often the first real place where a student has had to perform clinical procedures. Nurse educators can help them become more comfortable in their duties.

Teach Clinical Practices and Procedures

Hospital nurse educators are also responsible for teaching incoming nursing staff clinical practices and procedures. Novice nurses may have only performed certain procedures a few times before their first job. They often have to be trained in clinical and workplace practices, including entering data into EHRs and signing out equipment.

Help Build Productive Nursing Teams

In a productive nursing team, staff members work well together, information is passed down effectively between shifts and everyone feels valued. Part of a nurse educator’s responsibility is to contribute to that environment. Nurse educators keep up with research and pass along evidence-based best practices. Their work with new staff is designed to reduce the ramp-up time, so novice nurses get up to speed quickly. They also provide or schedule continuing education.

Why Become a Nurse Educator?

Plenty of reasons exist to become a nurse educator, whether in an academic or in clinical setting. Nurse educators often have several years of practice before they become teachers. They leverage this practical experience because they want to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of nurses.

One of the most important answers to the question of why become a nurse educator is the growing demand for skilled nurses, a demand that’s expected to grow over the next 10 years.

Nurse Shortage

Some 600,000 RNs are expected to retire by 2030, according to the report The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity. This retirement wave, coupled with the increase in the number of nurses leaving the profession as a result of stress and burnout, means a need for more nurses to fill the gap. Thirty-four percent of nurses said they would leave their jobs by the end of 2022, according to a survey by staffing agency Incredible Health.

Nurse Faculty Shortage

Compounding the issue is a shortage of nurse faculty. Nursing schools turned away more than 80,400 qualified students in 2019 due to a lack of faculty, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Causes include the following:

  • As with their clinical counterparts, nurse faculty members have entered retirement age.
  • Salary for nurse faculty is less than for clinical and private sector employment.
  • Master’s and doctoral degree programs. As with associate and bachelor’s degree programs, graduate degree nursing programs have had to turn away applicants, squeezing the pipeline at both ends.

Nurse Educator Skills

Nurse educators have numerous skills that make this career the natural choice. These competencies include the following:

  • Excellent communication. Nurse educators have the ability to teach theory, science, and practical skills. They can communicate with students and fellow nurses.
  • Relationship building. Nurse educators in hospitals are often the bridge between clinical staff and hospital administration.
  • Analytical and research skills. Nurse faculty must conduct research into new techniques and nursing best practices and pass along this training to students and staff. They have to be able to develop curricula, continuing education plans, and lesson plans.
  • Teaching and mentoring. Nurse educators aren’t just teachers. They’re mentors, coaches, and guides. These skills are critical in nursing education, which requires both hands-on practical instruction and emotional and professional support.

Nurse Educator Education Requirements

Nurses who make the move into teaching must meet specific education requirements. Nurse educators who work in academia usually have an advanced degree. Before starting on the journey to become a teacher, a nurse needs to be licensed as an RN and have several years of experience. In fact, many nurse educators continue to practice in a clinical setting, ensuring that they stay current in nursing trends and practices.


While an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) can prepare a nurse to become an RN, a nurse educator must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This four-year degree is the first step to becoming a nurse educator. It prepares nurses for getting an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a doctorate. The BSN lays the groundwork for the education to come. Combined with several years of experience, a BSN is the starting point for becoming a nurse educator.


An MSN positions a nurse for various leadership positions, including that of a nurse educator. Nurses may get their RN license, and then go on to get an MSN. They may also continue straight on from their undergraduate degree into an MSN program. An advantage of the latter course is that students can expand on their bachelor’s degree program without missing a step.

Doctorate in Nursing

Some colleges and universities require nurse educators to have a doctorate in nursing. This may be a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a doctorate in education. The DNP leads to both clinical practice and teaching. The doctorate in education leads directly to a teaching position. Nurses who have an interest in advanced research or teaching at the highest levels often pursue a doctorate in nursing.

Nurse Educator Certification Requirements

Nurse educators often get their Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) credential, offered by the National League for Nursing. Although the CNE isn’t strictly necessary to work as a nurse educator, it offers nurses the opportunity to demonstrate their expertise in academic nursing education, setting themselves apart from candidates without credentials.

The requirements to be eligible for the CNE include several options, but, in general, nurses must have the following:

  • Nurses must have an active RN license.
  • Nurses must have a master’s degree or a doctorate with a focus on nursing education.

Other pathways include the following:

  • Nurses may have an MSN or doctorate that doesn’t focus on nursing education.
  • Nurses may have two or more years in a nursing program in a college or university.

Nurse Educator Salary

Many factors influence how much RNs and nurse educators make. The compensation varies by region, level of education, specialties and certifications, and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the following information on annual compensation for nurses and nurse educators:

RN Salary

The median annual salary for RNs was $77,600 in 2021, according to the BLS, which broke out nursing salaries as follows:

  • Diagnosing or treating practitioners earned $81,270.
  • Nurses employed by the government earned $85,970.
  • Nurses employed by state, local and private hospitals earned $78,080.
  • Nurses employed by residential care facilities earned $72,420.
  • School nurses earned $61,780.

Location was also a big factor in nursing compensation. The top-paying states for RNs in 2021 were as follows:

  • California: $124,000
  • Hawaii: $106,530
  • Oregon: $98,630
  • Washington, D.C.: $98,540
  • Alaska: $97,230

Nurse Educator Salary

Nurse educator salaries also varied by region and employer type. The median annual nurse educator salary was $77,440 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. The BLS broke out the largest employers and compensation as follows:

  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $95,720
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools: $83,340
  • Educational support services: $80,410
  • Technical and trade schools: $77,010
  • Junior colleges: $75,960

Nurse educators earned the highest wages in the following industries:

  • Local government: $127,690
  • Specialty hospitals: $101,030
  • Business schools: $99,050
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $95,720
  • Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals: $89,440

Salary for Nurse Educators with an MSN

Nurses with advanced degrees have the opportunity to earn higher wages. With an advanced degree, they can choose many different specializations. They often have more autonomy in their roles, which data shows can reduce stress and improve job satisfaction.

Nurses With an MSN

An MSN can lead to many different career options for nurses as both clinicians and nursing faculty members. According to compensation research site Payscale, the approximate median annual salaries for clinicians with an MSN as of August 2022 were as follows:

  • Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner: $96,100
  • Family nurse practitioner: $98,600
  • Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner: $113,800
  • Chief nursing officer: $125,000
  • Forensic nursing: $65,000

Nurse Educators with an MSN

Nurse educators with an MSN often continue to practice in a clinical setting along with serving as faculty members in colleges and universities or in a hospital educator role. As Payscale data shows, the approximate median salary for nurse educators with an MSN as of October 2022 was higher than that of their counterparts.

  • Nurse educators: $78,900
  • Nurse educators with an MSN: $81,000

Postsecondary Teaching Salaries

Nurse educators who teach in colleges, universities, professional schools and community colleges are postsecondary educators. The median wage for all postsecondary educators was $77,440 as of 2021, according to the BLS. Job growth was projected at 22% between 2021 and 2031. The metropolitan areas of New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Boston, Massachusetts; Chicago, Illinois; and Houston, Texas employed the most nurse educators, according to the BLS.

Prepare the Nurses of the Future

Nurse educators play a major role in preparing the nursing workforce of the future. They’re critical in elevating nursing practice with up-to-date research and best practices, mentoring incoming nurses and providing them with excellent training and education to ensure their success in the industry. Nurse educators, whether they work in academia or in a hospital setting, directly address healthcare challenges, including workforce shortages, quality of care, and patient satisfaction and care outcomes.

If you want to take the next step in your nursing career and learn how to become a nurse educator, explore Duquesne University’s online MSN and the Nursing Education and Faculty Role concentration. Take your career to the next level and make a positive impact on the nursing profession.

Recommended Readings

Funding Your MSN to Become a Nurse Educator

Nurse Educator Career Options

Understanding the Role of the Nurse Preceptor


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Master’s Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Faculty Shortage

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, PhD Education

Cliniconex, Autonomy in Nursing: What It Is and Why It Matters

Houston Chronicle, “What Are the Duties of a Nurse Educator?”

Incredible Health, Overview of the Nurse Educator Position

Incredible Health, Study: 34% of Nurses Plan to Leave Their Current Role by the End of 2022

Indeed, How to Become a Nurse Educator in 7 Steps (With FAQs)

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030”, “The Hospital Nurse Educator: An Essential Job for Nursing Students to Consider”

Payscale, Average Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Salary

Payscale, Average Chief Nurse Executive Salary

Payscale, Average Family Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

Payscale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

Payscale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Nursing Education Degree

Payscale, Salary for Skill: Forensic Nursing

Springer Publishing, CNE Certification Requirements

Trusted Health, “What Does a Clinical Nurse Educator Do?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nursing Instructors and Teachers, Postsecondary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses