Nurse Educator Career Overview

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Nurse educator with arms folded stands in front of a chalkboard with science notes.

Nurses are known for their empathy, caring skills and role on the front lines of the health care system — but their career options are not limited to direct patient care in clinical settings. A prime example of this is the nurse educator role. Nurses who are equipped with a Master of Science in Nursing degree and are interested in taking on this important role can help instruct the next generation of nurses to improve patient outcomes.

The nurse educator career is often associated with an academic setting. Nurse educators commonly serve as faculty in teaching hospitals and nursing schools, where they develop lesson plans, teach courses, evaluate curriculum, oversee students’ clinical practice and mentor the next generation of nurses. Whether they teach general or specialized courses, nurse educators must stay abreast of new nursing methods and technologies.

Nurse educators also have a range of other specialized and professional paths they can explore. While these alternate nurse educator careers perform outside the traditional academic nurse educator role, they are all associated with helping the next generation of nurses excel in care delivery.

Nurse Educator Specialties

The nursing profession consists of several specialties devoted to specific elements of care delivery. These specialties can focus on a specific patient demographic, such as pediatrics and women’s health. They can also concentrate on a specific health issue, such as mental health, or on a broader subset of the health care industry, such as public health.

Likewise, nurse educator careers can specialize in helping tomorrow’s nursing professionals gain the expertise to provide care in a given specialty. In these situations, nurse educators execute the common tasks associated with the role, such as lesson plan prep, curriculum evaluation and overseeing student performance.

Specialized nurse educators apply these tasks toward the concentrated area of care while also paying attention to fundamental care delivery lessons. While nurse educators will possess the general health care knowledge to instruct students in the core competencies of nursing, they will also have enhanced knowledge of their specialized field.

Nurse educators can also set their specialization within a certain level of nursing education. For instance, they may focus their instruction on entry-level nursing courses to help tomorrow’s nurses build a strong foundation. They may also gear their instruction toward more advanced coursework, such as doctoral programs.

Nurse Educator Positions

Nurse educator careers can lead to a variety of settings outside academia, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and technical or vocational schools. These additional settings also make it possible for nurse educators to explore career paths that lead beyond an instructional role.

Additional nurse educator career options include:

  • Nurse professional development (NPD) specialists
  • Nursing education coordinators
  • Education consultants
  • Clinical competency coordinators

Nurse Professional Development Specialists

Nurse professional development (NPD) specialists provide education, coaching and training to facilitate the professional development of clinical staff. Their work can be instrumental in helping young nurses advance in their careers. They may also help nurses transition to another role or specialty. As learning facilitators, they create and implement educational opportunities that promote knowledge retention and competence. The NPD specialty is recognized by the American Nurses Association (ANA) and has its own scope and standards of practice.

Nursing Education Coordinators

Nursing education coordinators identify training needs required for staff development programs and are usually employed in hospitals or other clinical settings. They plan, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of training programs and may also deliver training content. Additionally, they may be responsible for developing materials to communicate the availability of training programs.

Education Consultants

Education consultants are commonly hired by specialty practices or health care organizations to advise, create or administer continuing education for clinical staff. Working closely with the client, they provide customized training, regulatory compliance audits, and process review and design to ensure staff can focus on patient care with positive outcomes. Consultants may be independent or work for clinical education providers.

Clinical Competency Coordinators

Clinical competency coordinators work in hospitals or other clinical settings, such as nursing homes. They evaluate patient care by assessing the competency of clinical staff on an ongoing basis, evaluating the quality of patient care by bedside observation, and assessing the demonstration of proper procedures and best practices by staff.

Nurse Educator Career Options and Outlook

Nurses, in general, are in high demand. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer data specifically on nurse educators, it does report that advanced practice nurses — who, like nurse educators, require an advanced degree — will see a 40% job growth between 2021 and 2031. This is substantially higher than the 5% average growth the BLS projects for the job market as a whole.

Nurse educators in particular are urgently sought because of an ongoing shortage that’s preventing qualified students from pursuing nursing careers. More than 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs partially due to insufficient faculty numbers, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report 2019-2020 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing.

Pursuing a career as a nurse educator, therefore, does more than provide a fulfilling career. It allows nurse professionals to play a critical role in addressing the nation’s widespread shortage of nurses.

Help Shape Health Care’s Future

Nurse educators are a fundamental part of health care delivery. Regardless of which nurse educator career they choose, these professionals are in a position to guide the next generation of nurses to strengthen and improve patient care as it continues to evolve. This not only makes nurse educator careers satisfying for those who choose them — it also makes them crucial for the health care workforce.

Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program and it’s Nursing Education and Faculty Role specialization can help prepare RNs in all stages of their careers to become nurse educators. The university offers MSN and Post-Master’s Certificate degree programs with nursing education concentrations and provides one-on-one faculty support to encourage academic success, giving students the knowledge and skills to guide the next generation of nurses with confidence.

Learn how we can help you shape the future of nursing and care delivery.

Recommended Reading

Benefits of a Nurse Mentorship: Why Nurse Educators Matter

Business Acumen for Nurse Leaders

LGBTQ Health Disparities and How Nurses Can Help 


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Faculty Shortage

Climb the Ladder, What Does a Nursing Professional Development Specialist Do?

Houston Chronicle, “Comparison of the Role of Nurse Educator Versus a Nurse Practitioner”

Johnson & Johnson Nursing, Nursing Specialties

Nursing Outlook, “Retirements and Succession of Nursing Faculty in 2016-2025”, Nursing Education Coordinator

StatPearls, “Nursing Professional Development Standards”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners

ZipRecuiter, What Is a Nursing Education Consultant and How to Become One