Nurse Educators Apply Core Competencies to Learning and Teaching

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Nurse educator working with a nursing student

Registered nurses (RNs) who complete the educational requirements to become academic nurse educators must be prepared to take on the challenges of the classroom. This entails adapting their clinical experience and advanced education into academic instruction.

To facilitate positive teaching and learning environments, organizations that include the National League for Nursing (NLN) have developed core competencies for nurse educators and nurse education programs. With the ongoing nurse faculty shortage, the competencies are intended to provide a framework and guidelines for preparing new nurses for their roles.

Nurse educators who follow core competencies can develop nursing curriculums that provide quality educational instruction for the next generation of healthcare providers.

At Duquesne University, RNs enrolled in the master’s in nursing education online program learn nurse educator competencies to prepare for academic instruction roles.

Early Development of Core Competencies

For decades, healthcare professionals have pondered the best way to develop core competencies for nurse educators to establish consistent educational standards. By the 1980s, with the popularity of nursing master’s programs, the profession faced a shortage of well-prepared nurse educators. As more nurse educator programs were developed, the need for consistency in curriculum and standards grew. In response, the Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing, an affiliate of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), prepared the first widely used list of competencies essential for nurse educator roles.

The council described nurse educators as teachers, scholars, and collaborators. The three roles were aligned with 35 expected competencies:

  • As teachers, nurse educators are expected to use the appropriate theoretical frameworks to help student nurses develop skills that can be used in wide-ranging care. The competencies are learned through education and experience.
  • As scholars, nurse educators are responsible for the scholarship of teaching, discovery, application, and integration. Nurse educators are expected to design, collaborate and use research in the classroom.
  • As collaborators, nurse educators work with peers, students, administrators, and communities. They are expected to use their problem-solving and decision-making skills to interact with diverse groups.

At about the same time as the council developed its competencies, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) drafted its “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century” report that stressed the need for changes to healthcare education overall. The IOM, in its 2001 report, developed five core competencies for all healthcare professionals for consistent care:

  • Provide patient-centered care
  • Work in interdisciplinary teams
  • Use evidence-based practices
  • Identify and apply quality improvements
  • Utilize informatics

The reports from the Council on Collegiate Education for Nursing and the IOM could be considered harbingers of change for nursing educators.

Nurse Educator Core Competencies

In the nearly two decades that have passed since both reports, several nursing organizations have developed their own competencies as they relate to specific areas of practice.

For nurse educators, the gold standard is the NLN’s core competencies. Developed in 2005, the competencies are intended to “promote excellence in the advanced specialty role of the academic nurse educator.”

“They establish nursing education as a specialty area of practice and create a means for faculty to more fully demonstrate the richness and complexity of the faculty role,” the NLN said.

The NLN states nurse educators should be able to do the following:

  • Facilitate learning
  • Assist students to develop as nurses
  • Use known strategies to assess and evaluate student learning in the classroom, clinical and laboratory settings
  • Design curricula and formulate program outcomes
  • Operate as change agents and leaders
  • Commit to lifelong learning in the nurse educator role
  • Engage in scholarship that advances the practice of nursing
  • Understand and function within the educational environment

In 2017, the NLN issued core competencies for graduate programs that prepare nurse educators for academic positions. The concepts are based on four broad program outcomes: human flourishing, sound nursing judgment, professional identity and the spirit of inquiry.

The NLN said masters-level nursing school graduates who take on roles as academic nurse educators should be prepared to perform high-level skills that include:

  • Providing leadership and guidance in the practice of teaching to encourage human flourishing
  • Using sound judgment to make scholarly critiques of evidence to identify knowledge gaps and formulate research questions
  • Implementing the educator role by continually working toward professional and personal growth, demonstrating leadership and displaying a willingness to advance the profession
  • Contributing to the science of nursing education to enhance nursing preparation and practice

Core Competencies from Clinical Practice to the Classroom

The NLN said nurse educators must receive “structured preparation” for the role, including a vast array of information about teaching, learning and evaluating. They must be prepared to develop curriculum, assess program outcomes and contribute to the academic community. The overarching theme for nurse educator competencies is to create better student outcomes.

Competence as an educator can be created and expanded through a master’s in nursing education curriculum, the NLN said. Today, a growing number of RNs are turning to online master’s in nursing education programs to lead the future of nurse education.

Duquesne University’s online Nursing Education and Faculty Role program is designed to provide a sound academic foundation while building on core competencies that most RNs already utilize in their daily work.

About Duquesne University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Duquesne University’s online MSN program has been lauded as a leader in nurse education and recognized for excellence in online academia. The university’s online MSN in Nursing Education and Faculty Role program is designed to prepare future educators to exceed the core competencies in nursing education.

The university also offers two other areas of MSN specialization — Family (Individual Across the Lifespan) Nurse Practitioner and Forensic Nursing — so RNs can choose their best path.