How to Become a Nursing Teacher


In contrast to most teaching positions, the demand for nursing teachers (commonly known as nurse educators) is higher than average, as there is currently a shortage of qualified nurse educators across the U.S. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) cites two reasons for the current shortage, including a limited pool of prepared nurses, and non-competitive salaries. Most notably, highly qualified and experienced nurses tend to make more working in a clinical setting than they do as a professor of nursing.

The impact of the nursing education shortage is twofold. The AACN reports that every year, thousands of qualified applicants are turned away from graduate programs in nursing because there is a shortage of faculty to teach and supervise graduate students. The faculty shortage is also beginning to impact the nursing profession. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the nursing profession is growing at a faster than average rate, and will continue to do so for the next decade, nursing schools are increasingly struggling to produce graduates.

For this reason, most nursing faculties across the nation are actively recruiting qualified faculty, and working to create faculty development programs for practicing nurses interested in becoming nurse educators. For nurses interested in changing career tracks and becoming an educator in their field, opportunities are particularly encouraging.

Why is there a need for nursing teachers?

According to USA Today, nursing is one of the highest paying bachelor’s degrees in the United States – with graduates estimated to make an average starting salary of $53,300. Nurses midway in their careers boast salaries of $70,100 and more. Interest in becoming a nurse is steadily increasing, yet the number of aspiring health care workers is exceeding the current pool of qualified educators. Those with a desire to expand their options within the field, often enter a master’s degree program, which requires nurse educators capable of teaching graduate-level courses.

The shortage of nurse educators is dire enough that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now facilitates a Nurse Loan Faculty Forgiveness Program. The program enables participating schools to offer loans to nurses pursuing graduate degrees to qualify as nurse faculty. Under the program, recipients who go on to serve as full-time faculty at an accredited school of nursing may cancel 85 percent of their loans, over the course of four years.

In some states, nurses who complete their graduate degrees and continue to work as nurse educators can have up to 100 percent of their student loans forgiven. In other words, in addition to the high likelihood of getting hired upon completion of a nursing teacher degree, there are many opportunities to obtain a graduate degree in nursing, with partial or full financial support.

How can I become a college or university nursing professor?

The majority of nurse educators work for 2- or 4-year colleges, and have traditionally fulfilled the requirements to become a licensed registered nurse (RN), such as earning a graduate degree in nursing, generally one that places an emphasis on nursing education.

Registered nurses have already completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and have taken courses associated with the fundamentals of nursing, pathophysiology and pharmaceuticals. After that, it generally takes a nurse an additional two years to earn a master’s degree in nursing, and six more to obtain a doctoral degree. M.A. and Ph.D. programs delve into coursework that concentrates on teaching strategies, educational technology, curriculum development, and research methods. Students also complete a teaching practicum. Those pursuing a doctoral degree usually take courses on qualitative research, statistical methods, and learning about the role of the professor. Completion of a doctoral dissertation is also a requirement.

College nursing departments employ both teaching and clinical faculty members.

  • Teaching faculty offer courses within a classroom setting and educate students on various topics, such as nursing history, pharmacology, or medical terminology. Some nurse educators are hired to provide online course instruction to future nurses.
  • Clinical faculty are typically charged with the task of supervising and evaluating nursing students in clinical settings, such as hospitals or other places where nurses work, like community health centers and schools. Clinical practicum work generally involves taking students on rounds to visit various hospital floors, teaching them how to care for patients, as well as showing them how to complete correct documentation of patient cases. Nurse educators also introduce nursing students to various pieces of medical and technical equipment, and demonstrate their proper use.

Whether they are teaching courses or overseeing students in a clinical setting, college nursing professors must hold at least a master’s degree in nursing, and with few exceptions, they are required to have demonstrated a history of working as a nurse in a clinical setting. At the college level, teaching and clinical supervision are typically given more weight than research activities.

At the university level, most nursing departments and schools employ different types of faculty, and depending on the position, qualifications may vary. Those who work at a university typically hold doctoral degrees related to the nursing field, and usually fall under one of two categories:

  • Tenure-track and tenured nursing professors. These faculty members have typically worked as nurses; hold doctoral degrees in nursing or a related field; and have previous teaching or supervisory experience. As tenure-track or tenured faculty members, nursing professors are subject to the same demands as other university professors and therefore, are expected to be engaged in teaching and mentorship, university service (such as serving on departmental and university committees), and conducting research.

Nursing is a highly interdisciplinary field, and as a result, nursing professors may also pursue a range of research specializations that may include nursing informatics, care management, biostatistics, or physiology.

  • Clinical faculty members are also referred to as clinical professors, clinical associate professors, clinical assistant professors, and clinical instructors. These faculty members are typically responsible for supervising students in clinical settings, but may also engage in some classroom teaching. Due to their designation as clinical faculty, they are not necessarily expected to engage in research, but they are still expected to hold a master’s degree, and in most cases, a PhD.

As fewer universities offer tenure-track positions for professors, many nurse educators assume associate-, assistant-, and adjunct positions. Adjunct faculty members work part-time, and typically hold at least a master’s degree. They may work in clinical settings or classroom settings. Usually offering one to four courses per year, it is not uncommon to see an adjunct professor continue to work as a nurse in a clinical setting, or on a full-time basis while teaching.

What is the job outlook for nursing teachers?

Every year, the majority of nurse educators in the U.S. are employed at colleges, universities and professional schools. In 2014, the BLS cited 29,700 out of a total of 56,840 postsecondary professors were employed at the above-mentioned types of higher education institutions. The second-highest number of nurse educators (19,950) was hired for positions at junior colleges. Other academic work environments for nurse educators include trade and technical schools, and business schools. Outside of the college and university scene, nurse educators are also employed at hospitals and medical services companies, which may hire job candidates with as little as a bachelor’s degree, an RN license, and relevant work experience.

At hospitals, nurse educators play an active role in developing and maintaining continuing education programs for staff. For this reason, nurse educators are expected to stay in line with the latest technology and best practices related to the field. Those who work for a medical services company might organize training programs for medical offices and hospitals; educate staff on new medications; or hold demonstrations on how to use new technology and equipment.

In rare situations, a nursing educator may find a position teaching students at the high school level, hired to educate individuals with aspirations to become nurses. Some schools have health occupations education programs and electives in place, which provide introductory coursework related to nursing careers at the secondary school level.

The U.S. Department of Education releases a nationwide listing of teacher shortages on a yearly basis that highlights the states and school districts in need to hire educators trained to fill specific subject- and grade level positions. For instance, New York is a state noted for experiencing a widespread shortage of teachers able to offer health occupations education for the 2015/2016 academic year.

To stand out as an attractive candidate for a nurse educator position, there are steps to take after obtaining the required nursing license and meeting minimum degree requirements. Educators can earn a professional credential to specialize in a specific area of nursing, such as oncology, legal nursing, geriatric nursing, or prenatal care. Professors with 2-5 years of experience in an academic faculty role that hold an RN license and have earned a master’s or doctoral degree with coursework in nursing education, may also take the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam, which is administered by the National League for Nursing.

What is the compensation for nursing teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salary earned by instructors and professors who taught or demonstrated patient care (both in the classroom and during clinical units in the field) was $66,100 in 2014. From having years of experience and possessing advanced educational credentials, many factors have an impact on the amount of money that a nurse educator can make.

For example, place of employment plays a significant role in the average salary that a nursing teacher earns. As identified by the BLS, the highest paying industry for nursing instructors and teachers are specialty hospitals (with the exception of those that treat psychiatric and substance abuse patients), which paid an annual mean wage of $116,210 in 2014.

Nursing teachers and instructors are also hired and paid handsomely to educate at state government agencies ($88,050); general medical and surgical hospitals ($83,650); technical and trade schools ($73,400); and colleges, universities and professional schools ($72,210).

Geographic location also has an effect on the overall salaries paid to nursing instructors and teachers. For instance, the BLS identified the following states as offering the highest annual mean wages for the occupation: California ($97,750), Massachusetts ($88,250), New Jersey ($87,690), Alaska ($86,070), and Rhode Island ($82,150).

In conclusion, nurses are one of the most sought-after hires in the health care industry, needed to address the needs of the aging and care for an increasing number of insured populations. From licensed practical nurses to nurse practitioners, more educators are needed to teach the next generation of nursing professionals – so much so that the number of new nurses entering the field has been affected. The vast majority of educators are nurses themselves, who have completed the proper educational steps required of a teaching professional. Job prospects are high for educators able to teach nursing courses and oversee clinical practicums.

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