What Is A Nurse Educator? [+ Salary and How To Become One]

A Nurse Educator serves one of the most important functions of all the nursing specialties: preparing the next generation of nurses to thrive and deliver top-quality care.

To do this, they undertake quite a bit of responsibility, from serving as a role model for other nurses to instructing students in classroom or clinical settings.

Before you pursue such a critical nursing role, there are some things you’ll want to consider first. For example, how do you become a Nurse Educator? How much do they make? Is there a high demand for this type of nurse?

In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more to help you determine if becoming a Nurse Educator may be the right career path for you.

What Is A Nurse Educator?

A Nurse Educator teaches and trains other nurses in both academic settings, like universities and colleges, and in clinical settings, like hospitals. 

Since they play such an important role in preparing aspiring nurses to practice, they need a deep understanding of the various challenges and requirements of the field. This requires them to be some of the most highly-educated types of nurses, and they usually have thorough clinical experience too.

Additionally, they serve as role models. As such, they need to carry themselves with an exceptional degree of professionalism, as well as display a host of other skills which we’ll cover in more depth below.

While Nurse Educators have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders, this career can also be one of the most rewarding in the nursing field. After all, they have a chance to impact nursing practice at the most direct and individualized level possible.

What Does A Nurse Educator Do?

The duties of a Nurse Educator can be a little different depending on the work setting. For example, in an academic work setting, like a university, instructing aspiring nurses is one of the most important responsibilities.

Meanwhile, in a hospital setting, these nurses focus more on supporting students or working RNs through experiential learning. They are nursing experts and can advise students, collaborate on clinical research, and answer questions.

However, some of the broad duties that all Nurse Educators typically carry out include:

  • Instructing and teaching (in both classroom and clinical settings)
  • Collaborating on research
  • Evaluating and grading students
  • Designing and delivering curriculum
  • Serving as a role model for students 

Where Does A Nurse Educator Work?

Nurse Educators typically work in one of two settings: academic or clinical. Below we break down what you can expect in each setting.

Academic Setting

Nurse Educators in an academic setting typically work at colleges and universities. There, they are responsible for developing and delivering curriculum to nursing students.

To accomplish this, they need to be well-versed in educational theory and evidence-based instruction strategies. This allows them to engage students effectively and teach them what they need to know to be successful in nursing practice.

In addition to instruction, Nurse Educators in an academic setting also serve as:

  • Advisors
  • Lab instructors
  • Researchers
  • Mentors to new members of the nursing faculty

One of the key duties of an academic Nurse Educator is teaching students to work together and develop collaborative relationships. Additionally, they serve as role models for both students and fellow educators.

Clinical Setting

While Nurse Educators in a clinical setting also help students develop their knowledge and skills, they usually do so through experiential learning instead of classroom learning. This type of educator is typically found in a hospital.

While Nurse Educators in an academic setting work exclusively with nursing students, in a clinical setting they may work with students or licensed RNs. Through observation, they’re able to provide feedback to ensure nurses follow best practices.

Evaluation areas may include nurses’ ability to:

  • Apply patient-centered care
  • Implement and monitor health interventions
  • Document patient history, diagnosis, etc.

In addition to evaluation, Nurse Educators in a clinical setting may also be responsible for nurses’ professional development through activities like team-building exercises and educational seminars.

Finally, educators in a clinical setting can act as research advisors, nurse mentors, and patient advocates.

Advantages of Becoming A Nurse Educator

Becoming a Nurse Educator provides a host of unique benefits that make it a great specialty to pursue. 

We discuss some of these advantages below.

1. Great Career Outlook

One of the best advantages to pursuing a career as a Nurse Educator is that there is a high demand for the role, and it’s only set to increase in the next few years.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 91,938 qualified applicants were turned away from both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs in 2021, largely due to an insufficient number of nursing faculty staff members.

Additionally, the AACN found that there were a total of 2,166 full-time faculty vacancies across 909 nursing schools in 2021. This equates to an 8.8% faculty vacancy rate across the country. Schools also cited a demand to create additional faculty positions to accommodate student demand.

Due to the aging population of Nurse Educators in academic settings, the AACN also found that one third of current nursing faculty plan to retire by the year 2025.

So, if you’re looking for a nursing specialty with a solid job outlook, becoming a Nurse Educator would make a great choice.

2. Impact Students’ Lives

Another great advantage to becoming a Nurse Educator is that you get to create meaningful relationships with students and help them reach their professional goals.

As former nursing students themselves, Nurse Educators were likely encouraged, challenged, and inspired by their former instructors. Becoming one yourself is a great opportunity to do the same for the next generation of nurses.

Additionally, students can often have a deep impact on educators’ lives. Though it may sound cliche, sometimes students can make an even greater impact on educators than educators make on students.

If you want to serve as a role model and make an impact on students’ lives, this could be a great specialty to go for.

3. Improve the Nursing Field

Becoming a Nurse Educator is a great opportunity to improve the nursing field by instilling best practices in students. 

Maybe you felt your own nursing education missed critical aspects of what it means to be a nurse, and this could be your chance to do better for the next generation of students. By instilling students with a proper educational foundation, you can help drive the change you want to see in nursing practice.

While there are plenty of ways to make an impact on nursing practice, like advocating for changes in policy, the best way to really make a difference is arguably working one-on-one with tomorrow’s nursing leaders.

If you want to improve nursing practice in the most direct way possible, becoming a Nurse Educator is a great option.

4. Schedule Flexibility

If you’re burned out from working 12-hour shifts or tired of a chaotic work environment, becoming a Nurse Educator could be a nice change of pace. 

In academic settings, Nurse Educators are able to adhere to a more regular work schedule. You’ll have set class times and can evaluate students when you want (though, if you miss working crazy overnight shifts, you can always opt to grade papers late into the morning!).

However, keep in mind that Nurse Educators in a clinical setting may have to work some of the crazier hours that come along with working in a hospital. Since instructors might be responsible for all members of staff, they may need to adjust their working hours to make sure the entire staff is educated.

If you’re looking for a nursing speciality with more schedule flexibility, no overnight shifts, and a less chaotic environment, becoming a Nurse Educator in an academic setting may be right for you. 

How To Become A Nurse Educator

Since this type of nurse requires in-depth knowledge of and skills in nursing, becoming a Nurse Educator requires a higher level of education than many other nursing specialities.

Below we explain the steps you need to take to become a Nurse Educator.

1. Earn Your BSN

The first step in becoming a Nurse Educator is earning your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree

While an Associate Degree in Nursing is the minimum requirement for becoming a Registered Nurse, you’ll need to earn your BSN in order to prepare yourself for an advanced degree program later.

If you’re already an ADN-educated RN, don’t worry! You can always enroll in an RN to BSN bridge program, which allows you to earn your Bachelor’s degree without having to start your education over from scratch.

In fact, many RN to BSN programs can be completed in as little as a year. Better yet, there are lots of online RN to BSN programs you can enroll in that you can complete on a flexible schedule, allowing you to continue working while you earn your degree.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are also LPN to RN program options available for Licensed Practical Nurses. Just be sure to find a program that allows you to bridge to a BSN, not an ADN. These bridge programs can be completed in as little as two to four years.

2. Pass The NCLEX

Once you complete your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree, you’ll be eligible to sit for the NCLEX. This is the exam all Registered Nurses must pass in order to become licensed.

Upon passing the NCLEX, you can apply for state licensure and begin practicing as an RN.

If you live in one of the Compact Nursing States, you can also upgrade your state license to a compact license, which allows you to practice in other compact states without obtaining additional state-specific licensure.

If you’d like to gain experience as a travel nurse before becoming a Nurse Educator, the compact license will be especially convenient.

3. Gain RN Experience

Before completing the next step, it’s key that you gain some hands-on experience as a Registered Nurse. This is important for two reasons.

First, many graduate-level degree programs require that their students have some clinical experience under their belt before applying. 

Second, if you hope to develop the next generation of nurses, it’s vital that you know what it’s like to practice as a nurse. While academic excellence is certainly critical to becoming a Nurse Educator, having real-world experience allows you to translate that knowledge into practical skills.

This will allow you to better prepare students for the demands of working as a Registered Nurse. 

We recommend you try to gain experience in a multitude of nursing specialities, which will allow you to connect with a wider range of students and develop relevant professional development strategies.

4. Earn Your MSN

After gaining some experience as a Registered Nurse, the next step you’ll want to take is enrolling in a Master’s of Science in Nursing program

Fortunately, if you hope to work while you earn your Master’s degree, there are lots of high-quality online MSN programs to choose from. These online programs typically allow you to complete your degree on a flexible schedule and for a lower cost than traditional programs.

Upon earning your Master’s degree, you’ll be eligible to take a Certified Nurse Educator exam, which we discuss in further detail below.

5. Earn Your DNP

While a Doctoral-level degree isn’t absolutely necessary for every Nurse Educator role, some employers will strongly prefer it. For example, most universities will expect you to have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice or PhD in Nursing.

Some academic employers expect you to conduct research in addition to teaching students, in which case a Doctorate degree will be mandatory. 

For clinically-focused Nurse Educator roles, it’s less likely that a DNP will be necessary. However, if you want to make yourself the best job candidate possible, a Doctorate may be the right choice.

Additionally, earning a Doctorate degree allows you to gain the most extensive nursing knowledge possible, which could allow you to pass along even more knowledge to the next generation of nurses.

Nurse Educator Certifications

While a Nurse Educator Certification isn’t absolutely necessary, it will certainly boost your credibility as a Nurse Educator.

There are three different types of Nurse Educator certifications, and each one is offered by the National League for Nursing. We discuss each one below.

Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)

According to the National League for Nursing, the Academic Nurse Educator Certification (CNE) displays that you have demonstrated the following competencies:

  • Facilitate Learning
  • Facilitate Learner Development and Socialization
  • Use Assessment and Evaluation Strategies
  • Participate in Curriculum Design and Evaluation of Program Outcomes
  • Function as a Change Agent and Leader
  • Pursue Continuous Quality Improvement in the Nurse Educator Role
  • Engage in Scholarship
  • Function within the Educational Environment

To be eligible for the CNE certification, you must have a valid RN license. Additionally, you’ll need to fulfill one of the following educational requirements:

  • Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with a major emphasis in nursing education;
  • Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing plus a post-master’s certificate in nursing education;
  • Master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and nine or more credit hours of graduate-level education courses

Alternatively, you’re eligible if you hold a non-Nurse Educator Master’s or Doctoral degree in nursing in addition to two or more years of employment in a nursing program in an academic institution within the last five years.

In 2020, the pass rate for the CNE exam was 69%.

Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNEcl)

The Academic Clinical Nurse Educator Certification (CNEcl) demonstrates the following competencies:

  • Function within the Education and Health Care Environments
    • Function in the Clinical Educator Role
    • Operationalize the Curriculum
    • Abide by Legal Requirements, Ethical Guidelines, Agency Policies, and Guiding Framework
  • Facilitate Learning in the Health Care Environment
  • Demonstrate Effective Interpersonal Communication and Collaborative Inter-professional Relationships
  • Apply Clinical Expertise in the Health Care Environment
  • Facilitate Learner Development and Socialization
  • Implement Effective Clinical and Assessment Evaluation Strategies

To be eligible for CNEcl certification, you must:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Earn a graduate degree with a focus in nursing education
  • Have three years of professional experience in any area of nursing

Alternatively, you can earn certification if you:

  • Hold an active RN license
  • Earn your BSN degree
  • Have three years of professional nursing experience
  • Have two years of experience teaching in an academic setting within the last five years (simulation experience counts)

In 2020, the pass rate for the CNEcl certification exam was 74%.

Certified Nurse Educator Novice (CNEn)

Finally, the last certification available for Nurse Educators is the Certified Nurse Educator Novice (CNEn). This is designed for educators who are new to the role of Nurse Educator.

This certification displays the following competencies:

  • Facilitate Learning
  • Facilitate Learner Development and Socialization
  • Use Assessment and Evaluation Strategies
  • Participate in Curriculum Design and Evaluation of Program Outcomes
  • Function as a Change Agent and Leader
  • Pursue Continuous Quality Improvement in the Role of Nurse Educator
  • Engage in Scholarship
  • Function within the Educational Environment

To be eligible for CNEc certification, you must hold an active RN license and be within your first three years of practice as an academic Nurse Educator. Additionally, you have to meet one of the following educational requirements:

  • Graduate degree with an emphasis in nursing education;
  • Post-master’s certificate in nursing education and graduate-level nursing degree;
  • Graduate degree in nursing with nine or more credit hours of graduate-level education courses
  • Post baccalaureate certificate in nursing education 

Nurse Educator Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for Post-secondary Nursing Instructors and Teachers in the United States is $82,040 per year. 

The bottom ten percent of earners make an average salary of $47,630 per year, while the top ten percent of earners make an average salary of $125,930 per year.

It’s also worth noting discrepancies between Nurse Educator salaries in different work settings. 

While Nurse Educators in colleges, universities, and professional schools make an average annual salary of $83,340 per year, in junior colleges they make an average annual salary of $75,960 per year.

Additionally, Nurse Educators working in medical and surgical hospitals make an average annual salary of $95,720.

Finally, keep in mind that your earning potential is determined by a number of other factors, like experience, education level, and location.

Nurse Educator Salary By State

Average Annual Nurse Educator Salary by State

The location you work in can have a big impact on how much money you’re able to make. 

Unfortunately, BLS does not provide Nurse Educator salary data by state. However, to help you see where Nurse Educators earn the highest salaries, we compiled data from Salary.com

The table below presents the average annual salary for Nurse Educators in each state. To see an interactive version of the map above, click here.

New Hampshire$107,861
New Jersey$117,489
New Mexico$97,128
New York$114,025
North Carolina$101,379
North Dakota$99,785
Rhode Island$112,006
South Carolina$99,466
South Dakota$90,965
West Virginia$94,153

What Skills Does A Nurse Educator Need?

Nurse Educators need a unique skill set that includes quite a few things that may not be required of your typical Registered Nurse.

We discuss some of the essential skills for this type of nurse below.

Communication Skills

One of the most important skills all Nurse Educators need to have is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. After all, explaining information and how to do things is the main objective of the job.

Students need to be able to understand the knowledge you’re trying to pass onto them. Without proper communication skills, students could end up perpetually confused.

Additionally, Nurse Educators need to be able to effectively communicate outside of the classroom setting. For example, in a clinical setting, they may need to explain performance goals or set up team meetings.

People Skills

People skills go hand in hand with communication skills, and without them you’ll likely struggle as a Nurse Educator. 

In fact, most of your time in this nursing specialty will be spent communicating with others, whether that be students, fellow faculty members, other healthcare professionals, or even patients.

Whoever you’re talking to, you’ll likely have to interact with all kinds of personality types on a regular basis. So, having empathy and being able to relate to a wide range of people will be key to your success as a Nurse Educator.

Academic Skills

Given that Nurse Educators almost always require an advanced degree, having a robust academic skill set will be essential to become one in the first place.

Additionally, in academic settings, you’ll be responsible for developing and delivering curriculum. If you’ve never been a fan of academia and classroom learning yourself, this could be a massive challenge. After all, how can you expect your students to care if you never did?

On the other hand, if you’ve always thrived when writing papers and have an insatiable appetite for new information, instructing students could be a perfect fit for you. 

Evaluation Skills

Whether in an academic or clinical setting, you’ll need to have excellent evaluation skills. Providing students and nurses with feedback on their work is critical to their professional development and ability to thrive in the field of nursing.

To be an effective evaluator, you’ll sometimes need to be brutally honest with students. If they’re not meeting expectations, you need to tell them in an empathetic way.

While developing curriculum is a critical part of the job for Nurse Educators, determining how well students and nurses are progressing with that curriculum is just as important.


Finally, one more key skill all Nurse Educators should possess is the ability to display the utmost professionalism.

In this position, you serve as a role model for students and staff members. Therefore, it’s key that you not only lead others by saying the right things, but by acting in the right way.

As a role model, you can have a huge impact on the next generation of nurses and create the environment you want to see in healthcare facilities. So, if you have a passion for inspiring others and leading through action, becoming a Nurse Educator may be right for you.

Should You Become A Nurse Educator?

If you have a passion for teaching and inspiring the next generation of nurses, you should absolutely consider becoming a Nurse Educator. Additionally, this role has some pretty impressive demand, and the salary can be quite good as well.

On the other hand, if you lack the skills we mentioned in the previous section, or if you prefer delivering care directly instead of teaching other nurses how to do so, you may want to consider a different specialty.

If you do hope to become a Nurse Educator, then you’ll need to find an appropriate degree program that allows you to specialize in education.

To discover a program suited to your needs and interests, click here!

Nurse Educator FAQs

The following are frequently asked questions regarding Nurse Educators.

Are Nurse Educators in Demand?

Nurse Educators are currently in very high demand, and that demand is only set to increase in the coming years.

As we mentioned earlier in this article, there’s already a shortage of qualified Nurse Educators in the United States. Additionally, the Nurse Educator population is rather old, so many more will be retiring by 2025.

While the job outlook for most nursing specialties looks excellent, the outlook for this specialty looks especially promising.

Is Being A Nurse Educator Stressful?

The role of Nurse Educator is arguably one of the least stressful nursing types you can pursue. 

While the responsibility of teaching the next generation of nurses and serving as a role model may be overwhelming for some, the work is often more predictable than more patient-focused specialities, and you’ll be able to follow a set schedule (at least in an academic setting).

However, what you find stressful depends on your own skill set and personality.

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