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A Nurse Educator’s Role in the Future of Nursing

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Sep 14, 2023
A nurse educator stands in front of a whiteboard in a classroom holding a model of a skull while nursing students listen to their instruction.

A Nurse Educator’s Role in the Future of Nursing

Well-trained nurses are essential for positive health outcomes. A study published in the journal Nursing Outlook in 2022 found that when hospitals had relatively higher proportions of registered nurses (RN) who had earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, they experienced lower patient mortality. Specifically, each 10% increase in the proportion of BSN-educated RNs was associated with a 5.5% reduction in the chances of mortality among general surgical patients who had a 30-day hospital stay.

A nurse educator’s role in instructing nurses in both academic and clinical settings is critical to ensuring that health care organizations can maintain high standards of care. However, providing quality nursing education can be challenging. The ongoing shortage of nurses in the U.S. health care system has been accompanied by a corresponding shortage of nurse educators.

Anyone who may be considering enrolling in an advanced nursing degree program and is interested in educating nurses can benefit from learning more about what nurse educators do and the important role they play in health care.

The Demand for Nurses and Nurse Educators

A shortage of nurses continues to challenge the U.S. health care system. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there will be more than 200,000 openings for registered nurses each year through 2031. The BLS attributes the relatively high number of openings to factors such as:

  • A need to replace nurses who retire or leave the profession
  • Growing demand for health care services from an aging population

A corresponding shortage of nurse educators has made it difficult to educate aspiring nurses who are looking to fill open positions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) reported that, in October 2022, nursing schools experienced an 8.8% vacancy rate among faculty. According to the AACN’s survey of nursing schools, the shortage of nursing school faculty is due to factors such as:

  • The retirement of nursing school faculty members
  • The movement of nursing school faculty into clinical roles with higher compensation

Most nursing schools also informed the AACN that faculty shortages were the top reason they turned away 91,938 qualified applications for undergraduate and graduate nursing education programs in the 2021-2022 school year. Unfortunately, this not only reduces the number of new nurses who can begin working in the health care system, but it also reduces the number of individuals who can begin working as nurse educators.

The Nurse Educator’s Role in an Academic Setting

Nurse educators who teach at nursing schools have numerous instruction-related responsibilities. Among their many duties are:

  • Providing direct classroom instruction to nursing students
  • Offering clinical instruction when nursing students work at clinical sites
  • Developing nursing school curriculum
  • Advising nursing students

Nurse educators at academic institutions focus on ensuring that students acquire knowledge in several domains that the AACN has identified, including topics such as:

  • Knowledge of nursing practice
  • Person-centered care
  • Population health
  • Nursing scholarship
  • Quality and safety in nursing

The domains also cover other types of knowledge that are essential to nursing, such as:

  • Partnerships with other health care professionals
  • Coordination of health care system resources
  • Informatics and health care technologies
  • Professionalism in nursing
  • Personal, professional, and leadership development

The Research Responsibilities of Nurse Educators

A nurse educator’s role also entails conducting research to advance nursing practice and integrating the results of their research into student instruction. Their research and scholarship responsibilities may also extend to serving on professional nursing committees, in nursing organizations, and on the editorial boards for nursing journals.

Conducting research is important for many reasons. For example, the American Nurses Association has noted the importance of nursing research in:

  • Enabling nurses to practice evidence-based care
  • Promoting positive health outcomes
  • Enabling nurses to use new technologies in nursing practice
  • Strengthening nurse autonomy and decision-making
  • Incorporating new interventions into nursing practice

Becoming a Nurse Educator

Joining the ranks of a nursing school’s faculty typically requires individuals to earn at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). In addition, nursing schools may require faculty members to hold a doctoral degree in nursing (for example, a Doctor of Nursing Practice or a Ph.D. in Nursing).

Individuals can also earn relevant certifications, such as these from the National League for Nursing:

  • Certified Nurse Educator (CNE)
  • Certified Academic Clinical Educator (CNEcl)
  • Certified Novice Nurse Educator (CNEn)

Additional certifications that can help enhance a nurse educator’s skill set — and demonstrate their credibility to potential employers — include:

  • The American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Nursing Professional Development Certification (NPD-BC)
  • The Competency and Credentialing Institute’s Nursing Professional Development Advanced - Board Certified (NPDA-BC)

The Role of a Nurse Educator in a Clinical Setting

Nurse educators are not limited to working as nursing school faculty members. They can also serve in education and training roles in clinical settings, such as hospitals and other health care facilities. In those settings, a nurse educator’s role is to help ensure that members of the nursing staff are competent to carry out their duties. This entails several responsibilities, such as:

  • Identifying the types of training and professional development that a health care organization’s nurses need
  • Coordinating nursing staff development activities
  • Training nursing staff on updates to nursing procedures
  • Instructing nursing staff on changes to treatment guidelines
  • Working with nursing managers to organize and schedule training sessions

In clinical settings, nurse educators may also be responsible for:

  • Onboarding new nursing staff
  • Updating a health care organization’s nursing policies and procedures
  • Coordinating with management on how to meet strategic goals related to nursing staff

Nurse educators who work in clinical settings can benefit from having expertise in areas such as:

  • Models of professional development
  • Learning needs assessment
  • Coaching strategies
  • The legal and regulatory environment of nursing
  • Information technology used in nursing and educational technology
  • Program management and process improvement

Making a Difference in the Future of Nursing

Whether they work in academic or clinical settings, nurse educators make lasting contributions to the future of nursing. Educating nurses to provide quality health care using the latest procedures can be a rewarding endeavor for nurses who want to give back to the profession they love.

Individuals seeking to take on a nurse educator’s role should explore The University of Tulsa’s online Master of Science in Nursing degree program to learn how it can help them achieve their career ambitions. With four specialty tracks, including one focused on nursing education, the program can be a springboard to a fulfilling career as an instructor. Start working toward your career goals today.

Recommended Readings

The Benefits of Nurse Mentoring

How the Theory of Human Caring Applies to Nursing

The Importance of Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, The Essentials: Core Competencies for Professional Nursing Education

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Fact Sheet: Nursing Faculty Shortage

American Nurses Association, What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing?

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Nursing Professional Development Certification (NPD-BC)

American Nurses Credentialing Center, Test Content Outline: Nursing Professional Development, Board Certification Examination

Competency and Credentialing Institute, Nursing Professional Development Advanced – Board Certified

Elsevier, Empowering Clinical Nurse Educators with Tools to Drive Efficiency

Indeed, “What Does a Nurse Educator Do? (With Steps to Become One)”

Mount Sinai, Continuing Education and Nursing Programs

National League for Nursing, Certification for Nurse Educators

National League for Nursing, Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) 2023 Candidate Handbook

National League for Nursing, NLN Core Competencies for Academic Nurse Educators

Nursing Made Incredibly Easy!, “Scholarship in Practice: What Does It Mean?”

Nursing Outlook, “Variations in Nursing Baccalaureate Education and 30-Day Inpatient Surgical Mortality”

ONS Voice, “Clinical and Pharmaceutical Nurse Educators Collaborate to Bring Training to Nurses and Improve Patient Care”

Parkview Health, “Nursing Research Leads to Top Patient Care”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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