Much like other industries, effective education of nursing professionals is essential to the future of healthcare. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), education has a significant impact on the knowledge and competencies of nurses and other healthcare providers.
Despite its pivotal role, however, nursing education faces many setbacks. For example, the field of nursing has been recently challenged by the shift to a more web-based curriculum, evolving industry demands and practices requiring continuous reassessment of educational models, and decreasing recruitment and retention of qualified nursing faculty.
If you’re interested in helping address these problems, becoming a nurse educator might be the right career for you. Here’s everything you need to know about who a nurse educator is, what they do, where they work, and why they’re essential to the future of healthcare.
While registered nurses (RNs) are the backbone of healthcare, nurse educators are the foundation. Nurse educators begin their career as registered nurses and then obtain additional education including a Master of Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These degrees open the door to nurse education positions, instilling a better understanding of the healthcare system and patient needs.
“It’s a calling,” says Dr. Donna Barry, director of the DNP on-campus programs at Regis College. “It's for a bigger purpose.” That purpose is to create a well-developed foundation for the healthcare system.
While not all nurse educators are the same, here’s a brief overview of the roles and responsibilities of this position.
Nurse educators primarily teach prospective nursing professionals clinical skills, patient care methods, and best collaboration practices. However, they also take on a number of additional responsibilities revolving around both the academic and research side of the profession, including:
The most effective nurse educators are more than teachers; rather, they take on a number of roles that help create a well-rounded future generation of nursing professionals. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), nurse educators have three main roles, including:
Nurse education is a growing field that primarily lives in both an academic and clinical setting. Here’s an overview of where you can expect to work as a nurse educator.
Nurse educators primarily work in academic settings that offer nursing education programs. Some of these institutions include:
Many RNs who previously worked unconventional schedules (e.g., 12-hour shifts and night shifts) enjoy the flexibility nurse education provides. “It's a much more flexible schedule,” says Dr. Barry, since it offers holidays off and traditional day-time working hours.
Nursing education doesn’t just happen in classrooms. Since healthcare standards are constantly evolving, education is a daily reality of many nursing professions. Rather than instructing students, nurse educators in a healthcare setting support working RNs through experiential learning opportunities to promote staff development.
Many of these positions aren’t listed as nurse educators, but are instead referred to as clinical instructors or preceptors. Despite the slight differences in title, however, each position is deeply rooted in its mission to develop a skilled nursing workforce. “I actually think a lot of our DNP students are clinical instructors,” says Dr. Barry. “They start out their career in nursing education that way.”
Nursing currently faces many challenges, but proper education is meant to address these and more. For example, the future of nursing is predicted to struggle with the increasing need for non-hospital-based patient care, a rising development of new softwares to enhance the healthcare experience, and the depletion of effective collaboration in an increasingly digital workplace.
Here are a few ways nurse educators combat these obstacles and help build a successful future for healthcare.
Nurse educators are mentors for future nurses. They bring their “knowledge, skills, and background to really help prepare the next generation,” says Dr. Barry. Providing constructive feedback and effective guidance are just a few examples of how nurse educators assess and develop students’ clinical capabilities.
Professional nurturing doesn’t just occur with nursing students, but fellow nurse educators and healthcare professionals as well. Encouraging collaboration among nursing professionals and educators is a great way to ensure more nurses are well-equipped to provide quality patient care.
Nurse staffing recruitment and retention is a growing concern in today’s healthcare system. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are a projected 275,000 additional open nursing positions that will need to be filled in the next decade. While these numbers are influenced by several factors, including an aging workforce and professional burnout, a shortage of nursing educators plays a major role in this projection.
“There's definitely a nursing educator shortage,” says Dr. Barry. And while this might not seem as concerning as the labor shortages in hospitals, the two are closely related. For one, effective nurse education often alleviates staff turnover. Investing in industry-specific education, professional development, and skill building often shows staff members that they’re valued and supported by their employers. Effective nursing education also ensures new nurses are equipped with the right tools and methods to succeed without feeling too overwhelmed.
Life-long learning is an inevitable reality of healthcare. New technologies, methods, and research can put even the most seasoned professionals behind if they don’t stay up-to-date on industry trends and findings.
As a nurse educator, it’s essential to not only stay updated on best nursing practices and methods, but also promote a mentality of continuous learning to students and faculty. When nursing education is effective and beneficial to the overall success of nurses, those individuals are more likely to continue this learning mentality further on in their career. In the end, that’s the overall goal of nursing education: encouraging nurses to continually better themselves within their field.
If you’re interested in developing the future of nursing, becoming a nurse educator is an excellent pathway to do so. In addition to the educational requirements of being an RN, at most nursing schools nurse educators must also obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or other doctoral degree in order to teach prospective nursing professionals.
As one of the highest levels of education available to nurses, it’s designed to provide the skills needed to improve patient outcomes and influence policy. Regis College’s Post-MS to DNP program is an excellent pathway to becoming a nurse educator and “participate in a workforce that's preparing the next generation of nurses,” says Dr. Barry.