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    July 30, 2021

    How to Become a Nurse Educator

    Kathleen Gaines
    By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, BA, CBC

    Updated 7/30/2021

    Nurse Educators work with nursing students to help bridge the space between didactic learning and clinical practice. 

    This educational guide will provide you with the information you need to help you determine whether a career as a Nurse Educator is right for you, including important information about programs, salary, and more.

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    What is a Nurse Educator?

    Nurse Educators are masters prepared nurses (MSN) that generally work in academia. So what does a nurse educator do? Nurse Educators develop coursework curriculum, teach courses, evaluate educational programs, oversee clinical rotations, and conduct research. 

    How Do You Become a Nurse Educator?

    In order to become a Nurse Educator, you'll need to earn a Master's in Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

    An MSN degree is a Master’s degree in Nursing and unlike an RN degree, which is a technical degree, or a Bachelor’s, which is a four-year degree, an MSN represents an advanced graduate level of education.

    Before applying for a degree in nursing education, nurses should have:

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    What Does a Nurse Educator Do?

    Nurse educators in academia are responsible for:

    • Developing lesson plans
    • Teaching courses
    • Evaluating educational programs
    • Overseeing students’ clinical practice
    • Serving as a mentor on academic and career issues
    • Promoting discussions among students
    • Attending faculty meetings
    • Documenting outcomes of educational processes
    • Serving on University-based committees
    • Engaging in scholarly work (e.g. peer review, research, etc.)
    • Speaking at nursing conferences
    • Contributing to the academic community via leadership roles
    • Maintaining clinical competence
    • Writing grant proposals

    Nurse Educator Coursework and Curriculum

    Nurse educators take a variety of classes throughout their program, ending in an education and direct patient care practicum. Each program handles these practicums slightly differently. Some will combine them into one course, while others will split them into two separate practicums. This is something to take into consideration when applying for the MSN program, as the minimum hours required is roughly 90 clinical hours. 

    Though every MSN curriculum is different, accredited nursing programs follow the framework provided by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in The Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing.

    This document not only outlines the essential curriculum contents and core competencies needed to prepare an MSN for their role and responsibilities, but also the need for Masters-degreed nurses to be prepared to lead the change to promote health, and elevate care in every setting in which they serve. The core of a Master of Science in Nursing program stresses nine key elements.

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    Master of Science in Nursing Program Core Elements

    • Background for Practice from Sciences and Humanities 
    • Organizational and Systems Leadership 
    • Quality Improvement and Safety 
    • Translating and Integrating Scholarship into Practice 
    • Informatics and Healthcare Technologies 
    • Health Policy and Advocacy 
    • Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes
    • Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving Health
    • Master’s-Level Nursing Practice

    For this reason, all MSN Nurse Educator programs will offer courses that satisfy these elements. Specific courses related to nursing education and education theory will be required. An MSN Nurse Educator curriculum will be roughly 33 to 39 credits depending on the program. Examples of specific nurse educator courses include the following.

    MSN Nurse Educator Courses

    • Advanced Pharmacology
    • Economics and Decision Making in Health Care
    • Assessment and Evaluation in Nursing Education
    • Advanced Health Assessment
    • Evidence-Based Practice for Patient-Centered Care 
    • Population Health
    • Advanced Pathophysiology
    • Philosophy, Theory, and Role
    • Facilitating Student Learning and Teaching Innovation
    • Curriculum Development in Nursing Education
    • Innovations in Clinical Teaching & Evaluation
    • Educational Program Evaluation & Accreditation

    Nurse Educator Salary: How Much Do They Make?

    According to the BLS, the median annual salary as of May 2020 was $75,470 for nurse educators in post-secondary universities. 

    Employment of Nurse Educators

    Industry Employment

    Annual Mean Wage

    Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools


    Junior Colleges 18,050 $75,190
    General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 3,190 $119,050

    Technical and Trade Schools

    2,170 $75,990
    Business Schools and Computer Management Training 460 $90,080

    As seen in the table, the majority of nurse educators work at the college or university level; however, nurse educators in the hospital setting can earn a higher salary. 

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    Highest Paying Cities and States for Nurse Educators

    Top 5 Highest Paying States for Clinical Nurse Instructors

    • Florida - $116,650
    • District of Columbia - $111,940
    • Massachusetts - $106,950
    • California - $106,420
    • New York - $98,850

    Top 5 Highest Paying Cities for Clinical Nurse Instructors

    • Miami, FL - $145,990
    • Boston, MA - $120,040
    • Savannah, GA - $117,610
    • Los Angeles, CA - $112,400
    • San Diego, CA - $111,970

    What is the Career Outlook for Nurse Educators?

    The BLS states that in 2019 there were 72,900 nursing faculty in the United States, with a projected need for 85,700 in 2028. That is an 18% expected increase, which is significantly higher than other post-secondary educator positions. 

    Despite an increase of 3.7% in admission to baccalaureate nursing programs in 2018, there are still thousands of prospective nursing students being turned away each year. There is an insufficient number of faculty, clinical sites, classroom space, and clinical preceptors. 

    • According to the 2018 Special Survey on Vacant Faculty Positions,1,715 faculty vacancies were identified. 
    • Faculty vacancy rate of 7.9%.
    • Needed creation of additional 138 faculty positions. 
    • 1/3 of current nursing faculty in BSN programs are expected to retire by 2025. 
    • The average salary of a nurse practitioner is $97,000 compared to an average salary of $78,575 for a nursing school assistant professor, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
    • Master’s and doctoral programs in nursing are not producing a large enough pool of potential nurse educators to meet the demand.
    • Higher compensation in clinical and private-sector settings is luring current and potential nurse educators away from teaching.
    • Faculty age continues to climb, narrowing the number of productive years educators teach.

    There is a critical need for nurse educators in academia

    Young, experienced, and talented educators are essential to continue educating the new and upcoming nursing students. Without filling these vacancies, the nursing profession will continue to suffer from a shortage of experienced nurses.

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    Where Can a Nurse Educator Work?

    Nurse educators can work in a variety of locations but most work in higher education or academia. Educators can work in the following locations, including: 

    • Clinical faculty member
    • Dean of a nursing school
    • Associate Dean of a nursing school
    • Professor
    • Administrative nursing staff
    • Specialist in continued education
    • Unit-based educator
    • Hospital-based educator
    • NCLEX educator

    Nurse Educator Program Requirements

    Though every MSN Nurse Educator degree program is different, most have similar entry requirements, which generally include:

    • A minimum of two years of nursing experience
    • Satisfactory completion of an accredited baccalaureate program with at least 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale
    • Submission of official transcripts from all postsecondary schools attended
    • Unencumbered, active RN license in state of practice (Some programs will require a RN license in the state of the program)
    • Two or three professional references
    • Completion of undergraduate statistics with a grade of C or better
    • Written statement of professional goals for graduate study and nursing career
    • Professional resume or curriculum vitae
    • Successful completion of a personal interview with the Nursing Admissions Committee.
    • GRE if applicable
    • TOEFL test if applicable

    How to Pay for an MSN Degree 

    There are many options available to prospective Nurse Educator students. Program cost shouldn’t deter you from following your career goals, the benefits will outweigh the cost.  

    To assist you in learning more about your options for financing your MSN, here are the most popular financial aid and other monetary options:


    Grants are financial aid that is granted to you for your education that you do not have to pay back. They may be based on need, availability, and merit. There are three main ways you can receive grants for a graduate degree: 

    1. Through the school you will be attending: you will have to fill out the FAFSA, which will then automatically tell you what kind of federal grants you are eligible for
    2. Through the school’s financial aid office: you can ask for assistance in applying for any additional grants you can qualify for. 
    3. Through your field: for instance, there may be MSN-specific grants or grants specifically related to your specialty field. You could check governing associations related to your field or speak with your program director for guidance on available grants.   


    Check with the school you will be attending or apply for a full list of scholarships available through the school. Many have private scholarships that are funded with different qualifications, check with the school for eligibility requirements. Try searching locally and online for graduate nursing scholarships and programs, especially in your chosen field. Scholarships range in amount, from a monetary value all the way up to full-tuition. 


    A student loan is aid you receive to pay for your education that you are required to pay back, with interest. 

    Two Types of Nursing Loans

    1. Federal student loans are provided through the government and usually carry much more generous terms and lower interest. 
    2. Private loans are funded through a financial institution such as a bank or credit union. Most federal loans require that you be enrolled at least half-time in your degree program and allow you to borrow up to $20,500 per school year. 

    How to Apply For Student Loans 

    1. Fill out your FAFSA - the best course of action when pursuing loans is to first fill out your FAFSA and see which federal loan options you qualify for. 
    2. Search for private student loans - once you’ve determined the amount of federal loans you are eligible for then search for private student loans as needed to finance the rest of your education. 

    You will need to be careful when choosing private loans, all loans are not created equal. Here is a list of items to research when choosing a private loan, 

    • Loan terms
    • Interest rates
    • Additional fees, such as origination fees, early payoff fees, and late payment penalties. 

    Your school’s financial aid office will help guide you through choosing private education loans as well.

    Next Steps to Enroll In a Nurse Educator Program

    Making the decision to become a Nurse Educator is just the first step. Here are the steps you need to take to make it possible:

    • Start investigating the available programs. With hundreds of online programs available to nurses, the task can be quite daunting. If you start off knowing what your goals and priorities are and then compare what you’re looking for to the list of accredited programs, you will quickly identify the programs that will work best for you. Nurse Educator programs are available online, at a brick and mortar institution and a hybrid version. 
    • Make a list of each program’s application requirements and start collecting your documentation. The key to a successful application process is organization. By making a comprehensive list of what each program expects you will be able to check off each requirement and keep track of your progress, deadlines, and more. Due to the fact that graduate programs require letters of recommendation, organization and time management is key
    • Send in your applications and apply for state-specific nursing licenses if needed.
    • Apply for financial aid, scholarships, grants.

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    Additional Information about Nurse Educators

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