March 5, 2020
One nurse teaching another CPR on a practice dummy
Kathleen Gaines
By: Kathleen Gaines News and Education Editor, MSN, RN, BA, CBC

As the nursing shortage continues to rise, so does the need for experienced clinical instructors. In this guide, we explain what a clinical instructor is, how much they make, and how to become one.

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Part One What is a Clinical Nurse Instructor?

Clinical instructors, otherwise known as adjunct faculty in academia, are Registered Nurses that teach the clinical component to a didactic course. They may teach students in a hospital, home care, or community setting. 

Simply put, a clinical nurse instructor works with students in a clinical environment to give them real-world training and enhance classroom education. Clinical nurse instructors are essential to the nursing curriculum. 

Clinical Nurse Instructors must have certain important qualities in order to succeed in their career: 

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Patience
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication
  • Resourcefulness
  • Strong writing skills
  • Organization skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Clinical expertise
  • The ability to be a team player
  • The ability to handle conflict effectively

Part Two What do Clinical Nurse Instructors do?

Clinical nurse instructors directly supervise and evaluate student’s progress during specific, course-related nursing clinical activities. Instructors are assigned groups of students, ranging from 4 students to 10 students, depending on the guidelines of the institution. Other responsibilities of clinical faculty may include the following:

  • Instruct students on medication administration and proper technique and bedside procedures
  • Serve as an expert in nursing knowledge and the safe delivery of medication administration
  • Supervise and monitor clinical activities, application of new nursing skills, theories and knowledge application in classroom and clinical settings
  • Provide critique and constructive feedback to students and evaluate student clinical performance
  • Stay informed about changes and innovations in their field
  • Integrate evidence-based practice with delivery of patient care and established priorities to facilitate students learning
  • Serve as a mentor and use teaching strategies to foster student learning, success and retention

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Part Three Clinical Nurse Instructor Salary: How much do they make?

According to the BLS, the median annual salary as of May 2017 was $77,360. While the BLS does not differentiate between clinical nurse instructors vs. academia nursing faculty, it is important to note that clinical nurse instructors often hold other positions, whether in a hospital or another academic institution. 

The number of clinical nurse instructors in the United States is small in comparison to the number of bedside nurses throughout the country. So while there is a shortage in the number of instructors, there is also a smaller number of positions available. 

Pay will also depend on a number of factors including: the number of days the instructor teaches clinicals, the type of program -- ADN, BSN, or MSN -- if the program is at a smaller college or community college vs a large University, and if the program is at a state school or a private university. All of these factors will impact the salary for clinical nurse instructors. 

Top 5 states with the highest employment for Clinical Nurse Instructors:

  • New York - 5,030
  • Texas- 4,310
  • California- 3,970
  • Pennsylvania - 3,420
  • Ohio - 3,410

Top 5 paying States for Clinical Nurse Instructors:

  • District of Columbia - $157,560
  • Florida - $122,050
  • California - $101,930
  • New York - $97,750 
  • Connecticut - $97,350

Top 5 paying metropolitan areas for Clinical Nurse Instructors: 

  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Division - $120,980
  • Rochester, NY - $108,480
  • New Haven, CT - $107,320
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA - $106,740
  • Sacremento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA - $104,430

Top 5 paying nonmetropolitan areas for Clinical Nurse Instructors:

  • Central Missouri nonmetropolitan area - $98,560
  • Northwest Lower peninsula of Michigan nonmetropolitan area - $98,540
  • Central Kentucky nonmetropolitan area - $88,400
  • Capital/Nothern New York nonmetropolitan area - $79,490
  • Northwest Iowa nonmetropolitan area - $77,880

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Part Four What is the Career Outlook for Clinical Nurse Instructors?

The BLS states that in 2019 there were 69,000 nursing faculty in the United States, with a projected need for 82,800 in 2028. That is a 20% expected increase, which is significantly higher than other post-secondary educator positions. The BLS does not separate the need for clinical instructors vs. in-class educators; however, based on the following statistics, there is an obvious need. 

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. 
  • There is a 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.

Part Five How to Become a Clinical Nurse Instructor

Becoming a Clinical Nurse Instructor happens after gaining experience as a Registered Nurse

Step 1. Get a BSN degree

To gain employment as a clinical nurse instructor you first have to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing

A BSN is a traditional four-year degree that provides you with foundational knowledge in topics ranging from health assessments and pathophysiology to anatomy and pharmacology. BSN programs incorporate clinical rotations through the various care departments in hospitals and clinics, exposing students to a wide range of patients to provide well-rounded nursing education.   

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Step 2. Take the NCLEX-RN

Once you have earned your Bachelor of Science in Nursing, you will be eligible to take the examination required to become a Registered Nurse. This test, called the NCLEX-RN, or National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Every state has its own requirements for licensure and process for exam registration, so make sure that you are familiar with the requirements as they apply to you and your locale. Furthermore, the nursing program must be accredited in order for you to sit for the NCLEX.

Step 3. Gain Experience

Through clinical rotations, students are exposed to a wide range of care settings. Gaining expertise in a field such as med surg, pediatrics, or psychiatry is important prior to becoming a clinical nurse instructor. 

Step 4. Get an MSN degree

Most clinical nurse instructors hold a Master’s degree in nursing, either as an advanced practice nurse practitioner or a nurse educator. While this is not a requirement for every state, most major nursing programs prefer to hire clinical nursing instructors that hold an advanced degree. 

Some states, like Pennsylvania, will allow clinical nurse instructors to have a BSN if they are enrolled in an MSN program with completion in five years. Instructors will have to submit specific requirements to the state and if the MSN is not completed within five years they will not be allowed to work as a clinical nurse instructor until it is. 

New Jersey, on the other hand, requires an MSN degree for this position. It is important to note that this depends on the clinical site. For example, an individual could work for a University in Pennsylvania but if the clinical site is in New Jersey then they must possess an MSN degree. 

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Part Six Why Become a Clinical Nurse Instructor?

A clinical nurse instructor is a rewarding and fulfilling position. You have the ability to educate future generations of nurses and impact their growth in an ever-changing field. To thrive in this career, you must love teaching, working with students, and functioning in a different capacity in the nursing profession. 

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RN $70,000 - $90,000 Bachelors Masters Non-Bedside Clinical Nurse Instructor
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