Kathryn Lynch Challenger is department chair of the associate degree nursing program at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz.
The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.
HAVE PATIENTS and fellow nurses mentioned how good you are at explaining information? Do you enjoy precepting new nurses? Have you had a meaningful experience working with a nursing student? If you answered yes to any of these questions, becoming a nurse educator may be an excellent career path for you.
But don't worry…because you can make the transition gradually, you won't have to give up your day (or night) job yet. This article describes the requirements and practical steps to take to become a nurse educator. Start by considering what opportunities are available.
Many choices for nurse educators
Faculty members may be full-time or adjunct (part-time). Some institutions also have tenured and non-tenured faculty. Tenure refers to permanent, or lifelong, job security. Its purpose is to give educators academic freedom without fear of reprisal from the administration. Tenure is typically offered only at 4-year universities and colleges to faculty members who've taught for many years and who've met the institution's higher education requirements.
In clinical-only positions, an instructor works with a small group of students at least one day a week in a patient-care setting, such as the hospital, long-term care facility, or community. In skill lab positions, the instructor teaches psychomotor skills to a group of students in the nursing lab. These skills include how to measure blood pressure, administer an injection, or insert an I.V. catheter. Finally, classroom positions are available for those who wish to lecture. Some schools require classroom instructors to be full-time faculty who also teach in the clinical area.
Most states require that full-time faculty and classroom instructors have an MSN or higher degree in nursing. A school may request an exception to this requirement if the candidate fulfills a specific need. For instance, an exception may be sought in specialty areas such as psychiatry, community health, or labor and delivery when instructors are in short supply.
To guest lecture on a particular subject, you may need only expert knowledge in that area. For example, if you work on a burn unit, you may be able to give a lecture on caring for patients with burns even if you don't hold an MSN. For adjunct faculty who teach in the clinical area and for skill lab instructors, a BSN is usually required. Whether you're a classroom, clinical, or skills lab instructor, a minimum of 2 years of experience is preferred.
Besides teaching in associate's degree and BSN programs, you could also work in an LPN or LVN program, which provides a wonderful opportunity to get started in nursing education. To teach in these programs, RNs usually need 2 to 3 years of clinical experience.
If you think you're qualified to be a nurse educator, think about how you'd spend your time in this role.
A day in the life
What's a typical day for a nurse educator? What exactly would you do? A typical full-time nurse educator might lecture one or two mornings a week, either alone or as part of a team, and then teach a skills lab in the afternoon or evening. On another day, an educator might spend several hours or a whole day in the clinical setting, such as the hospital, long-term care facility, or outpatient clinic.
Most schools require about five office hours per week. During this time, students can come to your office for clarification about lecture material, advice on class schedules, or questions about studying. Interspersed throughout the week will be various meetings, including faculty and committee meetings. The remainder of your time will be dedicated to preparing for upcoming lectures and clinical sessions.
If this nursing role appeals to you, start to look for job openings.
Getting down to brass tacks
Talk to the clinical instructors who bring students to your unit about available positions. Call the local school of nursing to inquire about positions or check its website for openings. If you're knowledgeable about a particular subject area, call nearby schools of nursing and ask about guest lecturing.
To apply for a job, you'll usually begin by filling out an online application, followed by a phone or face-to-face interview. For full-time classroom positions, you may be required to demonstrate a short teaching session. Many schools use a peer interview as well, which means you'd have more than one interview. (For clinical adjunct positions, a peer interview and teaching demonstration aren't usually needed.)
Full-time faculty members can earn between $61,300 and $84,500 for the 9-month academic year.1,2 Salary depends on the educational level (MSN versus doctorate), type of institution (community college versus university), and clinical and teaching experience. Salaries vary throughout the country; the salaries mentioned here represent an average from across the nation.
Take the first step
Do you think you'd enjoy teaching but still aren't 100% sure? The great thing about nursing education is that you can start slowly. To get your feet wet, you can teach a clinical group one or two days per week or be a guest lecturer while keeping your direct-care position. Then when you're ready, you can apply for a full-time position as an educator. Nursing education, like clinical nursing, offers flexibility and many options. It just may be the dream job for you!
© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.