IF YOU'RE LOOKING for a career that can impact the future of nursing, consider becoming a nursing instructor. Because of a serious faculty shortage, thousands of qualified applicants have been turned away from nursing programs in recent years.1 Almost three-quarters (71%) of nursing schools surveyed in one study cited faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants.2
With such a significant need, now's the time to consider a career as a nursing instructor or professor. Here are eight characteristics you'll need:
1. Appropriate education. Each nursing program, whether LPN, ADN, or BSN, must follow standards set by the appropriate state nurse practice act, other state regulations, and the facility or university. In addition, the level of education required of faculty members can vary with the position. For example, classroom faculty teaching students in a BSN program need to have at least an MSN degree. On the other hand, a BSN degree may be sufficient for clinical instructors, depending on their state and their job. Some tenure-track positions require a doctorate.
If you decide to further your education by pursuing a higher degree, you'll be mentored by nursing instructors and get connected to local nursing programs. Going back to school for more education may even lead to your next job!
2. Teaching skills. Nursing faculty teach critical thinking by asking questions, reviewing written work, conducting clinical conferences, and evaluating student journals. They work side by side with nursing students as well as with nursing staff. As a faculty member, you can bring your real-life experiences to the classroom. Students love to hear how theory is applied in the clinical world.
3. Ability to work with others. Though it's also significant in many other careers, an ability to work with others is essential to nursing faculty. If you're a faculty member, you can have an immeasurable impact on students. In the clinical setting, an encouraging word or a supportive smile go a long way.
4. Expertise. Although the primary role of faculty is to educate, faculty members are also colleagues to professional nursing staff and nurses to patients. The staff expects a clinical educator to be responsible for the care the students provide to patients and to intervene if things go awry in the unit.3 Nursing competence is critical to the teaching role. Nursing students come with a wide variety of experiences. Patience and understanding play a huge role, but patient safety always comes first.
5. Assessment skills. Yes, your assessment skills remain important as an educator too. Working with students, whether in clinical areas or in the classroom, requires constant assessment of their learning and understanding. Just as nurses must be sure of patients' knowledge before they're discharged, educators must be sure that students grasp the concepts of nursing care before they care for patients. The most effective educators are adept at intuiting students' concerns, showing empathy, and offering clearer guidance.4
6. Love of nursing. As a faculty member, you'll need to have a clear vision of nursing and of nursing's value to society. Students expect their clinical educator to guide them in making observations, applying theory, reaching conclusions, selecting and performing interventions, and evaluating outcomes.5 A passion for our profession makes teaching easier and more effective.
7. Communication skills. Communicating a positive attitude about teaching and learning and promptly responding to students about their work promotes their confidence and skills. Today's high-tech student uses e-mail, the Internet, cell phones, and basic face-to-face communication to do their learning. Using technology in the classroom or online classes is a nursing educator skill that's valued by students.
8. Skills beyond the clinical setting. As a university professor, you'll work on university committees and conduct the latest research in our field. Being connected to the community and the campus are a rewarding part of the role of university faculty.
Challenges and rewards
A career as nursing faculty can be challenging and rewarding. During the semester, you'll have obligations to students, hospitals, and universities that can be overwhelming at times. Lecturing on campus and spending days working with students in the nursing units will keep you busy. Your reward is the nursing students, who are striving to be their very best for their future patients. You'll find that mentoring a struggling student or boosting a student's confidence will have a huge impact not only on the student but on yourself as well.
1. Buerhaus PI, Staiger DO, Auerbach DI. The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends, and Implications
. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2008.
4. Gibbons C, Dempster M, Moutray M. Stress and eustress in nursing students. J Adv Nurs
5. O'Connor AB. Clinical Instruction and Evaluation: A Teaching Resource
. 2nd edition. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers; 2006.