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Advancing the profession

The clinical nurse educator

Brennan, Jean, MSN, MS, RN; Olson, Evelyn Louise, MSN, BSN, RN

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000545017.83543.8f
Feature: New Horizons

Emphasizing required skills, knowledge, and education, this article describes the role of clinical nurse educators (CNEs) and the best practices CNEs can use to optimize education for nurses.

At the Northern Arizona VA Health Care System in Prescott, Ariz., Jean Brennan is a geriatrics and extended care clinical nurse educator and Evelyn Louise Olson is a nurse educator.

The authors have disclosed no financial relationships related to this article.



CLINICAL NURSE EDUCATORS (CNEs) are devoted to teaching nurses who work in healthcare facilities the skills and knowledge needed to provide the best possible care to their patients. These educators are respected nurses with strong organizational and leadership skills. They're also passionate about what they do. This article provides an overview of the CNE role and the best practices CNEs can use to help nurses get the most out of their training.

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The basics

A bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) is typically a minimum educational requirement, but a Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) with an educational specialization is recommended, along with leadership skills necessary to teach other nurses.1 Despite the push for all nurses to attain their BSN, varying levels of education (with different levels of clinical experience) are still present in the nursing workforce. CNEs may be educating nurses with an associate degree but vast clinical experience, as well as recently graduated BSN nurses abreast of the latest research-based evidence. Because some facilities employ LPNs/LVNs and unlicensed assistive personnel to work under the CNE's tutelage, a CNE's ability to teach to all levels is critical.

Like other clinical staff, CNEs meet annual competency requirements. Although it depends on their employer, many CNEs are tested in the proficiencies in which they test others. These include I.V. therapy, urinary catheterization, ECGs, basic and advanced cardiovascular life support skills, incorporation of adult learning theory in learning activities, and curriculum development.

CNEs often use their professional knowledge to help resolve clinical issues and develop written policies and procedures for the healthcare facilities where they work. Policies and procedures, designed to assist in day-to-day decision-making and bring structure to each organization, should be adjustable for use across the organization.

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Program development

Developing educational programs for nurses in the clinical setting takes time and planning, and requires assessment of the nurses' skills and educational levels. Conducting a needs assessment is a good start. Having nurses respond to an online survey helps the educator meet each unit's needs.

Using their management and leadership skills, CNEs collaborate closely with nurse managers, preceptors, and preceptees. In many facilities, the CNE is charged with overseeing the preceptorship. Creating a customized plan personalizes the instructional approach for each nurse and empowers the new nurse to help direct his or her own orientation. Advance planning lets nurse managers adjust schedules ahead of time so that all nurses can participate.

Along with developing educational programs, the CNE may need to advocate for the program's implementation. Some educators oversee the programs' budgets and ultimately acquire the funding necessary for their implementation.

Establishing intraprofessional collaboration is crucial for nurse educators.2 The facility may employ only one educator, depending on its size. It may be necessary for the nurse educator to either travel or connect electronically to receive his or her continuing education and to interact and collaborate with instructors from other institutions. Continuing education will aid in the development of best practices in policy and training.

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The importance of “mini classes”

Impromptu visits to the unit for “mini” review sessions are enjoyable but challenging with the ever-increasing demands on frontline nursing staff. For short training sessions, using a traveling cart equipped with a laptop and projector can make education more convenient for the staff and can engender respect, appreciation, and trust in the clinical educator.3 The nurses appreciate these shorter sessions and managers can collaborate with the clinical instructor on areas or topics that are problematic for the staff.

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Certification in any field is a mark of professionalism. For CNEs, it establishes nursing education as a specialty area of practice and creates a means for educators (either clinical or academic) to demonstrate their expertise. More than 4,000 certified nursing educators reside and teach in the US. A nurse must work in the field of education for a minimum of 2 years and have a current active license before being eligible to take the Certified Nurse Educator exam. Your facility may not require this for CNEs, however, as this is generally for academia.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) is one organization that focuses on offering nurses and educators the resources needed to make the most of their career. ANA offers numerous webinars, conferences, continuing education, and an array of certifications, and has an abundance of curricula to promote professional development.4

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Final thoughts

Nurse educators should be visible to staff and approachable. It's important to remember that many different individuals must get involved to empower our students, staff, and peers. Nurse educators are deeply committed to helping other nurses develop and grow. CNEs can impact nursing practices and indirectly improve patient outcomes, making them an integral component of the interprofessional team in healthcare.5

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1. Jacksonville University. Nurse educator job description. 2017.
2. Lindeke LL, Sieckert AM. Nurse-physician workplace collaboration. Online J Issues Nurs. 2005;10(1):5.
3. Okello DR, Gilson L. Exploring the influence of trust relationships on motivation in the health sector: a systematic review. Hum Resour Health. 2015;13:16.
4. American Nurses Association. 2017.
5. Gurzick M, Kesten KS. The impact of clinical nurse specialists on clinical pathways in the application of evidence-based practice. J Prof Nurs. 2010;26(1):42–48.
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