All You Need to Know To Become a Nurse Educator

A nurse educator in a classroom

If you’re a nurse with a passion for education and the future of nursing, becoming a nurse educator might be the perfect career path for you. What is a nurse educator? Nurse educators are highly trained professionals who often work in colleges and universities to educate and inspire the next generation of healthcare providers. Are you interested in learning how to become a nurse educator?

Explore the process here.

In This Article:

What Is a Nurse Educator?

Before embarking on the process of how to become a nursing teacher, it’s important to understand what the job entails. Nurse educators play a vital role in the future of nursing, such as teaching future nurses as well as nurses seeking further education or advancement to impact the overall quality of patient care. They help write and advance curricula and act as role models and mentors for their students.

The main role of a nurse educator is to interact with students in many different aspects of their journey. This includes:1

  • Planning and teaching curriculum at universities
  • Guiding students through early clinical rotations
  • Advising on academic and career options
  • Overseeing independent studies, graduate projects, dissertations and research
  • Evaluating and grading student work

As a clinical nurse educator, you are expected to demonstrate strong leadership skills to help advance patient care and advocate for patients as well as progressive nursing practices. It’s important to keep this in mind while also having the confidence to speak up about relevant issues in healthcare when possible.1

Why Become a Nurse Educator?

There are many potential benefits of navigating the process of how to become a nursing teacher. As a nurse educator, you are making a difference not only in the lives of patients but also in the lives of students.

Maybe it was a high school teacher who encouraged you to chase your dreams, or an undergrad professor who helped you learn to think about the world in new ways. In either case, most people can likely name one or two teachers who truly had a positive impact on their life. Now, as a nurse educator, it’s your turn to make a difference.

Effective nurse educators present the curriculum in ways that support their students. You have the chance to inspire students to excel beyond their own expectations, and in doing so, you can help make contributions to the future of the healthcare field.

Additionally, you can choose from a variety of career paths, meaning you can pursue what you’re passionate about. Some nurse educators choose to stay in the clinical setting, then specialize in maternity and obstetrics, whereas others may choose pediatrics. It’s important that, as a nurse educator, you find enjoyment in the path and setting you choose.

How To Become a Nursing Teacher

Because nurse educators are highly trained professionals, there are steps you must take in order to pursue this career. It’s important for future nurse educators to know the requirements as the rewards could be well worth every step of it.

A nurse educator career requires you to have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) as well as typically a minimum of two years of experience as a registered nurse. Here are steps to take for future nursing educators:

Earning an Undergraduate Nursing Degree

Before you are eligible to pursue a master’s in nursing, you will need an undergraduate degree in nursing.

One of the most common undergraduate nursing degrees is a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). For aspiring nurse educators who know early on that they want to follow this career path, earning a BSN is a required first step. An accelerated BSN (ABSN) may also be an option for you. In addition to a BSN preparing you to earn a master’s degree in nursing, this program will also teach you foundational skills to position yourself to potentially assume leadership roles in the healthcare field. 

Completing a Nurse Educator Program

After earning your undergraduate degree, the next step is to enroll and complete a nurse educator program — more specifically, a master’s degree in nursing with an emphasis in education, such as a Master of Science Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Education if you are solely planning to become an educator.2

Earning an MSN degree is typically required for nursing educators,2 but it also teaches students a variety of important skills that they can use in their profession. At Grand Canyon University, some MSN courses include:

  • Introduction to Advanced Registered Nursing
  • Organizational Leadership and Informatics
  • Translational Research and Population Health Management
  • Advanced Health Assessment for Nurse Educators

Earning a Nursing Doctorate

If you truly want to pursue this career, earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree may be a good next step after earning your MSN. A DNP might not always be required to teach at the undergraduate level, but it is generally required to teach at the graduate level and, often, to become a tenured professor or a school administrative official.2 This degree program will teach nurses to apply research to improve healthcare systems and enhance patient outcomes, which is a common goal of nurse educators. While earning your DNP, you will likely study many advanced nursing courses on topics such as:

  • Patient outcomes and sustainable change
  • Leadership for advanced nursing practice
  • Emerging areas of human health
  • Population management

Throughout the course of a DNP program, you will experience a practice-based curriculum that can prepare you for a wide variety of careers and specializations, and for potentially becoming a leader within the healthcare field. This includes a role in academia within practice-based programs, teaching the next generation of nurses and generating new knowledge through innovation of practice change.

Benefits of Holding a Certification For Nursing Educators

Although it’s not required in order to teach, earning a certification as a nurse educator can not only show your dedication to the field but can help you to fully establish your specialty. The National League of Nurses (NLN) offers both the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®) certification3 and the Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE®cl) certification.4

There are many requirements to meet before taking these exams, including having nursing licensure, proof of practice and graduate-level education. It’s important to ensure that you satisfy all the requirements if you decide that earning one of these certifications aligns with your career goals.

Are Nurse Educators Needed?

There is a significant shortage of nurse educators in the U.S., which is contributing to the overall shortage of registered nurses. In order to meet the need for nurses, the country will need more nurse educators to prepare aspiring healthcare professionals. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), there is a national nurse faculty vacancy rate of 8.8% for a total of 2,166 full-time faculty vacancies as of October 2022.5

The shortage of nurse educators is fueled in part by the anticipated wave of retirements. It’s expected that about one-third of current nurse educators who teach baccalaureate and graduate programs will retire by 2025.5

Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is committed to graduating students who are prepared to enter the field of healthcare as competent leaders of the field. GCU offers a variety of baccalaureate and graduate degrees designed for future nurse educators, including the Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Nursing Education degree and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership. Complete the form on this page to get started on your nursing journey at GCU.


1Mickool, S. (n.d.). Nurse educator jobs and responsibilities. All Nursing Schools. Retrieved July 18, 2023.

2NurseJournal. (2022, November 29). Nurse educator career overview. NurseJournal. Retrieved July 18, 2023.

3National League for Nursing. (n.d.). Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®). National League for Nursing. Retrieved July 18, 2023.

4National League for Nursing. (n.d.). Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNEcl®). National League for Nursing. Retrieved July 18, 2023.

5American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2022, October). Nursing faculty shortage fact sheet. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Retrieved July 18, 2023.

Approved by the dean of the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions on Sept. 11, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.