Transitioning from Clinical Nurse to Educator

Transitioning from Clinical Nurse to Educator

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” 

—William Arthur Ward

The role of the academic nurse educator is both rewarding and challenging. Furthermore, the nurse educator plays a pivotal role in the nursing profession as well as in the development and preparation of future nurses and advanced degree nurses. The nursing profession is currently experiencing a faculty shortage. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurses, the national vacancy rate for the 2014–2015 academic year is 6.9%, which limits our ability to adequately prepare our future workforce. Consequently, this is the perfect time to consider transitioning into an academic role.

Some of the factors related to the current faculty shortage include an aging workforce, lack of a diverse cadre of educators, educational requirements, the cost associated with advancing one’s education, and lack of competitive financial compensation. Although the financial compensation is not competitive with current nursing salaries, the educator role is extremely rewarding and offers a certain degree of flexibility and autonomy.

There are several paths you can choose on your journey into the world of academia. All nurses are teachers in their own right, and nurse educators build upon these foundational skills via education and experience. Seeking out opportunities, such as the role of preceptor, patient educator, or hospital-based educator, can help you prepare for a future role in academia. Academic teaching shares many of the basic tenets of all educators; however, academic faculty must meet the triad of excellence in teaching, service to the profession and the organization, and scholarship. Completing a graduate degree in nursing education will certainly help to prepare you for the rigors of academia. There are a myriad of faculty development and scholarship programs that are offered by organizations, such as the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Healthcare, Johnson and Johnson, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which help address the faculty shortage, the lack of diversity, and the related shortage of nurses.

The Institute of Medicine’s report, The Future of Nursing, also identified the need for the advanced education of all nurses and increased diversity at all levels of nursing. Academic nurse educators must possess the required clinical and educational competencies; however, there is always a need for experienced clinical nurses to fulfill the role of clinical instructor, and this is a great place to begin one’s transition.

Types of Academic Educator Roles

The role of the academic nurse educator varies based on the specific type of educational setting and program. Basic nursing programs include diploma, associate degree, and baccalaureate degree. Graduate programs include master’s degrees and doctoral degrees in a variety of specialty areas. Many programs are offered in traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities, but online programs have become very popular.

Academic teaching roles include adjunct, clinical instructor, lecturer, assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. There are also a host of administrative positions for experienced educators—dean, associate dean, and director. All of these roles require related clinical experience and education.

Educational Requirements and Experience

The educational and experiential requirements for nursing faculty members are somewhat different depending on the actual role. In regards to educational level, faculty members must have a graduate degree at the master’s level to teach in an associate degree program and a doctoral degree to teach at the baccalaureate or higher level. There are exceptions to this rule, however. For example, a clinical instructor does not have to have a doctoral degree but does need the related clinical experience that is relevant to the clinical teaching role (e.g., a pediatric clinical instructor must have at least two years of experience working in a pediatric setting). Diploma and associate degree programs most often require their faculty members to have a master’s degree and related experience. Baccalaureate and graduate programs require faculty to hold a doctoral degree and related experience. Some academic institutions will hire faculty who do not hold a doctoral degree but are currently enrolled in a program. It is important to note that most academic institutions require that at least one degree be in nursing—baccalaureate or master’s.

Although it is not mandatory to have a master’s degree in nursing education, it is certainly helpful for your future role in academia. Another option is to complete a post-master’s certificate program in nursing education. This is especially helpful for nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists who are highly experienced clinicians but require further development in the principles of teaching, teaching and learning theories, course development, test construction, and evaluation.

A doctoral degree is required for most tenure track positions and/or when teaching in a graduate program in addition to most baccalaureate programs. Doctoral degrees include Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Nursing Science (DNSc), and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). There are numerous other doctoral programs, but these are the most common ones for nurse educators. Academic institutions may have different requirements regarding educational and clinical experience, so be sure to do some research before deciding on which degree program to attend.

Nurse educators tend to teach in the area of their specialty, such as medical-surgical, psychiatric nursing, or pediatric nursing, but one must be versatile because you may be asked to teach new or unfamiliar content. Because health care and technology are rapidly changing, it is vital to engage in lifelong learning and development and stay abreast of the current literature.

Major Responsibilities and Key Attributes

Nurse educators have numerous responsibilities and, as such, require certain attributes and qualifications that will guide them in their transition into the world of academia. In OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, Penn, Wilson, and Rosseter argued that nurse educators must have the following: teaching skills; knowledge, experience, and preparation for the faculty role; curriculum and course development skills; evaluation and testing skills; and personal attributes. Additionally, nurse educators are also expected to serve as advisors and mentor students, serve on committees, and make significant scholarly contributions.

Being passionate and caring about your profession and your students is very important. As a nurse educator, you will spend a good amount of time developing various course items in addition to reading and evaluating students’ work, so writing and communication skills are vital. You will also need to clearly articulate the information you share with your students and peers, in addition to being a good listener. Time management and organization are also essential because the role of the academic nurse educator is extremely demanding.

Teaching, Service, and Scholarship

The three requirements for tenured and many non-tenured faculty members are teaching, service, and scholarship. Depending on the type of faculty appointment, there will be an expected/required percentage of each one of these. For example, in many academic settings, teaching will be the most heavily valued. However, if you are teaching at the doctoral level at a research university, then scholarship in the form of research will be equally important.

Nevertheless, the most important goal for new faculty is to become an exemplary and expert teacher. This is accomplished with experience, education, reading current literature, mentorship, evaluation (self, student, and peer), and faculty development programs. Nurse educators will eventually develop their own unique style that is influenced by personal beliefs, pedagogies, and philosophy (including the influence of their academic institution’s philosophy). Faculty development is an ongoing process and requires self-direction and motivation. It is important to develop a specific plan for how you will continue to develop your teaching skills.

Scholarship relates to learning, research, and scholarly publications. The type of required scholarly works will be dictated by your academic organization and your specific faculty appointment. Scholarship includes conducting research, peer reviewing for publications, and presenting at conferences.

Service requires one to contribute to the organization and profession without financial compensation. Typically, this includes serving on committees, serving on an editorial board, or serving as a peer reviewer. There are certainly many other ways to meet this requirement, which may also involve serving one’s community.

Rank, Tenure, and Academic Freedom

Many full-time faculty positions are tenured. Ranks include instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. When faculty members receive an academic appointment, they are given a contract that states their rank and the number of years they have to demonstrate that they have met the required expectations of teaching, service, and scholarship to earn tenure. Tenure is one of the ways academic freedom is protected. Academic freedom pertains to a faculty member’s right to teach content, conduct research, and write or speak without censure, with the caveat that he or she demonstrates sound judgment when teaching content, especially if it is controversial. Faculty must be careful not to influence their students’ beliefs or abuse their power as educators. All faculty members should be well versed in the rights and legal, ethical, and moral responsibilities that are inherent in this role.

Ways to Transition to a Nurse Educator Role

In addition to experience and education, transitioning to the role of nurse educator requires the development of realistic goals and objectives. If you truly have the desire to teach, you should develop a specific plan with all the steps you will need to complete to meet your goal. Utilizing the nursing process will help you to develop a realistic plan. The first step is to assess your current level of knowledge, skills, education, and attributes. From there, you can begin to develop a specific individualized plan for how to accomplish each objective. Note that, if you do not have an advanced degree, you will need to enroll in a graduate program, so be sure to carefully consider which program will be best for you.

As a graduate student, you may have an opportunity to work as a teacher’s assistant, which will provide you with invaluable experience. You should seek out as many teaching experiences as you can. Consider becoming a mentor or preceptor, join the patient education committee, or develop a continuing education article. You should also consider becoming an adjunct clinical instructor in your specialty area, which is a great way to “test the waters” and eventually transition to a full-time faculty role.

Reading the current literature and attending conferences are also very helpful. You will need to network and consult with your mentor. Furthermore, developing a professional portfolio with a well-developed resume—or curriculum vitae—is crucial when applying for a faculty position.

It is also advisable to participate in mock interviews so that you will be prepared for an actual interview. It’s worth noting that the interview process at an academic setting is unique; you will most likely be interviewed by a search committee. Don’t be surprised if you are asked to demonstrate your teaching skills and share your philosophy of teaching.

Develop a Five-Year Plan

Developing a five-year plan with goals, objectives, and actions with specific dates can be very helpful when planning your transition. The goals should be realistic and achievable, and the objectives should be measurable. The actions are the steps needed to meet your objectives and accomplish your goals. Goals may be related to earning an advanced degree, obtaining a position as an adjunct, or applying for a full-time faculty role.

The plan should be evaluated on an ongoing basis and revised in accordance with your current needs. It is important to remember that plans are not set in stone and can always be revised. When you complete your first five-year plan, you will want to begin another one as you continue on your journey as a nurse educator.

Although the transition may be challenging, there are many strategies you can employ to guide you through this process. The journey from clinician to educator is filled with tremendous growth and learning.

Deborah Dolan Hunt, PhD, RN, is an associate professor of nursing at The College of New Rochelle. She is the author of The New Nurse Educator: Mastering Academe and The Nurse Professional: Leveraging Your Education for Transition into Practice


New to Nursing: Joining the Profession from Divergent Fields

New to Nursing: Joining the Profession from Divergent Fields

Two years ago, Evelyn Javier was working in a research lab in Maryland and was unhappy with her career. “I liked the job, but it did not fulfill my purpose,” she says. “I felt like there was more I could do.” 

What she really wanted to do, she decided, was to help people. In 2011, she quit her lab job and entered nursing school in New Jersey. Javier, now age 29, just received her RN degree and is about to launch her new career.

Many young minorities, after making false starts in other fields, discover that a career in nursing is actually the best fit for them. These career-changers—usually in their mid-20s—are attracted by the opportunity to help others, get out of an office setting, and interact with many different people. They also like the wide variety of nursing jobs they can choose from.

Nurse educators say these more seasoned students are generally more intense, get higher grades, and have a clearer idea of their career goals than their younger counterparts. After trying out something else, “they know what they want,” says Deborah A. Raines, PhD, RN, ANEF, a professor of nursing at the University at Buffalo School of Nursing. Though Javier had good grades, Raines says some latecomers to nursing were initially poor students who worked for a few years in low-paying jobs and then became more serious about their careers.

Raines, who authored the 2011 study “What Attracts Second Degree Students to a Career in Nursing?” in OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, says nursing tends to be something these second-careerists always wanted to do, but they were sidetracked into careers like teaching, business, or marketing for a few years. These students often bring skills from the previous jobs. Javier, for instance, says she brought a knowledge of aseptic techniques and teamwork skills from her lab job.

A Career Change From the Heart 

While traditional nursing students often cite salary and job security as key reasons for going into nursing, Raines says career-changers tend to have “intrinsic” motivations—reasons that come from the heart. “They really want to help other people,” she adds.

Javier switched to nursing after she took a career aptitude test, showing the field was her real calling. “I realized I wanted to go back into the community,” she says. “I wanted to be the person providing the extra care for those in need.”

As with many second-career nurses, Javier already had a college degree and could shorten her nursing education. Since she had already taken all the science courses she’d need for a bachelor’s in nursing degree, she was able to jump right into clinical training at the Muhlenberg School of Nursing in Plainfield, New Jersey. To help support herself as well as decide whether she wanted to be in clinical care, she took a job as a patient care technician at the same hospital where she was training. “I wanted to see if the hospital environment was right for me,” Javier says. It turned out to be a good fit.

Having just earned her degree, Javier now plans to work for about a year and start a bridge program for a master’s in nursing degree next spring. Ultimately, she wants to be a nurse practitioner specializing in family health with an emphasis on women’s health. And as a member of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN), she wants to focus on helping Hispanic patients. “I’m concerned about the cultural and language barriers that Hispanics face,” she explains.

Overcoming Family Expectations 

Raines says second-career nurses often have to overcome family expectations about another line of work. “They were directed a certain way by their parents, and then they found out that nursing was what they really wanted to do,” she says.

She recalls a second-career student from Haiti whose parents insisted that she should work at a law firm. The student did so for a while, but “she always wanted to be a nurse,” says Raines. She earned her nursing degree, worked for a year as an emergency medical technician, and then went back to graduate school. She is now in a doctoral program.

Jade Curry, an African American nurse, also had to overcome the expectations of some family members who thought she should be a doctor. To see if she’d like it, she even worked in a dermatology office for a year and attended a mini-medical school at the University of Michigan, where she majored in biology. But she didn’t like it and instead considered a career as a science teacher or in public health.

Her career path took another turn when, as an undergraduate, she began working for a program to help boost minority participation in certain health care professions, including nursing.

She became a strong proponent of the profession. “There are so many things you can do with a nursing degree,” says Curry. “You can go into teaching or practicing. You can work in multiple settings, like the ER or the ICU. You can get into a specialty like pediatrics or oncology. Or you can do research. Every discipline needs a nurse because we are the gatekeepers.”

After graduating college in 2003, Curry briefly considered taking another minority recruitment job at the University of California in Los Angeles, but instead she enrolled in the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. “Basically, I recruited myself,” she says.

After earning a nursing degree in 2006, Curry received a master’s of science in nursing degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. Now married with a one-year-old son, she is a nursing PhD candidate and is working at a teen health center. Her research interest revolves around how parents with teenagers communicate about sex.

Raines says many second careerists are “very focused about where they want to go.” She recalls a nursing student who came from a human resources job. “She wanted a nursing job in a certain unit, with a certain number of beds,” she recalls.

Helping Others 

Vaneta Condon, PhD, RN, served as director of the Pipeline to Registered Nursing program at Loma Linda University in California, which recruits underrepresented minorities into nursing. She says about 30% of the students already had a college degree in areas such as science, business, and teaching, and some already held jobs before they switched to nursing.

“The biggest reason they give for going into nursing is wanting to spend more time helping people,” she says. Since they already had some life experiences, “they start off as better nurses. They can adapt more readily to a nursing program and working with other people.”

Helping people has been the life work of Suleima Rosario-Diaz, RN, who has been a minister in the American Baptist Church in New Jersey for many years. A few years ago, she decided to get a nursing degree with the goal of performing health care missionary work in other countries.

Rosario-Diaz entered an accelerated nursing program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Now age 30 and married, she works as an admissions and discharge nurse at Palisades Hospital in Edgewater, New Jersey, and is working on a master’s degree.

She is still a minister as well as vice president of the New Jersey Chapter of NAHN. “Being a minister helps me to be a better nurse, to show love to people,” she says. “I want to be a calming presence.”

Rosario-Diaz wants to combine her therapeutic education with pastoral counseling. “A lot of religious folks do chaplaincy work in the hospital, but that does not interest me,” she explains. “I want to be hands-on, to be a presence when you are in pain. I am task-oriented, so it’s a great fit.”

Other Experiences 

Minorities have entered nursing from all kinds of walks of life. From the loss of a loved one to an unfulfilling job, inspiration can strike just about anywhere—and the smallest trigger can ignite that spark to become a nurse. Here are four examples to encourage you to make the leap:

Losing a Loved One. Chrispina Chitemerere was a schoolteacher in Zimbabwe before immigrating to the United States.1 She got a teaching job but didn’t like the work, she said in the May 2013 issue of the Elms News. Chitemerere said she found a new calling while taking care of her mother, who was dying of cancer. She became a licensed practical nurse and then enrolled in the Accelerated Second Degree in Nursing Program at the Elms College School of Nursing.

Combining Passions. For nine years, Randi Simpkins taught fifth and sixth grades in elementary school.2 “While I absolutely love the field of education, I knew that there was more for me to learn,” she wrote in an essay that won a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing scholarship last year. “Daily I encouraged my students to pursue excellence and reach beyond their limits. Upon reflection, I was forced to acknowledge that I, myself, had not attained my own goals of academic accomplishment.” She “stumbled upon the opportunities in nursing” and enrolled in the Duke University School of Nursing in January 2012.

Encouraged by Others. When Christine Hernandez’s mother was dying of cancer, a hospice nurse came into their home to care for her and sparked Hernandez’s interest in nursing.3 “She was amazing,” Hernandez told RN “It wasn’t just my mother she was helping but all of us. She was a strength that we just couldn’t have done without.” A few years later, Hernandez worked as a nanny for a dual-physician couple. They encouraged her to get an RN degree, so she enrolled in an RN program at Salt Lake Community College in Utah. Her goal is to work in pediatrics, oncology, or hospice.

Divine Intervention. In India, Binny Varghese earned a bachelor’s degree in human genetics and worked as a researcher in the biosciences.4 But as a child, “I gained a passion to serve others,” he told the Kansas City Nursing News in 2012. After immigrating to the United States for an arranged marriage with an Indian American woman, he decided that nursing was his real calling and entered an accelerated nursing program at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas. “When God wants you to do something better, he shows you the way,” he told the paper.


1. Elms College. From Africa to Chicopee, Two Students Earn Second Degree in Nursing. Elms News. May 15, 2013.….

2. Randi Simpkins. “I believe this about nursing…” essay. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation New Careers in Nursing. August 2012.…

3. G. Jones. Nursing Student Interview with Christine Hernandez. RN Builder. April 11, 2013.…

4. Nursing is second career for MNU student. Kansas City Nursing News. 2012.