Nurses play a vital role in keeping people healthy. Because they have so much responsibility, they undergo a lot of training and schooling to ensure they are as well-educated as possible before they start working. As the people who train the new generation of patients, nurse educators are crucial to the future of the field of nursing. Excellent educators are a must when training aspiring professionals to care for all kinds of people dealing with all kinds of issues.
This article will explore the role of nurse educators in shaping the future of nursing along with some of the challenges they have to face along the way.
What is a nurse educator?
A nurse educator is someone who teaches nurses. They are also usually nurses themselves, often with varying degrees of experience and education. Nurse educators combine clinical experience and teaching skills to effectively train and educate new and existing nurses. They play crucial roles in shaping the future of nursing, and healthcare as a whole, by determining what skills and knowledge today’s students need to know. They also often work with practicing nurses to learn new skills or expand their knowledge, increasing the quality of care their patients receive.
Nurse educators work in a variety of settings. From classrooms to college campuses and hospitals to long-term care facilities and public health agencies, nursing educators are a part of the field of nursing in almost every facet.
What education does a nurse educator need?
In many instances, the type of degree nurse educators receive also dictates the kind of work they do and the kinds of environments in which they work. Nurse educators typically have an advanced degree of some kind. For many people, this translates to a master’s degree in nursing. This advanced degree allows students to further expand their knowledge and pursue niches in nursing that interest them. In turn, this better prepares them for passing on valuable information to tomorrow’s professionals.
The benefits of a doctorate for nurse educators
Some students decide to extend their education even longer and pursue a doctoral degree. Students who earn their nurse practitioner degrees find it easier to find work educating others, and they can even pick between a wide variety of workplaces.
What do nurse educators do?
Nurse educators focus on instructing new or existing nurses to improve the quality of care they provide. Depending on the setting, educators will work with aspiring nurses as they move through their degree and prepare to enter the workforce or will provide existing nurses with additional education as the field and their skills evolve. A nurse educator’s job consists of a few different parts. The most important of these is the balance between practical work and research. Effective nurse educators stay up to date with the latest technology innovations along with any breaking nurse in their niche of choice. They work hard to produce quality scholarly research and provide peer reviews of their colleague’s work while they’re at it. Nurse educators must also have the practical experience to help their students thrive while working directly with patients.
As an example, nurse educators might provide training in the field to newly qualified family nurse practitioners (FNPs). Where do family nurse practitioners work? They work in a wide variety of settings, from community centers to acute care clinics, to hospitals and schools. Nurse educators can work alongside FNPs in these settings and provide further education and guidance. For people wanting to study to become a family nurse practitioner, Texas Woman’s University offers a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program which teaches students how to work as primary care providers. In addition to receiving a degree, students learn how to treat patients in various settings, will study 14 different modules over 2 years (full-time), and will qualify knowing they are well equipped to enter the medical field and improve patient outcomes.
Those with advanced nurse practitioner degrees will not only benefit from the work of nurse educators when they enter the workplace but can also become nurse educators themselves. Completing a nurse practitioner degree is an important first step to becoming an indispensable nurse educator. For students wishing to become nurse educators, gaining a good education from an accredited institution such as Texas Woman’s University means that they are both ready to begin work as practicing nurses, and go on to become teachers and help educate the future leaders of nursing.
What do nurse educators teach their students?
As well as technical information, nurse educators teach students other characteristics in order to produce the best nurses possible. Many of them emphasize the importance of community within the nursing profession, for example, setting students up for an easier transition into the workforce. Working as a nurse is easier when you have a support group of experienced nurses behind you, and nursing educators work hard to instill that characteristic into their students.
Something else that educators focus on is developing tomorrow’s leaders. Their students are poised to change the face of nursing, and instructors typically want to ensure that they have the skills needed to make that change a good one. From instilling solid foundational skills in them to teaching aspiring nurses how to speak up and stand up for their patients in ethical dilemmas, nursing educators set their students up for success. The same is true of nurses who are already working in the industry but need or desire additional education. In these instances, educators seek to enhance their student’s confidence in their skills and abilities so that when they return to their jobs, they are ready to lead their fellow nurses and provide patients with more effective care.
Challenges in nursing education
The field of nursing education isn’t always an easy one, but it is an incredibly rewarding one that grants educators the opportunity to shape the future of the industry. Now that you know why nursing educators are so crucial to the future of the healthcare system in the United States, let’s talk about some of the challenges that they face.
The field of education is no stranger to stretched budgets and insufficient resources. This often includes understaffing. This challenge holds true for nursing education. A rising lack of nursing professionals has led to a shortage of teachers across the country. As a result, nursing programs sometimes struggle to meet the demand for nursing education and sometimes turn people away as a result.
According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), one of the nation’s leading voices in nursing education, schools across the country turned away more than 90,000 applicants who were qualified for their programs because they didn’t have enough educators to teach them all. Nursing programs also often struggle with classroom space, budget constraints, and sometimes even clinical sites allowing the students to practice nursing skills before they graduate.
The good news here is that the rise of online schooling is reducing some of these issues. Educating students online allows educators to teach many people without worrying about fitting all of them in a lecture hall or booking enough lab space. Nursing educators in this kind of online program are often able to record their lectures and post them for students to watch as necessary, too, sometimes reducing the amount of time they spend in the classroom.
Difficult academic and training requirements
Another challenge facing nurse educators is that sometimes students simply don’t have the tools they need to succeed in a nursing program. There are strict academic and training requirements students must meet before they are allowed to progress in their program, and some students aren’t familiar with adhering to them or successfully meeting them. Many nurse educators believe that we should begin teaching students about potential careers in nursing when they are still in high school, giving them time to develop their skills to succeed.
Aspiring nurse educators also face roadblocks. Some programs prefer that their educators have doctorates, which rules out many qualified nurses with experience in the field and the ability to educate nursing students. Some students study for advanced degrees in order to meet these rigorous standards but find that doctorates in the field don’t always provide them with the mixture of clinical experience and research abilities needed to be excellent educators.
Both aspiring nurses and aspiring nurse educators would benefit from a curriculum revival that takes new advances in technology into account. Utilizing training programs and software designed to improve specific skills and abilities can help both undergraduates and post-graduate students prepare themselves for long and healthy careers in the medical field.
Underrepresentation in nursing education
Yet another challenge that prevents students from thriving is underrepresentation in the academic space. Educators are primarily female and very few of them are from underrepresented groups. This naturally leads to an environment that is sometimes viewed as less comfortable for underrepresented students. Some students hold back from nursing education as a result.
The solution here is already underway: create more diverse nursing education teams. When the faculty of any given program is diverse and represents many different communities, students will feel more understood and encouraged to move forward with their studies.
Difficult student-teacher relationships
You might not realize just how much student-teacher relationships can impact future success. They are important for students at every stage of their education and can often lead to better academic success, increased motivation to study and learn, and enhanced professional development. With so many students vying for the attention of a relatively small number of instructors, however, it can be difficult for professors to interact with every student who reaches out to them.
Similarly to the number one challenge discussed in this section, the solution to improving the amount of time instructors can spend interacting with their students has likely already begun implementation. Online interaction often requires less time than in-person conversations and can be done while also completing other tasks. This, in turn, allows instructors to build stronger relationships with their students and maintain them for a longer period of time, even once the student has graduated and is working in the field.
Fostering good relationships between students and instructors can improve not only a student’s drive to succeed but also the way they see future education. Good experiences in university can encourage students to pursue more advanced degrees or to keep up with their education even once they are working as professional nurses. Patients reap the benefits of this ongoing education.
Perhaps the biggest challenge nursing educators face is pay inequality. In this instance, we’re not referring to an unfair pay ratio between genders or other protected groups. We’re talking about how much money instructors make versus what practicing nurses make. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median average salary for nurse educators is roughly $78,000. In contrast, nurses with similar education levels such as nurse practitioners make roughly $120,000 on average.
This wage disparity often dampens enthusiasm to work in academics as a nurse instructor and instead encourages many potential nurse educators with master’s or doctoral degrees to work actively in the field rather than in the classroom. As we’ve already seen, this perpetuates a staffing shortage that impacts the number of students who can be educated each year.
Luckily, this area of concern is well on its way to being solved. There has been much discussion in recent years about nursing education, including regarding salaries and resources. It is possible that within a few years, this will no longer be an issue and the field of nursing education will be growing wildly day-by-day.
Lack of continuing education opportunities
The shortage of nursing educators in academics has demanded that current instructors spend even more of their time teaching and interacting with students than they did in the past. While this is completely understandable, it also negatively impacts some educators as they attempt to enhance their knowledge and skills. Remember, nurse educators are not eternal experts just because they teach. As with every other field of academia, nursing teachers must also maintain their skills in the face of innovation and progress.
With so few instructors available to teach rising numbers of student nurses around the country, educators’ time to spend expanding their own knowledge has fallen in favor of passing it on to others. This can keep them from advancing in their role as an expert in the field.
As with several of the other challenges we’ve discussed above, online education is making it easier for students and instructors alike to expand their knowledge and abilities. Not only does it make accessing ongoing educational opportunities for instructors easier, but it also frees up some of their time so that they can pursue the programs and training that they believe will help them better serve students and patients.
Nursing educators are so important because they hold the future of the nursing profession in their hands. They are responsible not only for teaching students the basics but also for turning them into educated and confident leaders ready to enter the workforce and improve patient outcomes no matter where they work. This is how change is made in industries—from the inside out.
Are you interested in learning more about nursing and how nursing educators make a difference? If you want to become a nursing educator, your first step should be to locate the best education available to you. Don’t be afraid to pour time and effort into your degree! Just remember that every second you spend studying is one less mistake you will make when helping patients directly. Keep the information we offer above in mind and set out to become the very best nurse you can be. In time, you can transition that knowledge and expertise into nursing education. Before you know it, you’ll be educating tomorrow’s workforce.