Should I Be a Nurse or a Teacher? You May be Able to do Both

Your Nursing Degree
A nurse wearing a white lab coat and stethoscope in a classroom with nursing students behind her and the text nurse educator career.

When Carol Allen was in high school and preparing to apply to colleges, she often asked herself, “Should I be a nurse or a teacher?”

Allen knew she wanted to be a teacher but worried that the field was oversaturated with job seekers. So she went against the advice of her guidance counselor and decided to prepare for a career in nursing.

After several years of working as a registered nurse (RN) and earning her master’s degree, she got the opportunity to work as a nurse educator.  Preparing future nurses to earn their degrees allowed Allen to combine her passion for nursing and love of teaching.

“For me, it was like a dream come true,” said Allen, who now works as lead nursing faculty at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). “I had the best of both worlds. When I became a nurse educator, I got to be the teacher I wanted to be.”

Should I be a Nurse or a Teacher?

Stacey Rosenberg and the text Stacey RosenbergWhile the day-to-day work of nursing and teaching may seem very different, the careers have more in common than you might think.

As a teacher, you may find yourself nursing concerns beyond the lesson plans and class assignments. As a nurse, you'll be responsible for educating patients about health and wellness. In both careers, you'll need patience, empathy and strong communication skills to understand your audience and tailor your message to reach them in the way they learn best.

“Teaching really is a part of nursing,” said Stacey Rosenberg, an associate dean of nursing at SNHU. “In some ways it’s a natural transition."

When a patient is sent home with a heart or blood sugar monitor, it’s a nurse who shows them how to use it. When new parents give their newborn a bath for the first time, it’s a nurse who walks them through the process.

“As nurses, we need to be able to provide patients and their families with education about health and wellness, so they can manage their healthcare needs and make good healthcare choices,” said Allen.

A career as a nurse educator can bring these worlds of teaching and nursing even closer together.

Exploring Nursing Educator Careers

If you’re interested in pursuing nurse educator careers, you may be wondering, "What can I do with a master's in nurse education?" Before getting started with a degree program, it's important to understand where you could work and the field's salary and career growth potential.

What is a Nurse Educator?

A nurse educator is an RN who works to teach other nurses and medical professionals.

A nurse educator may work in a hospital or similar healthcare setting to create professional development programs for nurses, facilitate training for staff and design educational initiatives to improve patient care.

Nurse educators also work in college and university nursing programs, teaching classes and running clinical educational experiences for students.

How Much do Nurse Educators Make?

A nurse educator salary can vary based on the educator’s level of education, years of experience and the location of their job. According to Payscale, nurse educators earn a median salary of $73,874, with top earners in the field earning $99,000 annually.

What is the Growth Potential for Nurse Educator Careers?

The nursing field is facing a shortage of nurse educators, Rosenberg said, as current educators are retiring or nearing retirement age and demand for nursing degree programs grows.

Carol Allen and the text Carol Allen.According to a 2018 survey from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), U.S. nursing schools turned away 75,029 qualified applicants from college degree programs in 2018, with faculty shortage listed as one of the biggest factors.

Another 2018 AACN report found that 1,715 faculty vacancies were identified at 872 nursing schools, with an additional 138 faculty positions needed to accommodate student demand.

This demand is expected to continue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for nurse educators are projected to grow by 35% by 2022 - significantly higher than the national average.

How to Become a Nurse Educator

If you’re ready to get started with nurse educator careers, it’s important to understand the educational and professional requirements.

Most nurse educators have at least a few years of clinical nursing experience before moving into the education field, and are required to be a licensed RN in order to work as an educator, said Allen.

Having an advanced nursing degree is also important.

While some associate degree programs or practical nursing programs will hire nurse educators with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), the majority of nursing educator jobs, including those in college and university nursing degree programs, require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a doctorate degree.

While not required, earning an MSN in Nurse Education could help set you apart from other applicants. A degree focused in nurse education offers registered nurses the skills and knowledge required to facilitate learning through curriculum design, teaching, evaluation and advisement.

Becoming a Certified Nurse Educator through the National League for Nursing (NLN) Academic Nurse Educator Certification Program (ANECP), is another great way to set yourself apart from other job seekers and demonstrate expertise in the field, said Rosenberg.

Nurse Educator: The Best of Both Worlds

Whether you’re working as a registered nurse and looking to further your career or are struggling to decide between nursing and teaching, a career as a nurse educator could be a great fit.

For Allen, working as a nurse educator has allowed her to do the clinical nursing work she loves and fulfill her passion for teaching.

“I wanted to be able to impart what I knew and understood about nursing care to the next generation of nurses,” she said. "Everyone in the nation benefits when we improve patient outcomes and elevate the level of healthcare being provided to our populations.”

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer and marketer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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