They are collaborators and teachers, mentors and role models, practiced professionals and consummate leaders. Nurse educators wear many hats and play vital roles in health care as they prepare a diverse, culturally competent nursing workforce. In recognition of their continuing contributions in academic and clinical settings, the National League for Nursing (NLN) has declared 2022 the Year of the Nurse Educator.
Nurse educators make unique contributions to nursing and public health, ensuring that the next generation of nurses is well-prepared to confidently provide nursing care that makes a difference. They are also the conduits that move the field forward, expand diversity in the workforce, develop more engaging preparations for nurses in evidence-based practice and teach nurses to provide care with special attention to inclusivity and social justice.
Each nurse educator brings their own unique background, career experiences, instructional methods and passion to the role, which provides their students with a well-rounded educational experience, according to three certified nurse educators (CNEs) at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing – Kendra M. Barrier, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing; Benita Chatmon, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, Assistant Dean for Clinical Nursing Education and Assistant Professor of Clinical Nursing; and Alison H. Davis, PhD, RN, CNE, CHSE, Director of the Nursing Skills and Technology Center, Director of the Nurse Educator Concentration and Associate Professor of Clinical Nursing.
Educators Informed by Their Experience
At the School of Nursing, Dr. Davis specializes in simulation, nursing, and interprofessional education. Because her husband served in the military, she has lived in many different communities and worked with a variety of vulnerable populations.
“By bringing in our different areas of knowledge and experience, we can instill in our students how the puzzle pieces fit together,” Dr. Davis says.
Dr. Barrier’s background is in emergency nursing, and her first experience as a nurse educator came from working with students in the emergency department. Though she did not originally intend to be a nurse educator, she has come to enjoy it by finding ways to engage students with fewer lectures and more discussions, question-and-answer sessions and games “to make sure students can actually understand and apply the concepts we’re teaching them.”
Dr. Chatmon always knew she wanted to work in medicine and to teach. Her educational philosophy revolves around experiential learning and storytelling.
“Each CNE will have a different educational style, molded by their own lived experiences – what they’ve seen and what they hope to see in the nursing profession,” Dr. Chatmon says.
The Path to Become a Nurse Educator
Nurse educators can take the form of clinical nurse educators in the hospital setting, instructional nursing faculty at academic institutions or staff development nurses. To become a CNE, someone must first become a registered nurse, pursue an advanced degree in nursing and then gain real-world experience as a nurse educator. The NLN offers two certification designations for nurse educators: Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®) and Certified Clinical Academic Nurse Educator (CNE®cl). Neither is required to practice, but both give nurse educators a competitive advantage.
Previously, nurses had to work as educators for five years to be eligible to sit for the certification examination. Recently, the NLN introduced the Academic Novice Nurse Educator Certification Exam, created for nurse educators with fewer than three years of nurse educator practice. The CNE®n designation has some differences compared to the other two nurse educator certifications. It is valid for a three-year period only, and it is non-renewable. In this way, CNE®n certification is designed to help novice educators focus on professional development and ultimately pursue one or both of the other NLN certifications.
Drs. Barrier, Chatmon and Davis say the School of Nursing is always looking for passionate and compassionate educators committed to growing the future nursing workforce and eager to integrate into the school’s culture.
“Without nurse educators, the future nursing workforce does not exist,” Dr. Davis says. “And when we have a faculty shortage, we cannot enroll as many qualified applicants into our program as we’d like.”
Having more nursing educators increases an institution’s capacity to prepare future nurses, a critical need in light of the national nurse shortage. At the School of Nursing, nurse educators strive to prepare a population of nurses who reflect the diverse population they care for and who are prepared to care for people with a wide variety of health needs, who are aging and often have more comorbidities than in years past.
Nurse Educators Need Passion and Purpose
Why aren’t more nurses pursuing the nurse educator concentration?
“Often, nurses can make more money in practice than in education, so there’s certainly a need for more funding to expand this essential role,” Dr. Chatmon says.
“Nursing education is also almost 24/7. You are focused on teaching, research and publishing, so it’s an intense profession,” Dr. Barrier adds.
That is why being a nurse educator, much like being a nurse in general, is largely about being passionate about what you do.
“I love to teach, but I also want students to see a representation of themselves,” Dr. Chatmon says. “The majority of people in our profession are still white women, and I want Black women – and all students – to see that even though they’re not the majority, they can still be successful in this profession.”
For Dr. Davis, her passion stems from helping students realize their capabilities and reach their potential.
“I come from a family of classroom teachers, and my dad was also an eighth-grade counselor,” Dr. Davis says. “I always found myself counseling even my childhood friends, and when I started precepting students, I found the counseling/mentoring aspect was what inspired me most. It keeps me going every day to see students’ ‘lightbulb moments,’ especially when it comes to simulation. Debriefing is often the hardest part of these simulations, and when you see the moment when the student puts it all together – seeing how what they did impacted the patients and realizing they helped – it’s so rewarding.”
Advice for Future Nurse Educators
Dr. Barrier advises nurses who are interested in becoming nurse educators to be intentional about building on their clinical experience.
“Nurse educators are hard to find in specialty roles, like pediatrics, population health and critical or emergency care. Experiential knowledge in these areas is very valuable in teaching roles,” she says.
To get the initial experience they need for certification, nurses can launch their educational careers as part-time faculty, full-time faculty or in the clinical realm.
“There are so many opportunities to build on your education, gain mentorship and grow your experience in a variety of settings,” Dr. Davis says.
To be an effective nurse educator, she says one needs to continuously engage with their students to let them know they can succeed if they remain focused. In her previous role as Assistant Dean for Student Services, Dr. Barrier says she often let struggling students know, on a personal level, that she had been in their shoes and understands what they are going through.
“That’s why it’s so important to increase diversity in the nurse educator role,” Dr. Barrier says. “It’s very important for our students to see people who look like them and have these simple conversations about where they are and where they want to go. You always hear people say there was that one teacher who made a difference in their life, and we want that to be the same for our nursing students. As an educator, you have to let them know you believe they can do it and help them believe it too.”
As for the attributes a nurse must have to move into an educational role, Dr. Chatmon says they are similar to what it takes to be a nurse in the first place.
“We can teach you skills, but we can’t teach you to care, to be passionate, to show commitment, perseverance and resiliency,” she adds.