How to Choose the Right Nurse Educator Degree Program

In order to become a nurse educator, you need a graduate degree so that you have a higher credential than your students. The most common one is a master’s (MSN). Before you get that, you’ll need a bachelor of science in nursing or a BSN.

If you want to teach at a university, it’s often worth it to go all the way to a doctorate. A DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice), a Ph.D. in Nursing Education, or both may be required for specific university positions. Less commonly, an Ed.D. in Nursing Education is an option as well.

Because of this, the first step is to make sure that the nurse educator program offers the degree level that you’re seeking. Not all schools offer the doctorate level.

Next, look at accreditation. The top accrediting bodies are the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Ensuring you graduate from an accredited program ensures that your diploma will be recognized by licensing boards, employers, and others.

Cost and program length are other important factors. Keeping costs down lets you pay off any student loans faster. Program length lets you tailor your school workload so that it fits with your other needs.

You should also consider whether the program is campus-based or online. Most, if not all, programs require an internship or externship, both done in person, even if you attend an online nurse educator program.

Nurse Educator Degree Level Options

There are a few nurse educator degrees possible, and multiple paths to reaching them. Someone who is currently an RN can choose an RN to MSN program and skip the need to get a separate bachelor’s degree along the way. An RN can also choose to go ahead and get the BSN, which can be a good idea if there is a need to return to work before completing the MSN.

Some schools offer a post-masters certificate that is a bit short of a doctorate. This is a good way to increase employability without committing to a doctoral program, and is also a great pathway for the MSN-educated nurse who wants to switch over to the Nurse Educator specialty.

Doctorate degrees are required to teach in most universities. Sometimes, it’s worth it to get more than one. Three worth considering are the DNP, Ph.D., and Ed.D. A DNP is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, a Ph.D. is a doctorate of philosophy in nursing, and an Ed.D. is a doctorate of education. Getting one that is nursing-specific will show that you know specifically about nursing, while the Ed.D. will help convince prospective employers that you know how to teach it.

Nurse Educator Degree Type Comparison

The table below gives a brief overview of each Nurse Educator degree type:

FocusAdvanced practice nursing, educationAdvanced practice nursing, educationResearch, academiaEducation, leadership, administration
Program Length2-3 years3-4 years4-6 years3-5 years
AdmissionsBachelor’s degree in nursing, RN license, 1-2 years of experience in clinical practiceSame as MSN, plus advanced practice nursing certification and experienceBachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, research experience and academic potentialSame as Ph.D., with a focus on education or leadership
CurriculumNursing theory, curriculum development, assessment and evaluation, teaching strategies, education technologySame as MSN, plus advanced courses in research, leadership, and healthcare policyResearch methods, statistics, nursing science theory, dissertationEducation theory, administration, leadership, research methods, dissertation
Career OpportunitiesNurse educator, clinical instructor, academic coordinator, program directorSame as MSN, with additional opportunities in healthcare leadership and administrationAcademic researcher, professor, healthcare consultantAcademic administrator, education policy analyst, leadership and development roles in healthcare and nursing education

Note: This table provides a general overview of the different degrees and their focus on Nurse Educator specialty. Actual programs may vary by institution and country.

Online Nurse Educator Programs

There are benefits and drawbacks to choosing online and hybrid nurse educator programs. On the plus side, online programs are convenient and often flexible, may cost less, and may offer a variety of learning formats. They are also increasing in popularity, meaning that more and more schools are offering online nurse educator program options.

The downside of online programs is that there may be little direct interaction with professors. There also is no chance for the professor to see how you’re going about things in person. Because of these and other factors, some students learn better in traditional classroom settings.

For those who see the value in both online and offline program types, hybrid nurse educator programs are often a great compromise. These programs allow students to complete some coursework in the convenient online format, while mixing in some campus-based lectures and courses. Not all schools offer this as an option, but it’s a good thing to seek out if you find yourself interested in this format.

Notably, accredited nursing programs must offer some sort of hands-on training for interacting with patients. In an offline program, this may be done at a clinic right at the school. However, online programs usually take care of this with community placements.

Tuition & Costs

As can be expected, the tuition and costs associated with getting a nurse educator degree depend partly on the degree level. The school will also affect this figure. Whether or not you’re a resident of the school’s area sometimes counts as well. For example, at Florida International University, a post-MSN to DNP program costs about $25,000 if you’re a Florida resident, but if you’re not, it’ll cost around $43,500.

If you’re making a larger educational jump, costs go up. At FIU, the post-BSN to DNP program is about $55,000 for a resident. All figures include estimated costs.

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