How to Become a Nurse Educator

How a Marquette MSN student became a nurse educator.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to become a nurse, it makes sense to get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Why?

There’s a lot you can do with a master’s in nursing, and not just in the traditional healthcare setting. Outside of hospitals and clinics, MSN-educated nurses have opportunities as nurse navigators, legal nurse consultants, public health nurses, academic nurse writers, forensic nurse consultants and even nurse educators, among many other exciting positions.

And while finding out how to become a nurse educator may not be your top concern at the moment, as you grow in your nursing career, you may discover that educating the next generation of nurses holds special appeal. It did for Tobin Tito, a Marquette University clinical nursing professor for the Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Nurses

“It’s kind of funny. All my life, my mom always told me to be a nurse,” recalls Tobin.

Having worked as a medical scribe in an emergency department and then as a certified nurse assistant on an oncology unit, Tobin got an up-close look at the nursing profession. Then he took a job as a healthcare delivery consultant, a position that allowed him to look at healthcare from an outsider’s perspective. It was there, educating nurses, physicians and physician assistants on new processes, safety procedures and electronic records management systems, that he fully realized just how much contact nurses have with their patients.

“Watching people spend time with those nurses, I realized that nursing was for me,” says Tobin, who applied to Marquette’s Direct Entry Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program.

Offered at both Marquette’s Milwaukee campus and the Pleasant Prairie learning site, the Direct Entry MSN program allows second-degree students to leverage their non-nursing bachelor’s degree to earn a Master of Science in Nursing in 19–21 months.

After earning his MSN, Tobin took a position as an intensive care unit nurse at a local hospital where he had been doing an externship. For several years, he worked in the ICU before being tapped for a supervisor position overseeing the whole hospital and staffing.

Discovering His Passion for Teaching

It was there, working in management, that he discovered his passion for teaching. Still, he never thought he’d be a clinical instructor, much less for the very program he graduated from.

Toben, teaching at Marquette MSN

“I literally never thought I’d teach again in my life, never thought I’d be involved with Marquette,” he recalls. “But when I was in management, and when I was a charge nurse, I would do a lot of preceptorships. And then when I managed and had a lot of new grads, my favorite part of being a manager was teaching the nurses how to do certain things.”

So you can imagine Tobin’s surprise when he received an email from one of his nursing instructors asking if he would be interested in teaching. It was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

Having earned both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Marquette and now working as a simulation lab and clinical instructor — in addition to pursuing his Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner post-master’s certificate at Marquette’s Milwaukee campus — Tobin takes great pride in his alma mater and in teaching the next generation of nurses.

“I think the faculty do an amazing job — I personally take it to heart,” he says. “Not only is it my job, but I graduated from Marquette, undergrad and grad, and it means a lot for me to come back and teach. I see myself in these students. I think about how I wanted to be treated as a student, and I try to be as approachable as I can. They can contact me anytime — they have my number, my email — it’s important to be available and treat them with mutual respect.

Inside a Real Nursing Simulation Lab Demonstration

How to Become a Nurse Educator

While requirements may vary slightly from state to state and school to school, generally speaking, you need a Master of Science in Nursing degree and at least a few years of work experience to teach the next generation of nurses. If you’re like many nurses — Tobin included — you might not have an interest in teaching when you first enter the field. However, it’s nice to know the option is there.

After earning an advanced nursing degree and working in the field, if you want to become a nurse educator, you may choose to achieve nurse educator certification. While not required to be employed and practice as a nurse, this certification is recommended as a valuable post-graduate credential. You can earn this certificate through the Marquette University College of Nursing’s post-graduate teaching certificate program for nurse educators, which readies graduates and experienced nurse educators to sit for the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE®) exam.

While many nurse educators don’t anticipate this career path, once they experience it, they develop new perspectives and excitement about their role in developing the future nursing workforce. In fact, many tenured nurses who decide to leave the bedside choose to use their wealth of knowledge as nurse educators. Other experienced nurses opt to teach while working as a nurse part-time.

Whether you want to teach now or think you might later, there are things you can do to position yourself for a nurse educator role beyond being passionate about nursing.

“Dive into as many roles as possible before taking this position, because being able to see all of the different perspectives of nursing helps provide that education aspect,” advises Tobin. “I have a lot of general knowledge in nursing just because of the different positions that I’ve been in, so it helps me be able to relate to different types of nurses and be able to provide that to the students — and the students see that all the time, especially when I teach clinical.”

Nurse Educators and the Nursing Shortage

The nationwide nursing shortage has garnered significant media attention nationwide. Among the most often cited causes are an aging baby boomer population that is expected to require ever-greater levels of care in the coming years as they (including many experienced nurses) move into retirement, an increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses, and expanded healthcare coverage.

However, there is another contributor to the shortage: a lack of nurse educators. This has had a ripple effect, making it challenging for nursing schools to hire additional faculty and increase the number of students admitted into their programs. This puts qualified nurse educators in very high demand for the foreseeable future — just one more reason to earn your MSN degree.

Put Yourself on the Path to Success

If you’re ready to start working toward your nursing degree and have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, Marquette’s Direct Entry MSN program in Pleasant Prairie can help you get there in less than 21 months. Contact us today to learn more.

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