DRIVING TO WORK recently, I saw a bumper sticker that said, "If you can read this, thank a teacher." As nurses, we have one thing in common: We've all received a nursing education. But have you ever wondered what it's like on the other side of the podium or clipboard? This article describes the joys of teaching nursing-and answers important questions about a career as a nurse-educator.
Without the quality-based nursing programs I attended, my dream of becoming an RN would've been impossible to achieve. And without top-notch faculty, I'd never have succeeded as a nurse-educator. That's why my first joy of teaching nursing involves the satisfaction I feel returning some of these treasured gifts to students. My students' success depends on their critical thinking abilities, motivation for learning, and academic preparation and my competence as a nurse and educator. So I maintain relevant, current nursing knowledge and skills. I also use this expertise when making decisions about the curriculum. Otherwise, my teaching would be meaningless.
But pure know-how isn't enough. To help prepare students for tomorrow's rapidly changing health care environment, I need to clearly, succinctly, and empathetically share my knowledge with them. That's why my second joy of teaching centers on communication. I treat my students as collaborators, encouraging them to ask questions and supporting their efforts. I also show students respect by talking with them privately about what worked (and what didn't) in patient-care situations. And I invite students to call me-any time-to discuss their concerns.
My third joy of teaching is modeling professional values and goals. Students are always watching their instructors, and it's during "unscripted" times that students learn a lot about nursing. That's why I constantly talk up the profession, citing the contributions of early pioneers as well as current researchers and practitioners. As I interact with patients, families, and other health care providers, I model active listening, caring, and respect. I also display professional assertiveness. I even role-play scenarios with my students to help them develop assertiveness skills for dealing with colleagues.
Nurses become educators for many reasons. For me, it was a practical choice. Being an educator lets me be home with my family during holidays, evenings, weekends, and even summers. I maintain clinical competence with per-diem work. By staying current with ready access to the latest evidence-based research, I've enhanced my own nursing practice.
As a nurse-educator, you can return the gifts you've received, and you'll hear others turn to you and say, "I'm a competent, caring nurse because of you. Thanks for being there when I needed you most!!"
Q&As: Is this for you?
Q: What education and experience do I need before I can teach in a school of nursing?
A: Most nursing programs approved by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission require candidates for faculty positions to have a current RN license (or eligibility for RN licensure) in that state and at least a master's degree in nursing. A minimum of 2 years' full-time work as a professional nurse in your clinical specialty is either strongly recommended or required. Having a doctoral education, clinical certification, and formal adult and nurse-educator course work and precepted practice would be of extra benefit.
Q: Where should I look for schools of nursing that prepare nurse-educators?
A: Contact your alma mater and consult with faculty there about your goals. Seek the advice of trusted instructors. And stay open to alternative delivery options, such as Web-based or online educational programs. You'll find that opportunities exist for full or partial alternative delivery programs, associate-to-master's programs, fast-track master's programs for persons with baccalaureates in other fields, baccalaureate-to-doctorate programs, and more. But do your homework first. Before committing to any nursing program, check the program's references and rankings, board approval and accreditation status, faculty qualifications, and relevant curriculum.
Q: Besides clinical competence, what skills will I need as a nurse-educator?
A: Nurse-educators need to be well organized, expert communicators. You'll also need plenty of flexibility, creativity, computer savvy, and caring for the nursing students. Plus, as more nursing programs move away from traditional teaching and learning modes of delivery, such as classroom lectures, you'll need to be tech-savvy and able to provide expert instruction using video, audio, video-conferencing, Web-based, and online formats.
Q: Why are nurse-educators in such short supply?
A: The nursing profession in general is aging; that means that the average age of working nurses is gradually creeping up. Nurse-educators are currently, on average, over age 50, so many of them are nearing retirement just as the nursing shortage grows more intense. Nurses with graduate degrees are less likely to choose teaching than in the past because so many other options are available to them.
Q: How do I know if I'd make a good nurse-educator?
A: As a nurse, you teach people every day. For example, each encounter with a patient or relative requires health teaching. You're already a competent, caring nurse or nursing student who possesses important teaching skills, such as organizing complex information into understandable parts. Do you enjoy helping others improve their job performance through the teaching/learning process? Perhaps you showed a nursing assistant how to empty the new suction machine. Or maybe you created a brochure for clinic patients while you were still in school. All of these activities demand educator-related talent.
Q: Once qualified, how can I find nurse-educator job opportunities?
A: Check the employment listings in nursing directories such as this one and in professional journals, such as Nursing2005, American Journal of Nursing, Journal of Nursing Scholarship, and Journal of Nursing Education, and online resources (see listing below).
Career Center at Nursing Center
Faculty CareerLink at American Association of Colleges of Nursing
Sigma Theta Tau
To access these links and others, visit the Faculty Lounge at http://www.nursing2005.com (click "Students & Faculty").
Last accessed on November 15, 2004.