1. Smith, Abilene A. MSN, MHA, RN, SCRN

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I have been a nurse educator for 6 years, and reflecting on my experience in this role, I have a confession: I was naive and quite possibly unprepared during my first semester as an adjunct professor. While I had been perfecting my clinical skills for 19 years, I spent little of that time preparing to teach the next generation of nurses. I was unprepared to create alternative learning pathways or transition students from the classroom to clinical practice. But in my recent reflections, I came to realize that teaching is a learned skill. Looking back at my first semester of teaching in academia, I feel that I made little progress in my role development or in passing along nursing knowledge. I was too anxious, self-conscious, and lost to be effective. I spent time observing other faculty's courses-envying their natural interactions and wondering how I too could have that grace in teaching. After scouring the pages of Educating Nurses, I found solace that I was not alone in transitioning from clinical practice to academia. The authors reinforced that while novice educators bring enthusiasm to the classroom, they may lack the preparation necessary for effective teaching, regardless of education level.1

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As my expertise grew, I began to accept the notion that perhaps all of us (students and professors alike) experience a bit of imposter syndrome or feel like a fraud. The more that I settled into feeling comfortable with myself, the more my students responded to that sincerity and progressed along their own learning curve. Through observing others, trial and error, and multiple course revisions, I have come to find an elegant flow to my teaching method.


So, how can educators "humanize...teaching and learning?"2 Here are a few things I have learned to become a more effective nurse educator:


Be seen-and be seen often

One method to learn about a new culture is through immersion. When clinical faculty are new to the university setting, it is imperative to understand the academic culture in the department and the university. One may accomplish this by participating in committee work; attending events, such as award ceremonies, volunteering, joining a niche group with similar interests; or participating in community and social events, such as a 5K Fun Run. These widen one's support network and resources.


Find a remarkable mentor

Finding a mentor may be the most important action a new faculty member can take. Mentorship is a valuable experience: It allows the mentor to gain perspective and gives the mentee an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Mentorship can be formal or informal and may grow organically when a learner seeks counsel from those they admire. A mentor should be a colleague one respects and an expert who is passionate about sharing their knowledge with incoming faculty.


In academia, assigning a mentor to the new faculty is a common practice since this can contribute to a seamless onboarding process and possibly enhance staff retention.3 Mentors can provide immediate assistance with course development and curriculum alignment as well as support for the new faculty to integrate into the academia culture. When seeking a formal mentor, it is best to establish an intellectual connection and identify communication preferences. Cherish each mentorship opportunity and express appreciation for those who have taken the time to share their experience and expertise.


Receive constructive criticism with gratitude

Educators are held to a high moral and professional standard, which can be daunting and lead to a competitive work environment. To counterbalance this effect, educators should be open to feedback and demonstrate honest discussions. Being accountable for mistakes and events that could have caused harm is important to connect with students as an exemplar nurse scholar.1 An educator has the authority to encourage an atmosphere of honesty, which in turn protects students and patients and improves future policies.1 The overarching objective is met when students learn from the educator rather than stumbling through those same mistakes.1


Constructive criticism can promote development. Feedback may be offered in a formal setting, such as an employee review, peer review, or students' course evaluation, and may be requested in informal settings, such as over lunch with a coworker or from student comments during a lecture. Formal and informal feedback can be difficult to accept. Listen, express thanks, and take time to reflect on the feedback. Deconstruct it and attempt to view it objectively. Before responding to the criticism, take a moment to reflect on the intention of the contribution.


Next, create an improvement plan by first identifying the performance or skill that needs development. Set goals for improving the skill level and identify available resources, training, and support to achieve these goals. Then, schedule check-ins with a mentor or trusted colleague to review one's progress toward these goals.


Utilize all available resources

In many cases, numerous resources-from instructional textbooks to in-person training-for creating new coursework, curriculum, and syllabi are available to new faculty members. In-person training may be more accessible during the summer months when faculty are not also teaching courses. Summer preparation is an investment in the next academic year and can help reduce stress for the following semester. Use digital resources, such as videos about learning needs, classroom hierarchy of needs, conflict resolution, and integrating Next Generation NCLEX case studies. Most technology-based instructional companies offer free curriculum mapping to create or modify a nursing course. Reach out to vendors of textbooks and online resources for free demonstrations and samples to get started.


Access an institution's division for teaching, learning, and research, where faculty members can find support such as learning sessions and resources for creating a rubric, evaluating test scores, allocating writing assignments, and using technology for learning, among others. Other resources include nursing podcasts that students may also listen to. This may bridge the perspective of faculty and students to allow for a connection that facilitates learning.


Conduct self-evaluation and reflection regularly

Learning through reflection is one of the most innate methods of study. Understanding that other faculty are experiencing similar challenges can have a significant impact. Considering previous accomplishments may help overcome self-doubt. The initial fear, anxiety, and stress of developing a role as a professor can turn into curiosity, learning, and self-awareness. Reflecting on experiences allows for complex learning, so take some time to reflect after each class (see Sample reflection questions).


Developing as a nurse educator requires personal awareness, optimal use of supportive resources, and consideration of constructive feedback and external insights. Over the years as a new nurse educator, I have learned that active professional and social involvement and mentorship are also very helpful. Most of all, nurse educators should not give up on learning and continuous skills development. Make learning a lifelong practice.


Sample reflection questions


* What was my best moment in class today?


* What was my most challenging moment in class?


* Did my students meet the intended objectives?


* Do I need to adapt the teaching style to reach each student?




1. Benner P, Sutphen M, Day L, Leonard V. Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation. 1st ed. San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2010:5-123. [Context Link]


2. Gannon KM. Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press; 2020:49. [Context Link]


3. Webber E, Vaughn-Deneen T, Anthony M. Three-generation academic mentoring teams: a new approach to faculty mentoring in nursing. Nurse Educ. 2020;45(4):210-213. doi:10.1097/nne.0000000000000777. [Context Link]