Nurses are the public face of health care, and behind every nurse is a rigorous educational foundation. Many nurses are trained and mentored by highly experienced nurse educators, who are trusted mentors as much as teachers.
Nurse educators are experienced nurses who have pursued postgraduate education with the specific goal of training the next generation of nurses.
The fact that they have extensive backgrounds as a registered nurse is important. It injects invaluable practical knowledge into the theory and science of teaching that they impart.
It’s common for nurse educators to also continue to work in a hospital or clinic, matching their skills and knowledge with today’s ever-changing health challenges. Others move into leadership positions, using their holistic approach as nurses and innovators to design and manage cutting-edge nurse education programs.
If becoming a nurse educator sounds like something you’d like to pursue, then congratulations. You’ve passed the first hurdle by becoming a nurse. You already have the motivation and commitment to improve the lives of others, and that underpins the careers of the best nurse educators. You’ve organised wards, shifts and patient schedules. Nurses think on their feet all the time and deal with complex logistical and clinical challenges daily.
That’s a great foundation for assuming a formal leadership position.
Start the journey
As an experienced nurse, you might be looking for a change, especially since the profession has borne the brunt of the COVID-19 health crisis. Or, perhaps you’ve been in direct patient care for a while, and are wondering where the next fork in your career path might lead. Whatever the reason, becoming a nurse educator could be the key to maintaining your passion for nursing, while fulfilling your own inner drive.
For advice, we spoke to Belynda Abbott, who began her career as a registered nurse and is now a Clinical Nurse Consultant at Brisbane’s Metro South Health. Belynda is a mentor and staff trainer, and she also designs and implements quality initiatives for the improvement of patient care in the neuroscience ward.
Belynda is in no doubt about the capability of nurses to overcome challenging situations.
‘Nurses step up to the mark with solutions and answers to any challenges that come our way. Throughout the pandemic, we've had nurses working in quarantine hotels, screening clinics, vaccination clinics, hospital environments, and in public health. The resilience within nursing is incredible.’
Help the next generation
Working as a nurse educator is a fulfilling career and involves multiple responsibilities. Aside from continuing to work as a nurse, you could design educational programmes for the training of future nurses. You might teach students in hospital or university settings. You could mentor both working nurses and student nurses, offering advice and solutions to problems based on your own extensive experience. Other responsibilities could include researching and evaluating global nursing case studies, assessing both student projects and the clinical work of student nurses, working on academic healthcare articles, developing nursing education accreditation standards, and presenting research papers at nursing conferences worldwide.
With the best nurse educators, all these responsibilities are linked by a common theme: the desire to help not only the health and wellbeing of other nurses, but a serious aspiration to improve the industry as a whole, so that the health of the community is the best it can be.
That desire has also powered Belynda’s career.
‘I’m very mindful of our health and wellbeing as a profession. In my work, I’ve been reflecting on the challenges we’ve faced these past couple of years, including the pandemic. I’ve been looking at the sustainability of nursing as we slowly emerge from recent challenges, especially now that there is a nursing shortage in this country, with many senior nurses retiring or due to retire. I look at our profession as a whole, and how we look after each other, so that we can provide the best health care we can in whatever area of practice we are in.’
Steps to becoming a nurse educator
To become a nurse educator, you’ll need sufficient on-the-ground experience as a nurse across a range of settings, including the area you’d like to specialise in as a trainer. Then, you’ll study towards a relevant postgraduate degree, such as a Master of Nursing specialising in education.
That might sound like a lot if you’re working full-time, have family or other commitments, but online and part-time options are available. These modes help you fit postgraduate education with your lifestyle, for example: studying on your commute, when you arrive home or on the weekends. Successful study, especially while juggling other roles, requires motivation and dedication, which nurses possess in abundance.
Aside from qualifications and motivation, there are several human-centred skills, commonly called ‘soft skills’, that you’ll also need to build upon or develop. These include:
- Excellent communication skills so that your students and colleagues have all the information they need to make quality decisions.
- Inherent leadership potential, whether it’s a love of mentoring colleagues, designing systems or managing teams.
- A growth mentality so that you’re always abreast of current trends.
- Empathy borne from frontline experience so that you can understand and solve the problems other nurses face.
- Patience and a sense of humour for when the going gets tough (after all, a great nurse educator should be able to transmit calm and wellbeing to stressed colleagues).
Belynda has some final thoughts for nurses thinking of moving into nurse education.
‘What are you passionate about? What do you love doing in an ideal job? Is it working with patients? Providing education? Doing research? Is it being a leader within a particular environment? Once you’ve identified that, find a coach or a mentor, someone you can chat to about your passion and who can advise you along the way.’
As she highlights, postgraduate study is a personal decision, but hopefully we’ve supplied enough tips for you to make an informed choice.
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