Would I Be a Good Nurse Educator? 7 Qualities You’ll Need to Succeed
By Jordan Jantz on 11/28/2022
Nursing and teaching go hand in hand. Bedside nurses routinely educate their patients about treatments and help bring new members of their nursing unit up to speed. Educating others can be an immensely enjoyable part of the job, so it’s only natural to wonder what it’d be like to shift gears and become a nurse educator.
Talk of a nurse educator shortage may also be putting this potential nursing career path change into sharper focus. Even the best bedside nurses need a change of pace—but would you be a good nurse educator?
Being an educator means not only being a knowledgeable nurse but also being able to pass on this expertise to the next generation of nurses effectively. So, what are the qualities of a good nurse educator?
To help shine some light on the qualities of a strong nurse educator, we spoke with Dr. Georgia Smith-Vest, assistant vice president of the Rasmussen University School of Nursing, to give you the inside scoop.
To be a good nurse educator, you need
Patience is important for being successful in both a patient care setting and as a nurse educator. While your days as a nurse educator can potentially be shorter and you won’t be dealing with patients who may have no interest in learning, helping students understand course material requires some perseverance.
Not all students learn at the same rate—or in the same ways—so while some students may grasp a concept immediately, others may need further explanation. And it’s the job of a nurse educator to figure out how to present topics in ways that students can understand.
Furthermore, nurse educators may need to work one-on-one with some students or answer email questions as students grapple with tricky concepts.
The good news in all of this? You were in their shoes at the same point and can probably relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed. You can use that to build trust and buy-in from students (see point #2).
Recall back to your days as a nursing student. Can you remember the heavy reading load, confusing technical terms and the nerves that come with taking on clinicals?
If you’re a nurse educator, your students are dealing with all these same stressors. Understanding what your students are managing and providing support for them through this phase of their life can make a huge difference in their lives.
Not only can it personally impact your students, but empathy also will improve the clarity and effectiveness of your teaching. By understanding your students, you have insight into how they learn and can tailor your lessons for maximum comprehension.
3. A love for learning
Even though your years as a nursing student are over, that love of learning you may have discovered along the way is still important for teaching.
Working as an RN, there were probably things you kept having to learn and adapt to. And if you enjoyed these moments that expanded your knowledge—and made you a stronger nurse—being a nurse educator could be for you.
This love for learning can transfer over to a classroom setting where you get to help students grow in their knowledge. There’s something so delightful about a difficult concept clicking for students and answering questions from a curious, engaged learner.
Indeed, Dr. Smith-Vest says nurses should consider becoming a nurse educator as their next career move “if they like seeing the ‘light bulb’ moment when they have taught someone a new concept.”
4. To be a good communicator
When you transition from nurse to nurse educator, your communication skills shift from working with patients and other healthcare professionals to working with healthcare professionals in training.
Communication is a huge part of a nurse educator’s responsibilities. They need to effectively explain a huge number of ailments, healthcare terms and nursing practices to their students.
Dr. Smith-Vest says nurse educators need “the ability to break down complicated and difficult material into relatable connection points, allowing the learner to link the new information to known concepts.”
Nobody likes a lecture that drones on or a dry list of definitions. This is your opportunity to draw on your experience as an RN to offer examples and give students a peek into what their future careers will be like.
5. A creative mind
Beyond livening up lectures and explaining topics so students understand, the best nurse educators teach students to be adaptable and prepared for all the challenges of being a nurse.
Because you are an RN, you know that you keep learning on the job, so it’s important for students to have a framework to keep learning and handle unexpected situations. As a nurse, you’ve seen your share of unexpected situations. This is why simple memorization—while helpful for basic definitions—is not the be-all-end-all classroom strategy.
Dr. Smith-Vest says, “It’s important for nurse educators to teach for meaningful learning such as concepts and critical thinking versus teaching facts for memorization.”
It’s definitely easier to just run through textbook terms, but if you have a creative mind, you can come up with ways to teach the practical topics that Dr. Smith-Vest mentions.
“It is critical for nurse educators to model professionalism in all aspects,” says Dr. Smith-Vest. “Students often have more difficulty with ‘soft skills’ than the technical skills required to be a successful nurse.”
As you may have experienced in your own nursing experience, skills like communication, flexibility and an eye for detail are extremely important for nurses to be effective. Professionalism is an overarching term that encompasses all of these soft skills.
Nurse educators can teach by example by embodying professionalism in their role. As Smith says, “Nursing faculty need to speak and dress professionally and create a professional learning environment for students.”
7. A heart for students
Perhaps the most important part of being a nurse educator is wanting to see your students advance. In turn, seeing students grow is an incredibly fulfilling aspect of this job.
Dr. Smith-Vest says one surefire sign that an RN would make a great nurse educator is “if they like empowering others and truly making a change in the student’s life.”
Whether it’s seeing students understand tricky topics, succeed through their first clinical experience or get their first nursing job, nurse educator can be an incredibly rewarding job if you have a heart for students.
Ready to be a nurse educator?
Now you know the qualities of a good nurse educator, and you know how important effective nurse educators are. If these qualities sound like you, then becoming a nurse educator could be your next big career move.
One way to help position yourself for this career shift is to pursue a master’s degree focused on nursing education. To learn more about how Rasmussen University can help position you for the next stage in your nursing career, visit the Master of Science in Nursing program page.