What Does a Clinical Educator Do? A Look at the Nurses Guiding the Next Generation

female doctor discussing a chart with female nurse

The nursing field is no stranger to specialties—there’s a ton of options for experienced nurses to pursue as they advance in their careers. But if you’re the type who enjoys building others up and mentoring others, the clinical educator position may sound particularly appealing.

While the title of this job makes it pretty obvious that this position revolves around educating nurses, you may be wondering what exactly a clinical educator does in their daily work. We asked the experts to lay out what exactly it means to work as a clinical educator and what you’ll need to get there.

What does a clinical educator do on a regular basis?

A clinical educator, sometimes called a nursing professional development specialist, is responsible for a variety of training and development duties in a healthcare facility. Much of their work focuses on ensuring that nurses have the skills and training to succeed in their individual units. This means they need to coordinate with facility administrators to find areas of training needed and then formulate plans on how to implement this training.

For example, administrators may see an upcoming staffing shortage for a specialized unit and would like to transfer or promote a nurse from another unit to help fill the need. That might sound like a simple fix, but nurses in a specialized unit may take part in procedures or use equipment that other nurses might not be as experienced with. The clinical educator or professional development specialist will work with the new nurse and the unit’s preceptor to figure out what additional training or certification is necessary to bring them up to speed.

Knowing where additional training is necessary is only part of the battle—clinical educators also need to facilitate the training. They help do this by finding effective training programs, recommending continuing education courses and working with experts within the organization to assist with training sessions.

Clinical educators often also play an important role in ensuring patient and staff safety by conducting in-service training sessions for staff.

What skills or traits do successful clinical educators possess?

It should come as no surprise that clinical educators need to have a base of experience performing nursing tasks. But beyond knowing the correct way to start a PICC line or dress a wound, personality and other natural traits play an important role in your success. Here are a few qualities that lend themselves well to this position:

  • Organization—Clinical educators have a lot of moving parts to keep track of. The career ambitions of staff nurses, who’s training who and monitoring which staff members have completed required training programs requires a strong organizational ability.
  • Relationship-building—Part of a clinical educator’s job is to understand where nurses would like to go in their careers and helping them get there. Being able to connect and relate on a personal level will certainly make this easier.
  • Research—Clinical educators need to stay up to date on any changes to healthcare rules and regulations, as well as determine the educational value of training materials and programs.
  • Mentoring—Do you feel your best when you’re helping someone improve? In this role, you’ll guide—and cheer on—nurses as they get acclimated to their jobs and eventually grow in their careers.

How does this role differ from other nursing roles?

While the details of the work done in other nursing roles can vary on a case-by-case basis, generally you’ll find two big distinctions that set clinical educators apart:

  • Less patient interaction—A clinical educator will likely only have irregular interaction with patients. For those that thrive on the variety—both good and bad—that comes with direct patient interaction, this can be a bit of an adjustment.
  • Regular work hours—Unlike some nursing positions, clinical nurse educators typically work hours that mirror the traditional Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 schedule.

What do I need to do to become a clinical educator?

The first step for becoming a clinical educator is to earn experience working as a registered nurse. If you’ve never worked as a nurse but have your heart set on this role, your first step should be earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) as most clinical educator positions will require at least this level of education.

Once you’ve earned a BSN, you’ll want to build experience. Our analysis of clinical educator job postings shows that 60% of these positions require candidates to have at least three to five years of experience working as a nurse.* A BSN and the right experience may be enough to land a clinical educator position, but you may also want to consider pursuing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree that focuses on nurse education as a way to stand out and proves you as a bona fide developer of nurses.

Make your mark

Clinical educators play an important role in the training and development of nursing staffs at healthcare facilities across the country. If you’re interested in a career where you can help build up the next generation of nurses, you’ll want to check out our article, “Nurse Teaching Nurse: What You Need to Know About Becoming a Nurse Educator.”

*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 868 clinical educator and nursing professional development specialist job postings, January 1, 2016–December 31, 2016).

About the author

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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