At the conclusion of this exercise, the nurse will be prepared to:
- Review the basic aspects of transitioning to the academic nurse educator role for a clinical nurse.
- Consider the educational requirements and experience for an academic nurse educator.
- Discuss the major responsibilities and key attributes of an academic nurse educator.
- Explore expectations of scholarship, teaching, and service for the academic nurse educator.
- Define rank, tenure, and academic freedom for the academic nurse educator.
It is no secret that nurse educators are in demand, and many nurses in the clinical setting desire to move into the role and share their knowledge with the next generation of nurses. Even for the most seasoned nurses in leadership positions, the transition from the clinical setting to the academic setting can prove difficult. Just as it takes a transition period when a nurse leaves school to enter the clinical setting, there is a similar transition period for nurse educators. This module will explore some of the areas that often create difficulties for the new nurse educator.
The national nursing shortage is exacerbated by the parallel nursing faculty shortage. Many graduate nursing programs have been developed in the past decade that focus on a nurse educator role, preparing faculty for the challenges of the role. Despite this, some nurses move directly from clinical roles with a masters or a doctorate degree in another specialty area (such as a nurse practitioner role) with little or no preparation for the educator role. Relevant knowledge, skills, and attitudes should be considered by nurses who are considering transition to an educator. Not only are nurse educators required to have nursing skills that are based on the latest evidence, but they are also expected to understand the adult learners' needs and how to develop a curriculum that best suits those needs. Nurses often do not understand the culture of academia, including the typical language, rules, belief systems, or rituals. Grassley and Lambe (2015) note that this transition could be eased with formal learning geared toward the academic role, guidance on navigating the academic culture, and being part of a structured mentoring program. In a study by Hoeksel et al. (2018), the following competencies were identified as essential for new nurse educators in order to contribute to the growth and development of quality graduates:
- effective communication and leadership skills,
- ability to facilitate learning in others,
- ability to contribute to creativity and innovation,
- ability to contribute to the advancement of education knowledge (scholarship),
- appreciation for resilience in others and themselves, and
- ability to contribute to the advancement of positive patient outcomes and quality of care through change management (Hoeksel et al., 2018).
Nurses have many opportunities for practice in different clinical or educational roles within hospitals, clinics, or in the community. The academic setting also affords multiple opportunities for nurses who are transitioning from the bedside or patient-facing roles. Academic opportunities exist in a variety of settings such as private, state, for-profit and not-for-profit colleges with nursing or healthcare programs. Hospitals and clinical settings often have very stringent schedules and nurses work 12-hour shifts or more as the need arises. Nurses at the bedside often feel emotionally and physically drained from the demands and consider the educator role as one with more flexibility and fewer emotional and physical demands. There are advantages and disadvantages to teaching in the academic setting and transitioning to this role could present challenges (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
When considering a college or university nursing program, several opportunities could exist. Most nursing programs have didactic nurse educators that lead lectures or facilitate learning in the classroom setting, as well as more clinically driven nurse educators that may work in skills or simulation labs, or manage groups of students inside clinical sites, caring for patients at the bedside. The didactic role is the one typically thought of when hearing the titles nurse faculty or nurse educator. This may be a tenured role within the academic institution and part of the team that makes academic decisions about curriculum or testing strategies that promote student learning. Other titles this educator may have is professor, lead faculty, or nursing faculty (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
The National League for Nursing (NLN) is an organization dedicated to supporting the role of nursing in the US. They offer many tools for the nurse educator in the classroom. Most schools provide membership to the NLN as part of the faculty role to facilitate participation in their annual Educator Summit to support professional development in the educator role. Nursing Education Perspectives is the NLN's research journal that accompanies the membership. In the early 2000s, the NLN set out to define the role of the academic nurse educator and developed the certification for nurse educator. The Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam was first administered in 2007 and was established to identify nurse education as a specialty area of practice and a means for faculty to demonstrate expertise in the role. By 2015, they further saw the need to define the clinical nurse educator role, creating a second certification specific to this educator role. The Certified Academic Clinical Nurse Educator (CNE-cl) was created for academic clinical nurse educators to demonstrate expertise in their role and hold the certification recognizing their achievement. The clinical nurse educator may be given official titles such as clinical faculty, adjunct faculty, preceptor, or clinical instructor (NLN, n.d.) Both the didactic and clinical roles have competencies and a subsequent certification exam that is offered by the NLN; these are seen as the gold standard in nursing education (Christensen & Simmons, 2019).
While a few states allow nurse educators to work in academic programs with a baccalaureate degree, the minimum entry-level for an educator is typically the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. In 2008, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NSCBN) recognized the variances among the state nursing boards in the US and gave the following recommendations:
- "Nursing faculty in registered nursing (RN) programs (full-time and part-time) shall have either a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in nursing. Their education should include graduate preparation in the science of nursing, including clinical practice and graduate preparation in teaching and learning, including curriculum development and implementation. Other supportive faculty with graduate degrees in related fields may participate in a nursing faculty team to enrich and augment nursing education.
- Nursing faculty in practical nursing (PN) programs (full-time and part-time) shall have either a master’s degree or doctoral degree in nursing. Their education should include graduate preparation in the science of nursing, including clinical practice and graduate preparation in teaching and learning, including curriculum development and implementation. Other faculty, BSN prepared, may participate in a nursing faculty team to enrich and augment nursing education.
- Clinical preceptors shall be educated at or above the level for which the student is preparing.
- When boards of nursing evaluate the preparation of nursing faculty members, it is essential to consider the three roles of faculty: collaborator, director of learning, and role modeling.
- When boards of nursing evaluate the preparation of nursing faculty members, they should assess the processes of faculty orientation. All part-time faculty members, adjunct faculty members, preceptors, novice faculty members, and others, should be oriented to the nursing program’s curriculum and engaged in formal mentorships and faculty development.
- Boards of nursing are encouraged to collaborate with educators to foster innovation in nursing education" (NCSBN, 2008, p.2).
The aforementioned educational requirements and expectations for nurse educators are considered during the accreditation process by programmatic accreditors such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), or the NLN’s programmatic accreditation program, the Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). While this recommendation is in place by NCSBN, state regulations may override these minimum standards based on the population and need for nursing programs (NCSBN, 2008). For example, the Florida Board of Nursing (FBN) mandates an annual report of how each program is abiding by their standards within the Florida Statute Title XXXII, Chapter 464, regarding faculty and other program requirements. In the Florida statute, at least 50% of an RN program's faculty must hold a master's or higher degree in nursing, and at least 50% or more of a PN program's faculty must have a bachelor's degree in nursing or higher, which is lower than the NCSBN recommendation. Therefore, it is important for nursing program administration to understand each state's educational program requirements and regulatory expectations for their faculty. This data is collected via the annual report and must be maintained for compliance (The Florida Legislature, 2017).
While years of experience are not clearly defined in most states, each nursing program should be aware of the regulations and comply by hiring faculty with the proper experience. For instance, the Kentucky Board of Nursing Statute KRS314.131 states:
Didactic faculty qualifications
1. Nurse faculty in a prelicensure registered nurse program shall hold a degree from an accredited college or university, which shall include:
a. A master’s degree within the discipline of nursing or have completed that portion that would be equivalent to a master’s in nursing degree; or
b. A baccalaureate degree with a major in nursing and a master’s degree in a related field, which includes a minimum of eighteen (18) graduate hours in nursing. The eighteen (18) graduate hours in nursing may also be earned independently of the related master’s degree.
2. Nurse faculty in an associate degree nursing program may be employed with a baccalaureate degree in nursing, but shall complete, within five (5) years of the date of employment, a master’s degree commensurate with either clause a. or b. under subparagraph 1 of this paragraph.
(b) Nurse faculty in a practical nurse program shall have a minimum of a baccalaureate degree with a major in nursing from an accredited college or university.
(c) The nurse faculty shall hold a temporary work permit or a current unencumbered license or privilege to practice as a registered nurse in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
(d) The nurse faculty shall document a minimum of two (2) years full time or equivalent experience as a registered nurse within the immediate past five (5) years and shall have and maintain expertise in the clinical or functional area of responsibility.
(e) The nurse faculty shall document preparation in educational activities in the area of teaching and learning principles for adult education, including curriculum development and implementation. The preparation shall be acquired through planned faculty in-service learning activities, continuing education offerings, or academic courses.
(f) Nurse faculty hired without prior teaching experience shall have a mentor assigned and an educational development plan implemented.” (p.2)
Each state requires that nurses teaching in an academic program maintain their current curriculum vitae (CV) or resume and faculty qualification form (FQF) in an annual report along with student progress data to ensure these minimum qualifications are maintained (NCSBN, 2008).
It is easy to see the variances among states, but most nursing schools prefer their faculty to be master’s-prepared educators at least. Doctorate degrees are preferred in the academic setting. There has been conflict over the past decade regarding whether the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the preferred degree for nurse educators. In considering the two, the PhD is the traditionally recognized degree within educational institutions. The PhD curriculum prepares nurse scientists and scholars that generate new nursing knowledge through research. The PhD facilitates original theoretically based research that is shared through publications and presentations. This curriculum requires extensive work that culminates with an oral and written defense or dissertation of the individual's original and theory-based research. The PhD is considered the gold standard of nursing education due to its rigor and scholarly application; however, this degree takes years to achieve. The DNP has a more clinical focus and is designed for advanced practice nurses that wish to improve healthcare delivery and practice without a research focus. Rather than a dissertation or oral defense, the DNP candidate typically completes a doctoral project that focuses on quality improvement within the healthcare system. During this project, research or evidence-based practice will be applied at the individual or systems-level with improvement in patient outcomes as the overarching emphasis. Most nurses attaining a DNP will also have a BSN and MSN with an education or clinical focus (i.e., nurse practitioners [NPs]). It could be said that the DNP applies the theoretical research completed by the PhD nurse. Didactic credit within the curriculum is similar for the PhD and the DNP, but the practicum portion is a much longer and more extensive research project in most PhD programs. To further add to the confusion, there are different tracks within many DNP programs. For instance, an NP with a master's degree may go back to complete their DNP with the focus on the clinical role. Other DNP programs may offer an executive leadership or healthcare administration track focusing more on administrative and executive roles for the advanced practice nurse (Smith, 2015).
Responsibilities and Attributes
In a study by Hoeksel et al. (2019), the role of the educator was considered, with the purpose of evaluating and strengthening Washington State University's MSN Educator track curriculum. The focus of this study was on defining the needs of new nurse educators to make the successful transition from clinical nurse experts to novice educators. This study was completed with fourteen new nurse educators split into four focus groups that shared stories about their experiences as new educators. The themes that emerged from this study were the differences in academic culture as compared to clinical culture, "aha" moments related to education, and the importance of safety when managing students. Within these three themes, the challenges of a nurse educator were further defined. The new faculty discussed classroom management, teamwork, managing change, communication strategies, and dealing with conflict as particularly challenging concerns. Developing ways to interact with the students that facilitate learning is an important skill for a nurse educator to attain. Often, the textbook ways of managing patients can be very different from the lived experiences of clinical nurses and developing methods of teaching nursing from a "perfect world" perspective is difficult at best. While clinical healthcare can be far from perfect and full of conflict, changing to the academic setting does not remove those issues. Some of the same conflicts occur within the academic setting, even among educators. Effective teams can be difficult to build within the academic setting as nursing practice evolves and nurses within education resist the changes (Hoeksel et al., 2019).
One area that new nurse educators find especially challenging is legal and ethical issues related to students. Academic policies and federal standards, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), must be understood and applied effectively to avoid violating students’ rights (US Department of Education, [DOE] 2018). Further, students may have disabilities with associated management plans, known as an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The IEP will define any accommodations that are needed for the student's success, and compliance along with confidentiality from faculty is crucial. IEPs are developed by the student's healthcare and educational team to ensure the student's disabilities are appropriately managed through specialized instruction or the delivery of the curriculum. The nurse educator must apply the IEP in concert with the college or university's disabilities office. Modifications may include extra time on exams, quiet environment for exams, use of assistive devices for hearing or vision, or modified due dates for assignments. (DOE, 2020).
Comfort with technology can enhance the nurse educator's transition. Most schools of nursing use technology for exam administration, skills and clinical charting, online curriculum testing products, high-fidelity simulation mannequins, or other online educational tools. The educator should also have knowledge of the student's resources, so they are able to support learning and positive learning outcomes. For nurses who have difficulty with technology, the transition to teaching may be even more stressful. Academic communication usually occurs via e-mail, and mastery of Microsoft Office products can be a vital skill (Hoeksel et al., 2019).
Finally, the new nurse educator should be prepared to acclimate to the culture and language of academia, team building, and change-management strategies in the classroom and lab. In addition to the culture and language, the successful nurse educator fully understands how course learning outcomes, curricular outcomes, and program outcomes must be congruent. Finding a mentor can be one of the best ways to acclimate effectively to the academic setting (Hoeksel et al., 2019). Information on mentoring programs can be found on the NLN website (NLN, n.d.).
Amongst clinical nurse educators, safety is typically greatest concern. Not only are clinical nurse educators responsible for their student's safety, but also for that of all the patients they are assigned during the clinical rotation. Nursing staff may be helpful in supporting student learning in tandem with the clinical nurse educator, but ultimately, the actions of the students are the responsibility of the faculty. Pre- and post-conference activities before and after the clinical day can be opportunities to explore safety concerns and further the student's knowledge of patient care (Luckowski, 2015). The Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) competencies can help the new nurse educator become familiar and comfortable with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes related to quality and safety that should be instilled in the successful undergraduate nursing student (Bowman, 2018).
After polling nursing students and educators across the country, Lynch (2015) identified the essential traits of a successful nurse educator and highlighted their need to be lifelong learners with a constant thirst for knowledge and change. She identified the importance of new educators finding a mentor in the field and working diligently to ensure that they are connecting the dots for their students by bringing the book information and directly relating it to real patient care on the clinical unit. The nurse educator should be highly knowledgeable, well-educated, and a strong communicator (Lynch, 2015). Similarly, other expert nurse educators have identified high quality communication as a key to success in nursing education, along with refined organizational skills (Bowman, 2018).
Scholarship and Service
What is "scholarship," and why is it important for a new nurse educator? Most academic institutions have three areas of expectation for their tenured and non-tenured faculty. These areas include teaching, service, and scholarship. According to the specific appointment a faculty is hired into, a certain percentage of their time is expected to be devoted to each of these areas for annual performance success. A new nurse educator is likely most focused on the teaching aspect of the position, and their first year is immersed with the transition, honing teaching skills in the classroom and at the bedside. The new educator typically busies themselves with reading current literature on best practices for educators, collaborating with a mentor or fellow faculty, and performing self-evaluations, peer-evaluations, and student evaluations to determine areas of success or opportunities for improvement. New nurse educators will hear terms like pedagogy or teaching philosophy and realize they need to develop their own style based on a theoretical foundation. Further, their teaching should be at least partially based on the institution's mission, vision, and or philosophy of the delivery of education. Scholarship is related to self-learning, new research, and scholarly presentations and publications. The academic institution drives the scholarly work a nurse educator is involved with; however, conference presentations, publications of research, and participating in research are expected as part of the nurse educator role within most schools. Service may be internal within the workplace or external in the community, such as serving on committees, boards, or mentoring. This service is done in a volunteer capacity, and there is no compensation (Hunt, 2017). The demands for service, scholarship, and teaching may be very different depending on the educator's title, such as instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or professor. Additionally, the educational background of the faculty may drive their focus. For instance, the PhD-prepared nurse educator may be more focused on research while the DNP-prepared nurse educator may be more clinically focused. Instead of developing new research, the DNP-prepared nurse educator may substitute clinical practice, author a manuscript, or collaborate on research projects within the organization (Smith, 2015).
Rank and Tenure
As previously mentioned, there are multiple titles and ranks within academia relative to nurse educators. Clinical faculty may be hired as an adjunct, part-time, or even full-time according to student numbers, policies, and finances of the educational institution. Full-time faculty may be hired on annual contracts that can be from nine to twelve months, according to programmatic schedules. The individual status or "rank" of hire is based on education and experience. The rank of a full-time faculty may be instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, or full professor, and many of the full-time roles are tenured or have opportunities to be tenured. The contract upon hire will define expectations of teaching, service, and scholarship to achieve tenure (Hunt, 2017). Tenure is defined as "a status granted after a trial period that gives protection to a teacher from summary (immediate, without cause) dismissal" (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Tenure provides some amount of academic freedom to faculty yet nursing faculty must be cautious to avoid imparting their own beliefs onto students or abusing their power as educators. Nurse educators should focus on evidence-based practice as well as ethical, legal, and moral delivery of the curriculum (Hunt, 2017).
As the nurse leaves the clinical setting and transitions to the educator role, realistic goals should be established. Developing a transition plan in collaboration with a mentor or leadership can give a structured pathway to support navigation through the transition. Finally, as educators lead the next generation of nurses, an awareness of the enormity of the role should always be at the forefront. Consider this statement from Marian Wright Edelman:
Education is improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it (Inspiring Quotes, n.d.).
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The Florida Legislature. (2017). The 2017 Florida statutes: Regulation of nursing education programs. http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?mode=View%20Statutes&SubMenu=1&App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=464.019&URL=0400-0499/0464/Sections/0464.019.html&StatuteYear=2017
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US Department of Education. (2020). Students with disabilities preparing for postsecondary education: Know your rights and responsibilities. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html