The Role of a Nurse Educator in a Hospital Setting

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that our health care system will have openings for about 194,500 registered nurses each year through 2030. Additionally, a report by the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice cited a 7.2% vacancy rate for full-time nursing program faculty in 2019. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the faculty shortage was a significant factor in nursing schools’ turning away more than 80,000 qualified applicants in 2019.

The shortages of both nurses and nursing program faculty reinforce the critical role that clinical nurse educators play in training new nurses, particularly in settings such as hospitals, where patients with serious medical issues require high-quality care. The role of a nurse educator in a hospital setting is vital in ensuring that new nurses have the essential clinical skills to achieve positive health outcomes in high-pressure environments.

Working as a nurse educator in a hospital can be a challenging yet rewarding career choice and have an immediate effect on a care delivery environment. Nurses who may be considering earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree through an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to DNP program or online Master of Science in Nursing to DNP program can benefit from learning about what nurse educators in hospital settings do and whether that role aligns with their career goals.
Two nurses smiling while working at a nurse’s station.

What Is the Role of a Clinical Nurse Educator?

In framing the role of a clinical nurse educator, starting with a nurse educator’s core duties is helpful. The National League for Nursing has established nurse educator competencies that broadly describe what the role of a clinical nurse educator is. Those competencies include:

  • Engaging in scholarship
  • Facilitating learner development and socialization
  • Facilitating learning
  • Functioning as a change agent and leader
  • Functioning within the educational environment
  • Participating in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes
  • Pursuing continuous quality improvement in the nurse educator role
  • Using assessment and evaluation strategies

With those core competencies in mind, the nurse educator role in a hospital setting encompasses creating an instructional environment that is conducive to new nurses’ learning. Unlike a classroom setting, the clinical environment of a hospital can be a challenging context in which to provide instruction. Fortunately, nurse educators have a number of tools they can use. For example, then can:

  • Use simulation-based strategies that mirror real-world situations. Simulations create controlled clinical settings in which new nurses can apply their knowledge under different health care scenarios. As the health care improvement coalition Campaign for Action reported in 2020, while simulation was a well-established teaching technique prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, its popularity with nurse educators has increased during the pandemic.
  • Serve as clinical tutors while working directly with patients. By doing this, nurse educators can demonstrate and impart to new nurses critical information about clinical knowledge, professionalism, and communication techniques in real-world scenarios. According to a 2020 article in BMC Medical Education, while simulation is on the rise, teaching that involves actual patients is still invaluable.
  • Create opportunities to examine new nurses’ competencies. The 2020 BMC Medical Education article cited above also noted a number of assessment tools available to nurse educators, such as the direct observation of procedural skills (DOPS) or using mini clinical evaluation exercises (mini-CEX).
  • Evaluate nurse orientation programs. In 2021, an article published in the International Journal of Nursing Science stressed the role of nurse educators in developing effective hospital nurse orientation programs that result in new nurses’ achieving a high level of competence.
  • Promote collaboration. As a 2020 report in American Nurse noted, as nursing education advances to meet evolving health care needs, collaboration is becoming more essential. When nurses learn to collaborate — both with other nurses and with other health care professionals and professionals in other disciplines — their efforts can generate breakthroughs that lead to new health care services and products.

The Role of the Nurse Educator in Staff Development

To be successful in training new nurses in clinical settings such as a hospital, nurse educators need to have certain leadership qualities. According to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, to achieve a strong and effective dynamic between nurse educators and the new nurses they train, nurse educators should:

  • Be approachable
  • Be supportive
  • Be clinically competent
  • Set direction
  • Set goals and targets
  • Be a mentor
  • Be caring and compassionate
  • Demonstrate integrity and honesty

The role of the nurse educator in staff development isn’t limited to formal instruction. In fast-paced clinical settings such as hospitals, nurse educators also can be more effective if they recognize teachable moments and use them as opportunities for new nurses to learn. In 2020, a report in Nursing Times emphasized the importance of nurse educators’ explicitly flagging situations as teachable moments so that new nurses can engage with and recognize them as chances to learn something valuable.

When nurse educators’ roles in hospital settings encompass both effective leadership and recognition of teachable moments, the result can have a significant effect on patient care. Working with nurse educators who display effective leadership qualities can inspire new nurses to safely provide quality care. Nurse educators serve as role models of effective patient-centered care, and in sharing their expertise and offering support, they enable new nurses to become competent practitioners.

Particularly in a hospital setting, nurse educators must demonstrate to new nurses both responsiveness and flexibility. This combination helps minimize hospital-acquired complications such as infection or injury from a fall.

The Challenges Facing Clinical Nurse Educators

Working as a nurse educator in a clinical setting is a demanding position with a variety of challenges. A 2019 study published in the International Archives of Nursing and Health Care cited the following examples:

  • Being assigned heavy workloads
  • Dealing with inadequate infrastructure for clinical practice areas
  • Being responsible for teaching an excessive number of students
  • Working in a clinical setting with poor physical environments
  • Receiving inadequate cooperation from other members of a health care team

These challenges can lead to burnout and affect the quality of the clinical education that nurse educators provide. When facing these challenges, the motivation of both nurse educators and new nurses may be diminished, and new nurses may not meet the objectives of clinical instruction.

How to Address Challenges

A 2019 study published in Teaching and Learning in Nursing identified a number of strategies for helping to address the challenges that nurse educators can experience and reduce feelings of burnout. For example, it recommended that nurse educators:

  • Review specific job responsibilities carefully before accepting a nurse educator position
  • Find a mentor
  • Form a research cohort to generate ideas for research
  • Learn to decline additional work and responsibilities
  • Maintain an adequate sleep schedule
  • Exercise regularly
  • Engage in creative activities outside of work

Becoming a certified nurse educator (CNE) through the National League for Nursing or pursuing an advanced degree in nursing also can equip nurse educators with skills to cope with the challenges they face in educating new nurses.

Preparing the Next Generation of Nurses

Nurse educators who train new nurses in hospital settings face challenges, but their work can be extremely fulfilling. Training new nurses to provide quality care enables nurse educators to make a positive and lasting difference in health care.

Nurses who are interested in moving into the role of a nurse educator in a hospital setting or into other leadership roles can explore Hawaiʻi Pacific University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program and online Master of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program to learn how HPU can prepare them for career advancement. Start working toward your professional goals today.

Recommended Readings:

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Education Requirements and Salary for Nurse Practitioners

Which Nurse Practitioner Specialty Is Right for Me?


African Journal of Health, Nursing and Midwifery, “Simulation in Nursing Education: Implications for Nurse Educators and Nursing Practice”

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

American Nurse, “Partnerships and Innovation: The Future of Nursing Education”

BMC Medical Education, “Key Tips for Teaching in the Clinical Setting”

Campaign for Action, “Nurse Educators Consider the Path Forward During COVID-19”

International Archives of Nursing and Health Care, “Difficulties in Clinical Nursing Education: Views of Nurse Instructors”

International Journal of Nursing Sciences, “Using Action Research to Evaluate a Nursing Orientation Program in a Multicultural Acute Healthcare Setting”

Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, “The Clinical Nurse Educator as a Congruent Leader: A Mixed Method Study”

National Advisory Council on Nurse Education, “Preparing Nurse Faculty, and Addressing the Shortage of Nurse Faculty and Clinical Preceptors”

National League for Nursing, Certified Nurse Educator

National League for Nursing, Nurse Educator Core Competencies

Nurse Education in Practice, “Cultural Competence Development: The Importance of Incorporating Culturally Responsive Simulation in Nurse Education”

Nursing Times, “Nurses as Educators: Creating Teaching Moments in Practice”

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, “Global Nursing Education: International Resources Meet the NLN Core Competencies for Nurse Educators”

Teaching and Learning in Nursing, “Nurse Faculty Burnout and Strategies to Avoid It”, “Nurse Faculty Burnout and Strategies to Avoid It”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, AHRQ Tools to Reduce Hospital-Acquired Conditions