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Nurses are in high demand. Between the Affordable Care Act and the aging and retirement of 76.4 million Baby Boomers, the American Journal of Medical Quality estimates that the U.S. will be short at least one million nurses by 2030. But a shortage of clinical nurses is the least of the health industry’s worries.
More pressing is the shortage of qualified nurse educators at the nation’s community colleges, universities, and nursing schools. Nursing programs around the country turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants in 2011 and more than 78,000 in 2013. While these prospective students meet all the necessary requirements for nursing school and might one day make great nurses, there simply aren’t enough nurse educators to teach them. You can help by earning an MSN or doctoral degree in nursing and pursuing a career as a nurse educator. You’ll enjoy plenty of job opportunities and could earn a competitive six-figure salary.
Schools Are Desperate to Hire Young Nurse Educators
Part of the reason that there aren’t enough nurse educators is that nursing is a field with a high employment rate — most young RNs finish an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing and enter clinical practice right away. A mere 6.7 percent of new RNs go on to earn a graduate degree within three years after finishing an ADN or BSN.
Many nurses wait until later in their careers to become nurse educators — historically, the average nurse educator earns his or her Ph.D. at the age of about 45. Nursing schools get far fewer years of productivity out of nurse educators who enter teaching so late in their careers. These educators may teach for only 15 or 20 years before retiring. Nursing schools want to attract younger nurse educators and get them in tenure-track faculty positions before they reach 35, so they can get more years of productivity out of them.
Complicating the problem is the fact that many of the nurse educators currently working in the nation’s nursing programs are nearing retirement themselves. As of 2010, the average age of a doctorally-trained nurse educator was 60.5 years old. Younger nurses prefer to enter clinical practice as soon as they finish their undergraduate education, rather than spend more years in school so they can pursue faculty positions earlier in their careers. Today’s nurses just starting out have more opportunities than ever before, which can perhaps make a career in nursing education seem less appealing.
A Career in Nurse Education Has Its Benefits
Many nurses are attracted to the field for the wide range of job opportunities around the country, the flexible work hours, and the high salary. The average salary for a nurse educator is about $102,000, but it’s possible to earn a lot more than that, especially if you work for a prestigious private school. At the upper limit, nurse educators can bring home more than $272,000. As universities, community colleges, and nursing schools around the country realize that they need to offer more competitive packages in order to attract faculty candidates, salaries can only increase.
Since nurse educators are in such high demand, you’ll have no problem finding a job no matter where you want to live in the country. While you may not have quite the same level of scheduling flexibility you’d have if you worked in clinical practice, there’d be no overnight shifts, no 12-hour shifts, and no weekends. You could choose to work in the summer, or take those three months off. Your schedule would closely resemble that of a nine-to-five job, and you’d spend your days teaching and preparing classes, attending faculty meetings, performing administrative duties, and perhaps doing research.
How to Become a Nurse Educator
If you’re interested in becoming a nurse educator, you can go to school online to earn an MSN in Nursing Education. Just like with RN-to-BSN and other MSN programs, you can do this coursework online in your own time. Because nurse educators are in such high demand, you may even be able to get grants and scholarships from your employer, school, or the government to help offset the cost of the additional education.
To qualify for the best opportunities as a nurse educator, you’ll want to pursue a Ph.D. in Nursing or an Ed.D. in Nursing Education. Most nursing programs need to have a certain number of doctorally-prepared nursing faculty in order to maintain their accreditation, so these doctorate degrees will open more doors, secure your future in nursing education, and help you command a higher salary.
The nation’s nursing schools are in dire need of qualified nurse educators to train the one million nurses we’ll need by 2030. Do your part and become a nurse educator. It’s the best way to secure your own future while helping future generations, too.