Nursing Instructor Career

Nursing instructors teach patient care to nursing students in classroom and clinical settings. They demonstrate care methods and monitor hands-on learning by their stu­dents. They instruct students in the principles and appli­cations of biological and psychological subjects related to nursing. Some nursing instructors specialize in teaching specific areas of nursing such as surgical or oncological nursing.

Nursing instructors may be full professors, assistant professors, instructors, or lecturers, depending on their approximately 41,000 nursing instructors employed in the United States.

Nursing Instructor Career History

In 1873, the first school of nursing in the United States was founded in Boston. In 1938, New York state passed the first law requiring that practical nurses be licensed. Even though the first school for the training of practi­cal nurses had started almost 75 years before, and the establishment of other schools followed, the training programs lacked uniformity.

Nursing InstructorShortly after licensure requirements surfaced, a move­ment toward organized training programs began that would help to ensure quality standards in the field. The role and training of the nurse have undergone radical changes since the first nursing schools were opened. Education standards for nurses have been improving constantly since that time. Nurses are now required by all states to be appropriately educated and licensed to practice. Extended programs of training are offered throughout the country. The field of nursing serves an important role as a part of the health care system.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nurs­ing (AACN), the field of nursing is the nation’s largest health care profession, and nursing students account for more than half of all health profession students in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports there are approximately 2.4 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. This workforce, how­ever, is aging, and the department notes that thousands of RNs will be needed through the first decade of the 21st century simply to replace those nurses who leave the profession. Despite this expected shortage, the AACN notes there are still too few nursing students to fill the more than 1 million positions that will open up over the next 10 years. Several factors are contributing to low enrollment numbers. Bachelor’s degree nurs­ing programs have had difficulty in attracting qualified faculty. Budgetary limitations, com­petition with clinical service agencies, and lack of qualified nursing instructors have reduced the number of quality instructors. A lack of classroom space and clinical training sites, also highly sought after due to the emphasis on com­munity-based services, also limit the number of nursing educators.

Nursing Instructor Job Description

Nursing instructors teach in colleges and universities or nursing schools. They teach in classrooms and in clinical settings. Their duties depend on the facility, the nurs­ing program, and the instructor’s education level. Some nursing instructors specialize in specific subjects such as chemistry or anatomy, or in a type of nursing activity such as pediatric nursing.

Many health care facilities partner with area nursing programs, so the students can actually practice what they are learning under the supervision of nursing staff and instructors. For example, the students may spend time in a hospital environment learning pediatrics and surgical care and additional time in a nursing home setting learn­ing the health care needs of the elderly and handicapped. Classroom instruction and clinical training depend on the nursing program and the degree conferred.

Mary Bell, R.N., who has 12 years of nursing experi­ence, taught classes part time as an associate professor in Indiana. Classroom teaching and clinical practice were her responsibilities.

Bell says, “As part of the clinical instruction, students conferred with me regarding the patients. They assessed the patients and learned how to chart information and statistics. Sometimes their patient observations were very keen.”

“I loved the clinical part of teaching,” she says. “The stu­dents often brought a new perspective to nursing. They were always eager to learn and to share what they learned.

“Nursing technology and care is always changing, and the instructor shouldn’t mind being challenged,” states Bell. She goes on to say that the instructor must be able to create dialogue so there is an exchange of information and ideas. “It is a process between student and teacher,” she observes.

Nursing instructors must spend a lot of preparation time outside the classroom and clinical setting, according to Bell. For example, the instructor must work with head nurses or charge nurses to determine the students’ patient assignments. They must review patients’ charts and be well informed about their current conditions prior to the student nurses appearing for their clinical instruction. Plus, there are the usual teaching responsibilities such as course planning, paper grading, and test preparation. Involvement often extends beyond the classroom.

“Professors at universities and colleges are expected to be involved with the community,” says Bell. They may be required to speak to community groups or consult with businesses, and they are encouraged to be active in pro­fessional associations and on academic committees.

“In addition, many larger institutions expect profes­sors to do research and be published in nursing or medi­cal journals,” Bell notes.

Teaching load and research requirements vary by institution and program. Full professors usually spend more of their time conducting research and publishing than assistant professors, instructors, and lecturers.

Often nursing instructors actively work in the nursing field along with teaching. “They will do this to main­tain current hands-on experience and to advance their careers,” Bell acknowledges. “It is a huge commitment.”

“But,” she adds, “it’s great being able to see the light bulb turn on in the students’ heads.”

Nursing Instructor Career Requirements

High School

If you are interested in becoming a nursing instructor, take classes in health and the sciences to prepare you for a medical career. Since nursing instructors begin as nurses themselves, you need to take classes that will prepare you for nursing programs. Talk to your guidance coun­selor about course requirements for specific programs, but plan on taking biology, chemistry, mathematics, and English courses to help build the strong foundation nec­essary for nursing school.

Postsecondary Training

Most nursing instructors first work as registered nurses and, therefore, have completed either a two-year associ­ate’s degree program, a three-year diploma program, or a four-year bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Which of the three training programs to choose depends on your career goals. As a nurse, you should also have con­siderable clinical nursing experience before considering teaching.

Most universities and colleges require that their full-­time professors have doctoral degrees, but many hire master’s degree holders for part-time and temporary teaching positions. Two-year colleges may hire full-time teachers who have master’s degrees. Smaller institutions or nursing schools may hire part-time nursing instruc­tors who have a bachelor’s degree.

Certification or Licensing

In order to practice as a registered nurse, you first must become licensed in the state in which you plan to work. Licensed R.N.s must graduate from an accredited school of nursing and pass a national examination. In order to renew their license, R.N.s must show proof of continued education and pass renewal exams. Most states honor licenses granted in other states, as long as scores are acceptable.

Other Requirements

In order to succeed as a nursing instructor, you must enjoy teaching and nursing. You should have excellent organizational and leadership skills and be able to com­municate well with professional staff and students of all ages. You should be able to demonstrate skilled nurs­ing techniques. Since you will be responsible for all the care your students administer to patients, you must have good supervision skills. In addition, you should be able to teach your students the humane side of nursing that is so important in patient and nurse relationships. New medical technologies, patient treatments, and medica­tions are constantly being developed, so nursing instruc­tors must stay abreast of new information in the medical field. They need to be up to date on the use of new medi­cal equipment that is used for patient care.

Exploring Nursing Instructor Career

While in high school, you can explore your interest in the nursing field in a number of ways. Consult your high school guidance counselor, school nurse, and local com­munity nurses for information. A visit to a hospital or nursing clinic can give you a chance to observe the roles and duties of nurses in the facility and may give you the opportunity to talk one-on-one with staff members. Check to see if you can volunteer to work in a hospital, nursing home, or clinic after school, on weekends, or during sum­mer vacation to further explore your interest.

To get a better sense of the teaching work involved in being a nursing instructor, explore your interest and talents as a teacher. Spend some time with one of your teachers after school, and ask to look at lecture notes and record-keeping procedures. Ask your teacher about the amount of work that goes into preparing a class or directing an extracurricular activity. To get some first­hand teaching experience, volunteer for a peer tutoring program. Visit Nursing World ( and other nursing-related Web sites to keep up to date in this field.


Approximately 41,000 nursing instructors are employed in the United States. They work in hospitals, clinics, col­leges, and universities that offer nursing education pro­grams. Instructors’ jobs can vary greatly, depending on the employer. Many nursing instructors associated with hospi­tals or medical clinics work in the nursing field in addition to teaching. Those employed by large universities and col­leges are more focused on academia, conducting medical research and writing medical reports of their findings.

Starting Out

Because you should first obtain practical experience in this field, begin by becoming a registered nurse. After graduating from an approved nursing program and passing licensure examinations, you can apply directly to hospitals, nursing homes, companies, and government agencies for employ­ment. Jobs can also be obtained through school career services offices, employment agencies specializing in place­ment of nursing personnel, or through states’ employment offices. Other sources of jobs include nurses’ associations, professional journals, and newspaper want ads.


In hospitals and clinics, nursing instructors generally advance by moving up in staff ranks. Positions with higher levels of authority, and hence, higher pay, include clinical nurse specialists, advanced practice nurses, nurse supervisors or managers, or medical administrators.

Those who work in nursing schools, colleges, or uni­versities may advance through the academic ranks from a part-time adjunct to a full-time instructor to assistant professor to associate professor, and finally to full pro­fessor. From there, those interested in administration may become deans or directors of nursing programs. As professors advance in their careers, they frequently spend less time in the classroom and more time conducting research, public speaking, and writing.


Educational background, experience, responsibilities, geographic location, and the hiring institution are factors influencing the earnings of nursing instructors.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurs­ing instructors and teachers had median annual earnings of $53,160 in 2005. Ten percent earned less than $32,850 annually, and 10 percent earned more than $86,570 annu­ally. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s report 2003-04 Salaries of Instructional and Administra­tive Nursing Faculty in Baccalaureate and Graduate Pro­grams in Nursing shows a wide range of earnings based on the type of institution an instructor works at, the instructor’s level of education, and position held. The reported median annual salary of $56,277 was for an assistant professor without a doctorate. The reported median annual salary, $75,000, was for an associate pro­fessor with a doctorate. By rank, nursing teachers had the following averages for the 2004-05 academic year: instructor with doctorate, $50,720; instructor without doctorate, $45,853; professor with doctorate, $80,709; and professor without doctorate, $67,202.

Full-time faculty typically receive such benefits as health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave, and, in some cases, funds for work-related expenses such as educational conferences.

Work Environment

Nursing instructors work in colleges, universities, or nursing schools. Their clinical instruction can take place in any number of health care facilities including doc­tors’ offices, medical clinics, hospitals, institutions, and nursing homes. Most health care environments are clean and well lighted. Inner-city facilities may be in less than desirable locations, and safety may be an issue.

All health-related careers have some health and disease risks; however, adherence to health and safety guidelines greatly minimizes the chance of contracting infectious diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. Medical knowledge and good safety measures are also needed to limit expo­sure to toxic chemicals, radiation, and other hazards.

Nursing Instructor Career Outlook

Several developments will create good employment opportunities for nursing instructors. The U.S. Depart­ment of Labor projects employment growth for regis­tered nurses to be much faster than the average through 2014. In addition, those practicing nursing specialties will also be in great demand. Because of this, there will be a corresponding demand for nursing instructors. The AACN reports that over 88,000 qualified applicants to baccalaureate nursing programs were accepted in 2004, but nearly 33,000 qualified applicants were not accepted. Nearly 65 percent of responding schools said that an insufficient number of faculty was a factor for not accepting all applicants. As more students apply to nursing school, more nursing instructors will be needed to teach students and make up for staffing shortages. Additionally, the average age of full-time nursing fac­ulty with doctorates was 55 in 2004, according to the AACN. This means that through the first decade of the 21st century a large percentage of nursing school faculty will retire, and this should also add to a shortage of and demand for nursing teachers.

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