What is a Clinical Nurse Educator?

Clinical nurse educators teach and mentor aspiring and current nurses in academic and clinical settings. More specifically, they design curricula, create and administer exams, set classroom guidelines, evaluate students, support students, and keep student records. Clinical nurse educators also commonly work as facilitators, consultants, researchers, and leaders in the industry. Their ultimate goals are to:

  • Assess students and nurses’ competencies
  • Develop structured education and continuing education plans for students and nurses
  • Help students and nurses develop new skillsets and knowledge
  • Help students and nurses develop leadership capacities
  • Promote and develop practices for delivering high quality of care
  • Promote and develop safe, healthy, and supportive work environments

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of clinical nurse educators work in colleges, universities, professional schools, and junior colleges[i]. Many also work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities.

Clinical Nurse Educator Job Description

Clinical nurse educators infuse their work environments with educational and professional development opportunities. They provide resources and programming to aspiring and experienced nurses to develop knowledge and skillsets, and they make educational tools and resources readily available and part of a well-structured process.

By working independently and with others, nurse educators identify, implement, and administer programming that promotes empowerment and success in academic and healthcare settings. They also write programing in response to industry- and organization-wide policies and changes. Though always connected to education, the clinical nurse educator role evolves in response to the ever-shifting practices, procedures, and regulations in the healthcare and nursing industries.

In addition to teaching aspiring nurses in classroom settings, clinical nurse educators commonly perform the following tasks, often in healthcare settings: 

  • Coordinate orientation for new staff
  • Develop and coordinate population-specific nursing care education
  • Develop and coordinate education for leaders
  • Plan, prepare, and maintain educational materials
  • Administer competence-based programs for nurses that emphasize skill development and knowledge retention

According to a clinical nurse educator job-description from Duke University, clinical nurse educators serve in six primary capacities: as educators, consultants, researchers, facilitators, change agents, and leaders[ii].

  • As educators, they plan and implement courses of education and evaluate aspiring and current nurses. They plan programs—large and small, initial and ongoing—and implement them in ways best suited to the needs of nurses, the organizations they serve, and the healthcare industry at large. They also promote an environment of education throughout their workplaces.
  • As consultants, they work across departments and serve on committees, task forces, and projects to recommend educational strategies. They help departments identify and implement best nursing practices and other key components of healthcare administration.  
  • As researchers, they conduct and contribute to nursing and healthcare research, integrate research into practice, and communicate research findings to their organizations. Ultimately, as the healthcare and nursing industries shift and evolve, clinical nurse educators track and incorporate changes into educational programming. They also participate in the research process, conducting studies and research and contributing to existing knowledge.   
  • As facilitators, they identify and recruit professionals such as doctors, nurses, and specialists to participate in and contribute to educational activities. They also act as knowledge-liaisons between departments and specializations and facilitate team-building activities.
  • As change-agents, they respond to changes in the industry and develop programs to integrate those changes; develop educational programming that supports organizational goals, missions, and values; and promote a safe and healthy work environment.
  • As leaders, they serve as role models; maintain required educational and clinical competencies; help staff develop in multiple capacities, and lead task forces, committees, and projects.

These are just some of the many capacities in which clinical educators serve.

Clinical Nurse Educator Coursework

Aspiring clinical nurse educators typically pursue education through one of three paths: graduate work in a program specifically designed for clinical nurse educators; graduate work in a nurse leadership program with an emphasis in clinical nurse education; or a certificate program in clinical nurse education that enhances an already-existing BSN or MSN. All serve to help prepare professionals for to pursue the clinical nurse educator role.

To pursue a career as clinical nurse educators, professionals typically take courses in subjects such as advanced-practice nursing, nursing education, and nursing or healthcare leadership. Some examples of possible classes include:

  • Clinical leadership in theory and practice
  • Nursing in society
  • Nursing and public policy
  • Holistic health
  • Health promotion
  • Professional nursing concepts and leadership
  • Leadership and financial management
  • Leadership and team building
  • Values, faith, and ethics
  • Evidence based practice
  • Advanced clinical study in subjects such as pharmacology, health assessment, and pathophysiology
  • Research methodology and writing in healthcare  

In addition, professionals commonly complete seminars and practicums as part of their studies. Potential clinical nurse educators may also complete theses if they’re preparing to pursue careers as researchers and authors.  

Clinical Nurse Leader vs. Nurse Educator

The primary difference between a clinical nurse leader and a nurse educator can be hard to discern. Professionals in the two roles commonly work together, and both help administer education to improve quality of care. However, clinical nurse leaders typically integrate education and practices at the point of care, while nurse educators typically administer education from a more broad or distant standpoint[iii]. To put it in medical terms, CNLs work more proximally to nurses and patients while CNEs typically work more distally.

CNLs are often designated directly to groups of nurses. They provide those nurses with resources, education, and support as the nurses provide care.

CNEs work with a broader range of people and perhaps deliver to CNLs resources they need to administer education. CNEs also work with the department at large and other departments to provide broader-range education.

However, the roles and capacities embraced by CNLs and CNEs depend upon where they work. Also, CNLs and CNEs commonly work closely together to develop and administer the best possible educational programming.

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Sources: [i] bls.gov/oes/current/oes251072.htm | [ii] hr.duke.edu/jobs/job_descriptions/duhs/select.php?ID=5021 | [iii] americannursetoday.com/clarifying-the-clinical-nurse-leader-role-guardian-of-care/

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