How Long Does it Take to Become a Nurse Educator?

Pursuing a career in nursing education is a rewarding path for those passionate about healthcare and teaching. Becoming a nurse educator typically takes around eight to 10 years for individuals who have just completed high school. This period includes earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), a master of science in nursing (MSN), and gaining practical nursing and classroom teaching experience.

The pathway to becoming a nurse educator is not necessarily linear, and there are several options one can take depending on their specific career goals. For instance, some individuals might opt for an accelerated program to earn their BSN or MSN. For example, the University of North Carolina Wilmington offers an entirely online accelerated MSN program for aspiring nurse educators that can be completed in 12 months. These programs are designed to be more intensive, allowing students to complete their degrees quicker than traditional pathways. However, they require a substantial commitment in time and energy.

In contrast, others may pursue a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) or a PhD in nursing. These advanced degrees offer greater specialization and provide more leadership opportunities within nursing education. However, they also add a few more years to the educational journey.

After examining the diverse routes to becoming a nurse educator, the focus now shifts to understanding the specifics of this role. In the subsequent sections, this article will delve into the responsibilities and daily tasks integral to a nurse educator’s crucial role, provide a comprehensive step-by-step guide, and discuss alternative pathways to entering this profession.

What is a Nurse Educator?

A nurse educator is a specialized professional who plays a critical role in the healthcare industry. They are registered nurses (RNs) with advanced nursing degrees that equip them to teach nursing curricula at:

  • Clinical settings such as doctor’s offices and hospitals
  • Colleges and universities
  • Teaching and research hospitals

Their primary responsibility is instructing prospective nursing professionals in clinical skills, patient care methods, and best collaboration practices. Serving as faculty members in nursing schools and teaching hospitals prepares the next generation of nurses for effective practice.

Nurse educators are not just teachers but also mentors and advocates. They are passionate about teaching and advocating for nurses, serving as role models of effective patient-centered care. They are experts in evidence-based practices and committed to continuous research, ensuring they stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field. 

In their vital role, they mentor student nurses in developing evidence-based practice skills and accessing research. Regardless of the setting, their ultimate goal is to equip nurses with the skills and knowledge to provide the best possible patient care.

Are Nurse Educators in Demand?

The short answer is yes! 

The high demand for nurses and competitive nursing school admissions may seem paradoxical. However, a closer look reveals a critical underlying issue: a significant shortage of nurse educators. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing school faculty shortages limit student capacity when the need for professional registered nurses grows. This means that despite a high demand for nurses, there needs to be more educators to train them.

The AACN also reported that faculty shortages increased slightly to 8.8 percent in 2022 compared to 8 percent in 2021. The reason behind this shortage is multifaceted. Many nurse educators and RNs are reaching retirement age without enough people to replace them. Coupled with factors such as an aging population, an aging workforce, population growth, and nurse burnout, the faculty shortage problem is exacerbated. Furthermore, the global pandemic has made the nurse educator shortage worse, leading to a decrease in the nursing profession supply.

Addressing the nurse educator shortage is crucial for the future of the nursing profession and its ability to deliver quality patient care. 

For those interested in pursuing an in-demand teaching career, read on for a step-by-step guide to becoming a nurse educator. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Nurse Educator

Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

The first step to becoming a nurse educator is to graduate from high school with a diploma or equivalent. Focusing on science and math courses is beneficial as they lay the foundation for nursing studies. 

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (Four Years)

After high school, enroll in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program at an accredited college or university. These programs are known as traditional BSNs and accept applicants with high school diplomas. They typically take four years to complete, including classroom instruction and clinical rotations.

For example, the School of Nursing at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) offers a traditional four-year BSN program for students earning their first bachelor’s degree. Applicants to this program need not have prerequisite classes or previous nursing experience. Transfer students can complete this program in three years, and new cohorts begin once per academic year. This full-time program offers coursework on campus and clinical placements in the San Diego and Riverside country areas. 

  • Location: San Marcos, CA
  • Duration: Three to four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $5,742 per year (residents); $15,246 per year (non-residents)

The School of Nursing at CSUSM also offers BSN and MSN degree options for those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees, registered nurses with associate’s degrees in nursing (ADNs), and degree options for licensed practical nurses (LPNs). 

See the section below for alternative nurse educator degree pathways. 

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam (Timeline Varies)

Upon completing a BSN, aspiring nurse educators must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed registered nurses (RN). 

Step 4: Gain Clinical Experience (Two or More Years)

After licensure, work as an RN to gain hands-on experience. While the required expertise can vary, most programs prefer candidates with at least two years of clinical practice.

Step 5: Earn a Master’s Degree in Nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice (Two to Five Years)

To become a nurse educator requires a graduate or doctoral degree. This could be a master’s degree in nursing education or a doctor of nursing practice. These programs provide specialized training in curriculum development, teaching strategies, and educational theory. 

For example, Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online MSN in nursing education. This 36-credit comprehensive program is designed for registered nurses seeking to transition into roles as academic or clinical nurse educators. Adhering to the standards and competencies set forth by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National League for Nursing (NLN), this program prepares its graduates to meet the educational prerequisites for the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam. 

The curriculum is accessible 24/7, offering flexibility to accommodate the busy schedules of practicing nurses. Admission requirements include an active, unencumbered RN license, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program, and a minimum GPA of 3.0. SNHU, accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), also provides an accelerated RN to MSN pathway,  making it a versatile choice for those looking to elevate their careers in nursing education.

  • Location: Manchester, NH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) 
  • Tuition: $637 per credit

Step 6: Get Certified (Optional; Timeline Varies)

While only sometimes required, obtaining a Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) credential from the National League for Nursing can increase job prospects and credibility.

Step 7: Start Teaching (Timeline Varies)

With an advanced degree and certification, candidates can apply for nurse educator positions in academic settings like colleges, universities, or healthcare facilities.

Remember that this is a general guide, and the exact path can vary depending on individual circumstances, state requirements, and specific program prerequisites.

Other Ways to Become a Nurse Educator

Due to a national demand for nurses, there is more than one path to becoming a nurse educator. The journey is a more than one-size-fits-all approach, as numerous degree pathways can lead to this rewarding career. 

Here are several alternative degree options to becoming a nurse educator and their approximate completion timelines.

RN-to-MSN Programs (One to Two Years)

An RN-to-MSN program is a streamlined educational track that allows registered nurses (RNs) to bypass the traditional step of obtaining a bachelor’s degree and move directly from an RN licensure to a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. This pathway is designed for RNs who want to advance their careers more quickly, focusing on advanced nursing practices, leadership roles, and potentially specializing in areas like family practice, acute care, or nurse education.

Direct Entry MSN Programs (Two to Four Years)

For individuals with bachelor’s degrees in a non-nursing field, direct entry master of science in nursing (MSN) programs offer a fast-track route to becoming a nurse educator. These programs are also called “accelerated nursing programs” and typically include RN licensure preparation and advanced nursing education.

Post-Master’s Certificate Programs (One to Two Years)

Registered nurses with an MSN degree can consider a post-master’s certificate program in nursing education. These programs focus specifically on the skills needed for teaching and curriculum development in nursing.

RN-to-DNP Programs (Five Years or More)

An RN-to-DNP program is an advanced educational pathway that allows registered nurses (RNs) to earn a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree directly without first obtaining a master of science in nursing (MSN). This program is designed for RNs seeking to attain the highest level of nursing practice, focusing on nursing education, advanced clinical care, leadership, and healthcare policy.

BSN-to-DNP Programs (Two to Four Years)

A DNP program provides a practice-focused pathway to becoming a nurse educator. This degree suits those who wish to lead clinical practices or influence healthcare policies while teaching future nurses with a minimum of a BSN degree. 

PhD in Nursing (Four Years or More)

A doctor of philosophy in nursing offers a research-focused approach to nursing education. This path is ideal for those interested in contributing to nursing theory and advancing the profession through research and policy-making.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).