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How to Become a Clinical RN Instructor

by Suzy Kerr

A clinical RN instructor helps to educate future generations of nurses. With time spent in the classroom as well as in the clinic, clinic nursing instructors share their experience with students. Responsibilities include grading performance and providing mentorship as students gain knowledge and new skills. Though the criteria for employment as a clinical instructor differs among nursing schools, a few general qualifications are common to many.

Get Your Degree

To teach nursing, RNs are recommended to have at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing -- for most students, requiring four years of a nursing school at a traditional university. However, RNs with bachelor's degrees are generally hired for adjunct positions only. For the widest range of teaching opportunities, RNs pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. There are many routes to a master’s, such as the entry-level master’s program designed for prospective nurses without an educational background in nursing, as well as bridge programs for nursing majors and registered nurses who take approximately two years of coursework to graduate with a master’s degree. A doctoral degree is the most time-intensive, requiring four years of post-baccalaureate study, but offers future clinical RNs instructors an extended opportunity to focus their education in nursing practice or research as preparation for teaching. Unlike their peers with master’s or bachelor’s degrees, in general, only nurses with doctorate degrees are considered for full-time, tenure-track teaching positions.

Develop a Specialization

Though general nursing practice is technically sufficient for clinical nursing instructors, employers generally prefer candidates with a specialized skill set. Whether through clinical experience or outside learning, a registered nurse with experience in an area such as gerontology, pediatrics, mental health or neonatal care is a more attractive applicant for hospitals and schools looking to employee a clinical nursing instructor. You can develop a specialization by taking additional, non-degree coursework at a local or online nursing school, by simply investing yourself in the particular field’s clinical practice, or through a combination of the two. You may also find it worthwhile to pursue study in nursing pedagogy as a way of strengthening your knowledge base down the line.

Focus on Work Experience

Almost all positions for clinical nursing instructors require applicants to have at least two years of clinical nursing. Making contacts and networking with professional nursing instructors while you get clinical experience may help you find employment later on. And, because you're largely responsible for your students’ introduction to the workplace as a clinical nursing instructors, adequate field experience will allow you to feel more comfortable while communicating procedures, working with clinical resources and assisting others.

Pursue Nurse Educator Certification

The National League for Nursing is responsible for the certification of clinical RN instructors: Certified Nurse Educators. A CNE is distinguished from the competition for teaching positions because of the National League for Nursing’s emphasis on clinical education knowledge. To become certified, a registered RN must have at least a master’s degree in nursing. RN instructors with a degree emphasis in education are eligible for the CNE exam after they’ve worked as an instructor for at least two years. RN instructors whose degree had a clinical emphasis are eligible to apply for the exam after four years of full-time teaching.

About the Author

Suzy Kerr graduated from Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia. She completed her Master's degree in Nutrition Sciences, also at the University of Georgia. Suzy has been a successful health, fitness and nutrition writer for more than 10 years, and has been published in various print and online publications.

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