30 Realities of Being a Nurse EducatorI have been a nurse for over thirty years. My career reminds me of Cherry Ames, a fictional character who faced new professional nursing challenges in a myriad of settings. I entered nursing at age 20 as an associated degree nurse. Twenty years later, I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I have been a nurse educator for five years. I hope to soon complete a PhD degree.

I have seen nursing education from many angles. Below are thirty realities I encountered as a nurse educator.  

  1. Nurses eat their young.
    Mentorship is much better for new graduates, but not in academia. Too often, newly graduated nurse educators are handed a syllabus and thrown to the class. This frustrates both students and educator and results in a high educator turnover. 
    Sadly, I witnessed incivility to students and educators. As an educator, I experienced a paradigm shift from being a patient-centered advocate to being a student-centered advocate. Students don’t receive from educators who don’t practice student-centered education while teaching patient-centered care. Many nurse educators have not been taught how to teach, students are not typically taught how to learn, and administrators are not typically taught how to lead.
  2. Believe it or not, nursing school is “the good old days”.
    I waxed nostalgic for my nursing school days as I began my career as an educator. 
  3. A bittersweet reality is, as much as I truly love my students, I do not belong in their world. 
    This is their learning experience which I am humbled and honored to facilitate. I made the novice mistake of developing relationships with students who will be gone next year, rather than with nurse educators who will, hopefully, return. 
  4. Educators teach because they love it. 
    Nurse educators could make so much more money and have much less take home work in the clinical setting. 
  5. One of the most fulfilling moments as an educator is when a student gets it. 
  6. Educators want students to succeed. 
    Nurse educators are not trying to trick students! (However, distractors are meant to distract). 
  7. Students are expected to act responsibly and meet high standards. 
  8. Learning-centered models promote mastery of the subject. 
    A learning-centered approach places the subject at the center with the students and educator at the periphery. Traditional models place the educators above the student, creating the impression the educator’s goal is to fail the student.
    Student-centered models may create the impression the educator’s goal is to pass the student. A simple test to determine if an educator is not practicing a learning-centered model is if an educator can deliver the same instruction whether students are present or not.
  9. Learning requires effort.  
    Some struggle is necessary. Students should work through mistakes to master more challenging assignments. Educators should never do for students what they should do for themselves, but rather show students how to be self-reliant, using available resources. An effective learning environment, fosters intrinsic motivation, promotes mastery and instills the self-efficacy required for deep learning. 
  10. Learning occurs through the student’s active behavior rather than merely because of what the educator does. 
    In the learning center model, educators must hold students accountable to come to class prepared and learning activities must be meaningful. 
  11. It is very disheartening to deal with disruptive behavior, such as when a student is sleeping or engaging in social media during class.
    Educators put a lot of effort into teaching. 
  12. Too many nurses are not only unwilling but unable to defend nursing science. 
    For much of my thirty-year career, I rolled my eyes when theory or research was mentioned. It saddens me to think of how many others I negatively influenced by dismissing nursing science over the years. 
  13. Educators seek and employ evidence-based practice (EBP) to teach and evaluate multiple ways of knowing in the classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings in all domains of learning.
  14. Educators stress over student evaluations. 
    The importance of an established evaluation method was made painfully clear to me in the great urinary catheter insertion check debacle of 2012. This event threatened to end my burgeoning career. Writing NCLEX style questions is an art! I have participated in appeals committees, further demonstrating the importance of established assessment and evaluation strategies. 
  15. Educators evaluate themselves as well. 
    I evaluate myself, curriculum, and program. I assess course content and learning outcomes to develop realistic objectives. 
  16. Educators value student feedback. 
    Students need to be honest but respectful in their feedback. As a person who wholeheartedly applies myself, I can be sensitive to critical feedback and fixate on the harsh comments. End of course evaluations helps me assess the needs of the students and evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching. Course changes are made based on student feedback to improve quality service to students, colleagues, and the college. 
  17. The student/nurse educator relationship continues as a peer relationship for many years. 
    I hate when students are afraid of me. I received a call from a former student after she experienced their first patient death. My former students are the nurses my current students are with in clinical. My all-time favorite nursing nurse educator, Bettye Caproni’s voice continues to future generations of nurses through me.
  18. Educators teach who they are. 
    I can’t just emulate Caproni or use her material. I must be true to myself and Katie Morales-ize it. 
  19. If I can't explain something simply, I simply don’t understand it. 
    Likewise, students learn as they express concepts in their own words.
  20. Educators need to communicate professionally, too. 
    I use too much slang and colloquialisms, which may be a challenge for students for whom English is a second language. I am curbing my sarcastic and sometimes vulgar wit.
  21. Good educators don’t know all the answers. 
  22. Students should ask “So, what?” to determine if the course content is useful, relatable, and applicable for the students. 
  23. Technology is a mixed blessing. 
    Although I use information technologies to support the teaching-learning process, technology is frustrating for both the educator and student when it does not work properly. Technology has resulted in immediate access to answers without requiring effort. As a result, students experience quick access and easy answers rather than deep learning. Multitasking decreases retention. 
  24. Because the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is clinically based, being clinically active helps me prepare my students.
    When I first started teaching, a student asked me if I was still clinically active. I was impressed! As a student, I would never have thought to ask that question, much less have the courage to ask if I had. A clinical track in academia should include clinical release time to allow nurse educators to remain clinically active and being clinically active should count for promotion in a clinical track.
  25. Although I do incorporate test taking skills to ensure students’ success on the NCLEX, my focus is developing students’ analytical and conceptual thinking. 
  26. I struggle as a doctoral student and educator, also.  
  27. Educators struggle to engage in academia more fully within the constraints of their clinical and scholarly schedules. 
  28. Educators’ professional goals must align within the context of the parent institution and nursing program
    Because I failed to do this as a novice, my first full-time teaching job was incredibly stressful. I changed jobs, which was a difficult decision as I established a good reputation among students at the previous institution. However, my employer is a good fit with the art and science of nursing and the smaller class size allows for active learning, a good fit with my teaching philosophy.
  29. Educators do function as a change agent and leader. 
    As I lobbied for the 2012 legislative issues, I had no idea I would soon receive the Nurse Faculty Loan Program as a doctoral student or apply to receive funding from the National Institute of Nursing Research.
  30. Not all nurse educators are created equal. 
    Some questions to evaluate nurse educators include: 
  • How many years of experience does the educator have as a nurse? 
    • Is it at the same level the educator is teaching? 
    • Is it in the same area the educator is teaching? 
    • When was the last time the nurse educator touched a patient?
    • How many years of experience does the nurse educator have with teaching? 
    • Is this experience in the same setting? 
    • Is the educator’s teaching experience at the same level? 
    • Which schools did the educator attend? 
      • Consider the school’s reputation and standing with accrediting and governing bodies. 
      • How do graduates of the school fare on standardized exams?
      • What is the focus of the educator’s undergraduate and graduate degrees? 
      • What was the educator’s entry level into nursing? 
      • Was the undergraduate education in nursing?
      • Did the educator’s graduate degree prepare the educator to be a nurse educator?
      • Is the educator’s doctorate degree a clinical degree or a terminal degree?
      • Is the educator board certified? 
      • Does the educator teach in their certification area?  
      • Is the educator an active member of professional organizations?
      • Does the educator hold any board positions or serve on any committees?
      • Is the educator a subject matter expert in their field? 
      • Does the educator consult, publish, or present?
      • How many hours of continuing education does the educator have?
      • How do students rate the educator in fairness, approachability, and teaching ability?