BLS Fast Facts: Nursing instructors and teachers, postsecondary
My specialty is obstetrics, the study of pregnancy and childbirth. I teach an obstetrical nursing course in a 4-year nursing program and supervise the students when they do clinical work in local hospitals. These students assist doctors and nurses with pregnant women who come in for appointments, women in labor, and newborns and parents after delivery. I work directly with the students and talk with hospital staff to get feedback on the students’ progress, which I incorporate into their grade for the course.
I also teach a nursing leadership course, which discusses topics like conflict resolution, delegation, and teamwork.
Outside the classroom, I am constantly updating my knowledge about the subjects that I teach. I need to understand them before I can teach them to students. I also have to assess how my students are learning, so I spend time creating and grading exams, reading student papers, and evaluating student presentations.
And, to keep up with the latest developments in nursing, I attend nursing conferences and read articles in professional journals, then use this information to update my lecture and classroom materials.
Instructors are also expected to be active in their nursing program, which in my case involves chairing or being a member of various committees and representing nursing on university-level committees.
I’ve known I wanted to be a nurse since I was a kid. My mother was a medical secretary, so I was already acquainted with healthcare work. When I was 8 years old, I was very ill in the hospital for 2 weeks. During that time, I became interested in the work of the nurses. They really took care of me, and I have never forgotten how they changed the whole experience for the better. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a nurse. My first job as a teenager was as a nursing assistant, and I was president of the Future Nurses Club at my high school.
I went to a nursing school and graduated with a diploma in nursing. After working in a clinical setting, I went back to school for a bachelor’s degree in nursing and then for a master’s degree in clinical nursing. Since then, I’ve taken a lot of continuing education classes to keep up with developments in nursing and to improve my skills in areas like curriculum development.
I have three professional certifications, all related to obstetrics: Inpatient obstetrics, lactation management, and pregnancy loss. To become certified, I had to complete a certain number of clinical hours in each area and pass a national exam. Certification isn’t mandatory for teachers, but it’s often recommended. Having certification allowed me to design and teach a seminar to nurses and doctors to help them with families who have experienced a pregnancy loss.
A friend who was a faculty member in a nursing program invited me to apply for an open teaching position. At the time, I was working in clinical practice in obstetrical nursing. But I decided to make the change to teaching after working with students doing clinical work at my hospital. I loved the experience of working with students, so I was immediately interested in the position. I went in for a series of interviews, one with the dean of the nursing program and another with my new potential colleagues. I was offered the job and accepted right away.
Networking is very important in nursing for both students and teachers; it’s how a lot of us find our jobs. I network a lot at professional nursing conferences. Students in my nursing program attend career expos, where they meet potential colleagues and employers. During their time in the program, students work and study in several hospitals—often as many as six or eight. They have a lot of opportunities to meet people and possibly get a job offer or a recommendation.
There are also a number of student groups in my nursing program that provide networking opportunities. I advise several of these groups. We plan events and host seminars to help students with things like interviewing and communication skills.
If you’d like to teach nursing, get a doctoral degree. Most large universities with nursing programs expect their faculty to have one. Also, get some clinical experience before you teach. If you haven’t worked in a real-world clinical setting, employers may not see you as a desirable teaching candidate.
Lastly, you need to love teaching and interacting with students. You may know everything about your area of expertise, but students will dread coming to your class if you don’t love teaching it. When you love teaching, you transfer the desire to learn to your students.
Sara Royster, "Nursing instructor," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 2014.