Nurse educators play a vital role in ensuring and influencing the future of healthcare provision. They have an immediate impact on the upcoming generations of students and working nurses, for whom they act as teachers, mentors, and role models. But nurse educators also have an opportunity to directly intervene in policy decisions, from those made by the management of hospitals and universities right up to national government and even international agreements on healthcare.
The role of nurse educators
The National League for Nursing requires nurse educators to possess eight core competencies. These competencies cover facilitating both student learning and the personal development and socialization of students. They encompass designing curricula, evaluating program outcomes, and the use of effective assessment strategies. Nurse educators should also act as agents of change and thought leaders, engaging in their own research and scholarship, and pursuing a philosophy of continual self-improvement within the educational sphere.
Nurse educators are more than just teachers, fulfilling multiple roles which vary according to the setting in which they work. In colleges and universities, nurse educators will be required to develop curricula and plan lessons as well as teaching. They will act as administrators within their department, liaising with college management and other departments, apportioning resources, and making their case for improved facilities or better funding. Nurse educators teach nursing and communicate a clear vision of how nursing ought to be taught.
Becoming a nurse educator
While some nurse educator positions are open to nurses with a master’s degree, it is preferable to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree when applying for a post. Despite the high demand for competent professionals in this role, standards are equally high, especially in the most reputable universities and institutions. The fast-moving nature of nursing and healthcare means that nurse educators must themselves be educated to the most demanding level.
A DNP is equivalent to a PhD but is focused on continued and improved practice rather than pure research. The elements covered in a typical DNP degree include organizational change and systems leadership, and it represents the highest level of qualification possible in the nursing profession. Spring Arbor University Online offers a DNP degree that puts holders in the best position to become a nursing leader through advanced practice roles such as manager, executive, director, or supervisor at a hospital, organization, or government agency.
Research and review
Nurse educators in academic settings will be pursuing their own research and acting as laboratory instructors and clinical coaches for students. They advise and mentor students and lead peer review studies in their field, submitting their own papers for review.
The peer review process is an essential stage in applying new approaches to healthcare, developing new technologies and medicines, and evaluating theories which may have a transformative impact on how healthcare is delivered. In engaging with this process, nurse educators play an important role ‘behind the scenes’ that is enormously influential.
Through membership in professional organizations and voting, debating, and speaking at conferences, nurse educators at universities and community colleges can further influence healthcare policy on a national scale.
Support and guidance
Nurse educators in a clinical setting such as a teaching hospital work slightly differently in that they support qualified registered nurses (RNs) in a high-pressure working environment. Because nursing as a profession requires constant learning, nurse educators are often on hand through the early stages of a nurse’s career to assess and guide their progress via experiential learning. This is based on a nurse’s practical competency and understanding in real-life medical situations. The ultimate goal is improving patient outcomes in both the short term and the long-term, through increased nurse competency and confidence.
Having the support of a nurse educator in a working hospital improves morale, reduces the incidence of burnout, and encourages nurses to stay in the industry. According to a 2014 survey, 17.5% of new nurses resign within their first 12 months of working, due workplace pressures and feeling out of their depth. Thankfully, this is easily avoided through the role of nurse educators. They can advocate on behalf of individual nurses as well as for the entire profession. Knowing that someone with experience and authority is backing new nurses can make all the difference to new recruits.
Nursing leaders are often consulted on high-level policy decisions regarding healthcare. But in fact, all nurses can influence official healthcare policy as advocates, activists, agitators, and dissenting voices. Nurse educators can be a catalyst for proactive engagement by teaching their students about health policy and placing nursing duties in a wider social context.
All nurses are taught essential skills which are as relevant to policy making as they are to healthcare. These include clear and concise communication, advocacy on behalf of those most vulnerable, critical thinking, and the ability to integrate different perspectives under highly stressful circumstances. Nurses are excellent administrators and project managers and are committed to the best possible care for all, regardless of background or beliefs. All the above make them a positive asset to any policy-making team, even before considering their specialist knowledge and expertise.
Including social factors
Nurse educators can ensure nurses are confident and equipped to discuss health policy by including the subject in their curricula. How health insurance works, the impact of social factors such as poverty and housing on public health, and whether some demographic groups enjoy greater access to healthcare than others (and if so, why), are all topics that a nurse educator can bring before a class. Understanding these issues gives nurses a broader holistic base from which to build their practice.
Nurse educators can also encourage an interest in policy through their choice of clinical placement for students. These should involve some level of engagement with healthcare management, questions of access, and how a hospital or clinic interacts with the local community. Discovering how, why, and by whom administrative decisions are made can be enlightening and should form part of an all-round nursing education.
Influencing public health policy gives nurses the opportunity to address the underlying causes of poor health for the public instead of just treating the symptoms as they arise one patient at a time. Even for individual patient care, appreciating the anxiety someone suffers due to their struggle to pay for their treatment, or the environmental factors that could exacerbate their condition once they return to everyday life, helps nurses deliver a lasting positive outcome for patients.
Furthermore, the more nurses can engage with the wider worries of their patients, the more those worries can be set aside so the patient can focus on getting better. Ultimately, an appreciation of social issues can improve immediate patient care as well as leading to a desire to change policy. Nurses can work alongside social workers and other professionals to give patients the best possible chance of recovery after they are discharged from the hospital.
Nurse educators are frequently called upon by policy makers to share their knowledge and expertise when changes to healthcare policy are considered. They may form part of a think tank or consultation group, either independent or government sponsored. They may also be approached in an individual capacity, to share their experiences or offer informed opinions on the present state of nursing, the challenges ahead, and the best ways to ensure a robust, functioning healthcare system for the future.
However, nurse educators do not have to wait to be asked before they have a say in healthcare policy. Their status as teachers and mentors to the future nurses of the US means that their words carry some weight in the corridors of power. Their insights into student learning, research methods, and ways to bring more qualified nurses into practice, are valued and considered by those shaping US policy on healthcare and related matters.
A nurse educator’s primary sphere of influence will always be the students they are responsible for teaching and mentoring. Each of those students will progress through the nursing profession inspired by the values inculcated in them and hopefully doing their best to promote those values. In this way, a nurse educator’s influence goes far beyond those they come into immediate contact with.
By encouraging an inquiring mind and a social conscience, nurse educators can change the healthcare system for the better. They can also advise and speak directly to those making policy decisions, either via a professional organization or individually. They become nurse educators in the broadest sense, spreading knowledge and understanding about healthcare provision and the challenges it faces throughout all levels of society.