How to Become a College Professor

A college professor stands facing students at the front of a classroom.

Career opportunities in healthcare continue to grow more than those in almost every other industry. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects healthcare employment to increase 18 percent between 2016 and 2026, a faster rate than all other occupations, creating roughly 2.4 million jobs.

With the large number of people entering the healthcare industry, there is a need for experienced, qualified professors to educate the new generation of nurses and other healthcare professionals. Becoming a college professor is a unique and rewarding opportunity for nursing experts to share the knowledge and skills they have acquired through years of experience while embarking on their own research and academic endeavors.

Beyond the typical steps required for attaining the professor position at a university, college, or other academic organization, additional training, education, certification, or experience may be required, depending on the employer, organization, and nature of the position.

What Does a College Professor Do?

College professors prepare students for success in a variety of healthcare occupations. What college professors do may depend on the academic setting in which they work — university, small college, or online, for example. Their duties typically include developing course outlines and lesson plans that cover a variety of healthcare-related skills, concepts, and topics, such as technical medical theory, healthcare policy and ethics, and patient care and safety. College professors work with department heads and other faculty members to improve curricula and maximize the learning experience for students. They also assign work to students, prepare exams, and grade student papers and other work.

In addition to fulfilling their teaching duties, college professors act as mentors to their students. They may advise students about which courses and degrees to pursue to set them on the right path toward reaching their career goals. As students prepare for the workforce, college professors often mentor them about how to get internships and gain work experience for their chosen career paths.

Many college professors take the opportunity of working in academia to pursue their scholarly goals. They may conduct research in nursing, healthcare, or another area of expertise; write articles to be published in nursing journals; and attend or speak at professional conferences, adding to the bodies of research and innovation in their fields.

College professors may also choose to work part time as adjunct professors. This allows them to pursue other work or education when they are not teaching. Adjunct professors may have time for conducting academic research and writing for scholarly journals, filling a part-time nursing position at a hospital or care facility, or taking classes toward earning a doctoral degree.

Steps to Becoming a College Professor

While there are many paths one might take to become a professor, there are three key steps that may lead to a career in this profession.

Step 1: Earn an Advanced Degree

College professors working at a four-year university or college generally need to hold one or more advanced degrees. Universities usually hire professors who have earned a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), or a master’s degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and are enrolled in a doctoral program.

A DNP prepares advanced practice nurses for a variety of leadership careers in nursing and healthcare. Through the DNP curriculum, nursing professionals can expand their understanding of patient care, clinical research, and health systems; focus their expertise on a particular area of nursing or healthcare policy; and develop the advanced management and leadership skills necessary for working as a college professor.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Work experience is another critical requirement for becoming a college professor. Having years of experience in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital, nursing home, or other clinical organization, gives nurses firsthand insight into the industry. College professors who have worked or continue to work part time as a nurse practitioner use their experience and skills while teaching future nurses. They are also able to give their students real-world knowledge of the healthcare industry as well as the changes and innovations that influence the nursing profession.

Step 3: Acquire the Right Skills

College professors need a solid set of skills to inspire nurses entering the field. In addition to the technical skills they have honed on the job, teaching requires strong verbal and written communication, organization, planning, and research skills. Leadership skills are also important, as college professors must work to inspire, motivate, and empower their students.

College Professor Salaries

Advanced nursing professionals and DNP graduates looking to become college professors can earn a competitive salary teaching nursing or other health-related subjects at a college or university. The BLS states post-secondary nursing teachers earned a median salary of $71,260, while those teaching health specialties in post-secondary schools earned a median salary of $97,870 as of May 2017. College professor salaries vary depending on the institution. For example, professors generally earn a higher salary working in universities, colleges, and professional schools compared with those working in community colleges.

Employment Growth Opportunities for College Professors

The college professor occupation is a great opportunity for DNP graduates, nurse practitioners, and healthcare professionals. The BLS projects the employment of post-secondary nursing teachers and instructors to increase 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, while health specialties professors in post-secondary institutions may see a 26 percent increase in employment. This fast growth is due in part to the increased number of students enrolling in universities and colleges, as well as the projected growth of healthcare occupations. Part-time teaching positions may also increase as universities attempt to meet the demand.

Learn More About How to Become a College Professor

Becoming a college professor in nursing is an excellent way for healthcare professionals to enhance their own industry knowledge and skills, pursue additional education, or contribute to medical research while preparing students to find success in healthcare occupations.

Learn more about Maryville University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice program and discover how earning an advanced degree can help nursing professionals gain skills and expertise and become leaders who can do their part to change the future of healthcare.


Maryville University, DNP Careers for Advanced Nurse Practitioners

Maryville University, Master of Science in Nursing Online

Maryville University, Online DNP Curriculum

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers