How to Become a Nursing Professor

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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 14% between 2018 and 2028, a faster rate than all other occupations, creating roughly 1.9 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 nursing 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 postsecondary academic organization, additional training, education, certification, or experience may be required, depending on the employer, organization, and nature of the position.

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

What Does a Nursing Professor Do?

Nursing professors prepare students for success in a variety of healthcare occupations by guiding them toward the completion of a nursing degree or certificate program. What nursing 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. Nursing professors work with department heads and other faculty members to improve curricula and maximize the learning experience for students. In some cases, they may chair committees associated with the program to help shape its strategies and goals. They also assign work to students, prepare exams, and grade student papers and other work.

In addition to fulfilling their teaching duties, nursing 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, nursing professors often mentor them about how to get internships and gain work experience for their chosen career paths.

Many nursing 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.

Nursing 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 Become a Nursing Professor

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

Step 1: Earn an Advanced Degree

Nursing professors working at a four-year university or college generally need to hold one or more advanced degrees. Most universities hire nursing professors who have earned a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). In some cases, universities may hire individuals with a master’s degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), if they are also 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 nursing professor.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Work experience is another critical requirement for becoming a nursing 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. Nursing 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

Nursing 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 nursing professors must work to inspire, motivate, and empower their students. They must also be fully licensed in the state they are teaching in, and they need to keep abreast of the latest technological innovations and policy regulations associated with the healthcare industry.

Nursing Professor Salaries

Advanced nursing professionals and DNP graduates 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 $79,540, while those teaching health specialties in postsecondary schools earned a median salary of $97,370 as of May 2018. Nursing 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.

Learn More About How to Become a Nursing Professor

Becoming a nursing professor 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 the skills and expertise to become leaders who help change the future of healthcare.

Recommended Reading

Comparing Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing

Treating Patients in the Future of Medicine: What DNPs Need to Know

What Nursing Concentration is Right for Me?


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Transitioning from Clinical Nursing to Nursing Faculty”

Maryville University, DNP Careers for Advanced Nurse Practitioners

Maryville University, Master of Science in Nursing Online

Maryville University, Online DNP Curriculum

NCBI, “Work Process of Nursing Professors”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Healthcare Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers