Journal of Nursing Education

Major Articles 

Transitioning from Clinical Practice to Nursing Faculty: Lessons Learned

Paula Jo McDonald, MA, RN, CPON


Entering into academia as a nurse educator requires a major transition from the practice arena to the educational world. The nurse, often an expert clinician, enters as a novice educator. Lessons learned from personal experience and a literature review were integrated. These lessons are organized into three categories: knowledge deficit, culture and support, and salary and workload. Findings are shared with new nursing faculty to ease the transition.


Entering into academia as a nurse educator requires a major transition from the practice arena to the educational world. The nurse, often an expert clinician, enters as a novice educator. Lessons learned from personal experience and a literature review were integrated. These lessons are organized into three categories: knowledge deficit, culture and support, and salary and workload. Findings are shared with new nursing faculty to ease the transition.

Ms. McDonald is Nursing Instructor, Chippewa Valley Technical College, River Falls, Wisconsin, and Staff Nurse, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota.

The author thanks Valinda Pearson, PhD, RN, for editorial assistance with this manuscript and Kathleen Kalb, PhD, RN, coordinator of the Master of Arts Degree in Nursing, educator concentration. The author also thanks her husband, Daniel, and children, Jacob and Rebecca, for their support during the journey to a master’s degree in nursing.

Address correspondence to Paula Jo McDonald, MA, RN, CPON, Nursing Instructor, Chippewa Valley Technical College, 500 South Wasson Lane, River Falls, WI 54022; e-mail:

Received: March 13, 2008
Accepted: August 25, 2008
Posted Online: March 05, 2010

Entering into academia as a nurse educator requires a major transition from the practice arena to the educational world. This transition can be fraught with challenges; however, it also provide surprising successes. The nurse, an expert clinician, enters into the novice educator status. Role transition and required changes can be overwhelming. What are the barriers or challenges faced by the new nurse educator during this time of transition? What information or lessons learned can be shared with other new nursing faculty to ease the transition?

Many female baby boomers deciding on a career may have felt restricted to nurse or teacher. Although I could have chosen either one, I entered the world of nursing in the early 1980s. The art and science of nursing practice continues to be stimulating, challenging, and rewarding. In the past decade, my practice included a major shift to the focus of education—orientation, training, and staff development of nursing personnel in the acute care setting. During this time, I entered graduate school to learn more about teaching nursing. Near the completion of my graduate degree in nursing education, I accepted a position as nursing faculty at a small midwestern technical college and began teaching in the associate degree nursing program.


Despite being a student, a nurse, and a graduate student with a focus in nursing education, the transition from practice to academia was enormous. This article explores the transition from nursing practice to educator. The enormity of the role transition is presented within the context of Benner’s (1982) theory from novice to expert and the National League for Nursing’s (NLN’s) (2005) Core Competencies of Nurse Educators with Task Statements as written in The Scope of Practice for Academic Nurse Educators. Lessons learned during this transition from clinician to academician are discussed in this article.

The diverse skills required by nurse educators in the academic setting have been defined by the NLN. The Scope of Practice for Academic Nurse Educators (NLN, 2005) clearly articulates the eight core competencies for which nurse educators are held accountable to:

1) facilitate learning, 2) facilitate learner development and socialization, 3) use assessment and evaluation strategies, 4) participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes, 5) function as a change agent and leader, 6) pursue continuous quality improvement in the nurse educator role, 7) engage in scholarship, and 8) function within the educational environment.

The required competencies of nurse educators in the academic realm demonstrate the vastness of the role. It is not surprising that novice nursing educators feel inadequate and overwhelmed.

Often at the time of transition, clinical nurses are at the expert level clinically. Benner (1982) defined the five stages of skill acquisition as novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. It is a humbling experience to enter academia at the novice level after achieving excellence in the clinician role. Although an individual may have the clinical expertise, many of the core competencies of nurse educators (NLN, 2005) are not yet developed. However, students expect the teacher to be an expert educator, or at least at a competent stage, in addition to being an expert clinician.

Literature Review

The literature was searched for information about the transition experience from clinical practice to the role of nursing faculty in the academic setting. Support in the new faculty role as well as challenges were researched. Computerized searches in Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature and PubMed were performed. In addition, relevant references cited in reviewed articles were retrieved. Keywords used in the search were nursing faculty, new faculty, nurse faculty roles, novice nursing faculty, new faculty and culture, new faculty and success, faculty and challenges, and nursing faculty transition. Literature that addressed novice nursing faculty roles and role transition were included. Transitions of experienced nurse educators to other roles or positions were not included for review. References cited date back to 1995, with most of the selected and referenced literature written in the past 7 years (Table). Articles obtained from the literature review were arranged according to categories of knowledge deficit, culture and support, and salary and workload. These themes emerged from the integration of personal experience and the literature. Within each section of the Table, articles are arranged from most recent publication to the least recent. Lessons learned regarding the transition from practice to academic educator will be addressed in the context of these three themes.

Literature Review of Nursing Faculty TransitionLiterature Review of Nursing Faculty Transition

Table: Literature Review of Nursing Faculty Transition

Lessons Learned

Knowledge Deficit

As in any career change, there is a learning curve. However, in the case of a nursing instructor, it is equal to accepting multiple jobs. For example, the novice nurse educator must learn about the new organization, the academic nurse educator role, teaching in the classroom, and the clinical site. Morin and Ashton (2004) recommended allowing sufficient time to become familiar with both environments:

Because nursing is a practice profession, nurse faculty need to become familiar not only with the academic environment but also with the clinical environment in which they practice and in which student learning experiences are structured.

Little and Milliken (2007) discussed the dual obligations of the nursing instructor to be competent both as a teacher and as a clinical practitioner.

My experience at the educational institution included a clinical and classroom assignment that required me to be a generalist. During my first semester, I taught Introduction to Clinical Practice at a long-term care facility. All of my clinical practice experience had previously been in pediatrics. This was not my desired area of teaching or my area of expertise. I relied on some on my students, who were working as nursing assistants in long-term care, to reorient me to nursing home care routines. My second course was a medical-surgical clinical course in a small community hospital. My first task was to orient myself to the hospital setting and adult nursing. After a couple of orientation days at the hospital, I now had 8 students looking to me for guidance and instruction. My third course was a professional concepts theory course. This was my first experience of formal classroom instruction. I was given the curriculum and followed it closely.

Teaching in the classroom and the clinical setting requires educators to meet the first four competencies—“facilitate learning,” “facilitate learner development and socialization,” “use assessment and evaluation strategies,” and “participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes” (NLN, 2005, pp. 13–14). Billings (2003) discussed the multiple competencies and educational preparation necessary to be a nurse educator. This set of competencies included evaluation, teaching, designing curriculum, and a continued list that reflects the current NLN Core Competencies of Nurse Educators (2005). Beres (2006) recommended that all educators planning to teach in academia should have formal instruction to prepare them for the role of educator.

Despite focused instruction in nurse educator competencies, a new faculty member will soon discover that education has a language of its own. In addition to academic vocabulary, there is nursing lingo. A nurse from practice may have traded in the medical jargon for lay terms used in teaching patients and families. For example, on one of my first days as an educator I was talking with the course lead educator about care planning and “PES.” I did not know that it stood for problem, etiology, signs and symptoms, as used to format a nursing diagnosis. Another exemplar of nursing language is the therapeutic conversation evaluation assignment. Students are asked to complete a “process recording,” which is an evaluation of communication skills and barriers used in conversation with a client. Nurse educators do not realize they are using a special academic language.

Another area of knowledge deficit may be the technologies used at the institution. Knowledge of computer software is necessary to function. For instance, the college changed from Microsoft Office® 2003 to Microsoft Office 2007 during the semester I started. Although it was not a major change, it did require some new learning. An individual must learn the e-mail and calendar system. In addition, an online learning platform such as Blackboard® may also need to be mastered. Although I did not use it in my teaching during the first semester, I was required to enter grades through this system. Students like the convenience of Blackboard and often asked whether I could post items on the site. In the classroom setting, educators must learn the multimedia station to use CDs, jump drives, computer technologies, PowerPoint® presentations, video clips, and the document camera. The first core competency of nurse educators (NLN, 2005) states: “To facilitate learning effectively, the nurse educator…uses information technologies skillfully to support the teaching-learning process” (p. 16). According to Teeley (2007):

Today’s students have grown up with technology; they have been raised on the Internet, they Google for information and have thrived in the online communities of instant messages, chat rooms, electronic mailing lists and e-mail.

As a new instructor, I struggled with learning how to toggle between technologies, such as the document camera and PowerPoint presentations. Lack of knowledge in any of these areas of technology adds to the learning curve.

Culture and Support

With the new teaching position comes a culture in which the novice educator must fit. The social norms and expectations may not always be available in a written format. For example, although the benefit package includes 4 personal days, the employee may discover that these are not for vacations but primarily for emergency use. Socialization is important for an individual to feel like a member of the team. Academia is an unfamiliar culture for new faculty (Bellack, 2003; MacNeil, 1997). Siler and Kleiner (2001) told us that the transition brings a culture shock:

Even with an interest in teaching, clinicians are socialized differently than academicians, creating the potential for culture shock when a clinician assumes a faculty role.

Schriner (2007) stated the importance of clearly informing clinical nurses who accept nursing faculty positions of the expectations, values, and rewards inherent in a faculty role. According to Morin and Ashton (2004), an explanation of behavioral norms and expectations of the institution can decrease stress for new faculty.

Support may be available in formal and informal situations. However, many new faculty members comment on the lack of help from other faculty and the amount of autonomy expected of the new educators (Diekelmann, 2004). Mentors may be formally assigned from the college in general, the staff development department, or from the nursing department. Nevertheless, new faculty may identify another faculty who is a better match for coaching and mentoring, either due to personalities, values, or availability. In addition, camaraderie among new faculty creates a good support system. Mentors provide guidance and support and foster socialization that facilitates the retention of novice faculty (Hessler & Ritchie, 2006; Smith & Zsohar, 2007; Snelson et al., 2002; Zambroski & Freeman, 2004). I was assigned a nurse faculty mentor who was teaching completely in the clinical setting, and therefore came into the office only 1 day per week. This was not a good match for a novice educator who frequently had questions. I sought out a nursing instructor who was in the office daily and was willing to answer questions. Support for colleagues is a necessity. Smith and Zsohar (2007) stated that:

Effective mentoring relationships not only improve the quality of nursing education by new educators, but also increase the likelihood that educators will be retained in their faculty role.

The NLN (2006) took the position that mentoring is relevant across the entire career of a nurse educator.

Salary and Workload

Salary and workload are two separate issues; however, without fair compensation, it is difficult to continue to be motivated with the amount of work necessary to be successful in the role. Salary can vary depending on whether you accept a part-time or full-time position, and whether it is for the 9-month school year or year round. Each institution has criteria for placing a new employee on the pay scale. I was given 6 years’ credit for my position as a unit-based clinical educator. Other compensation such as health and dental insurance, retirement benefits, and travel reimbursement should also be considered. Adjunct faculty personnel generally receive a lower hourly rate and do not receive benefits. In addition, the change from hourly to salary can be quite an adjustment as well. As a staff nurse in practice, I was accustomed to being paid by the hour. Kaufman (2007), in her article “Compensation for Nurse Educators: Findings from the NLN/Carnegie National Survey with Implications for Recruitment and Retention,” voiced the concern that salary is the factor with which faculty were the least satisfied in their current position. Brady (2007) echoed the same concern about salary and workload:

To recruit and retain the necessary faculty, ADN programs must examine the issues of salary, workload, and work hours to determine ways to increase salaries and flexibility.

The lack of competitive salaries for nurse educators has significant implications for retention of nursing faculty.

Many nurse educators continue to maintain a clinical role in practice to supplement their income and to remain current. To keep my job as a staff nurse, I am required to be available to work two shifts per month at the hospital. This is difficult when one is already working part of each weekend to prepare for teaching. During my first year in teaching, I estimated working at least 50 hours per week. Little and Milliken (2007) articulated that once an individual is in a full-time faculty role, it is not very realistic to return to active clinical practice:

For any nurse educator attempting to balance teaching and clinical practice, the changing healthcare system makes the acquisition of competence a rapidly moving target. Therefore, dual competence requires a sustained commitment to stay current in the clinical practice areas where the faculty member is supervising students.

However, this link with practice is necessary to supplement the salary that I receive for the 8-month school year and to maintain clinical competency.

Workload is dependent on the number of courses, the mix of clinical versus classroom, and the load percentage. Full time may be anything from 90% to 105%. Traditionally, a classroom requires more preparation than a clinical course. In addition to face-to-face teaching hours, office hours are required as time available for student meetings and preparation time. Many educators take work home with them. It is important to determine if the work agreement requires 40 hours on campus or the freedom to work at home. This freedom may help in the balance of personal and professional responsibilities. In addition to teaching, preparation, and office hours, nursing faculty attend committee and faculty meetings. In the university setting, educators are expected to engage in service and research, as well as in the scholarship of teaching. In my current position as a nursing instructor in an associate degree program, I have the luxury of focusing on the scholarship of teaching.

Culleiton and Shellenbarger (2007) soundly recommended that nurses reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of a faculty position before making the change. Advantages of the faculty role include job satisfaction with student successes, professional collaboration and stimulation, independence, autonomy, and access to research and technology resources. Disadvantages identified were salary schedules, work load, and loss of personal time associated with course preparation.


Multiple competencies are required of nurse educators in the academic setting. Even a master’s degree in nursing education may leave a new educator feeling ill prepared to teach in the classroom and clinical settings. The culture shock and stress of the transition period can be supported by mentors. In addition, salary and workloads have an influence on nursing faculty retention. However, the passion for nursing and the desire to teach the next generation of nurses is a strong motivator, despite the overwhelming reality of the transition to nursing faculty described in the literature.


The personal experience discussed here is within the context of one organization. However, the literature supports many of the same themes and challenges in the transition from practice to the new nurse faculty role. Transition from practice to academia is a difficult journey.

During orientation for new faculty, a member of the staff development team stated that “this is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” The themes of knowledge deficit, culture and support, and salary and workload sum up the transition challenges. From the standpoint of formal educational preparation for the educator role, what could be changed in the curriculum to lessen the knowledge deficit? Is it realistic to ask a new educator to take on the multiple roles in multiple settings and be competent?

Socialization into the role eases the culture shock. Support and guidance is a key mentoring responsibility. A successful mentor relationship affects retention of nurse educators.

Clearly, the salary lags behind other leadership roles in the business world, yet the heavy workload and responsibilities remain. As the faculty shortage worsens, would higher salaries attract more nurse educators?

Implications for Nursing Education

Perhaps there is a less stressful and easier method for clinical nurses joining the world of academic nurse educators. If the opportunity arises, teaching in an adjunct position may be beneficial. This would allow the educator to become comfortable in one of the many components of the role. The disadvantage of working as an adjunct is a lesser salary and a decreased awareness of the culture and expectations of the academic institution. Another option is to assign the new educator to a clinical site where the nurse has worked in the past. Orientation, along with time to get settled into an office, is important prior to starting a new semester and the arrival of students. The importance of having a master’s degree in nursing education cannot be overly stressed. Knowledge about curriculum, evaluation, and teaching-learning strategies is vital. Honesty and transparency about the workload at the time of hire would help prepare the novice educator for the intensity of the role. A more realistic indication of the work hours required would help in the decision of whether the salary and benefits are acceptable. In addition, if an individual’s personal life is demanding, this may not be the right time for the job change and transition. A mentor is absolutely necessary to support the new employee personally and professionally.


What information or lessons learned can be shared with other new nursing faculty to ease the transition from practice to education? Role transition can be overwhelming. Will understanding the barriers or challenges faced by the new nurse educators during this time of transition ease the journey? Workload and salary are factors in recruitment and retention of nurse educators. The knowledge deficit, including learning a new language, a new organization, a new role, and new clinical settings create multiple challenges. Finding the right support can help in the transition. A mentor may mean the difference between retention and exodus from the academic setting. What keeps a nursing faculty in practice? Clearly, the desire to teach and passion for learning must outweigh the barriers. The opportunity for professional growth and independence is expansive. The potential to affect the next generation of nurses is the reward.


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Literature Review of Nursing Faculty Transition

StudyArticle PurposeFindings and Themes: Knowledge Deficit
Schriner (2007)To describe how cultural differences and similarities affect the transition of nurses into the faculty role from practiceStressors and facilitators of transition; deficient role preparation; changing student culture; realities of clinical teaching and practice; hierarchy and reward; cultural expectations versus cultural reality; importance of role models; clear expectations of the role; values and rewards
Beres (2006)Reflection of the transition of a staff development instructor to nursing facultyFaculty need to know how to teach and evaluate and need to have clinical expertise. Coursework related to education (i.e., methods, curriculum, evaluation, and role) is invaluable.
Morin & Ashton (2004)Literature review about nursing faculty orientation programsFaculty must become familiar with academic and clinical environments. Explaining behavioral norms and expectations can decrease stress. Balance and a mentor program are important.
Mann (2004)Tips for new college teachersEleven practical strategies to make the teaching role more effective
Diekelmann (2004)The importance of faculty development and the academic community for new facultyNew culture of teaching: limited help and inheriting a course
Bellack (2003)Advice for new facultyNew faculty should research the institution, program, and colleagues; find balance; and clarify expectations of the role.
Billings (2003)To describe the competencies and educational preparation necessary to be a nurse educatorMultiple competencies; preparation of the educator; support for educator
Esper (1995)The phases of transition from clinician to educatorAs novice educators transition to the faculty role, acceptance of the role is supported by mentoring, faculty development, consistency in clinical agency, and inclusion in meetings and committees.

StudyArticle PurposeFindings and Themes: Culture and Support

Smith & Zsohar (2007)Essentials of neophyte mentorship for nursing facultyPositive outcomes of mentor programs include collegiality, increased job satisfaction, increased quality of nursing education, and retention of nurse educators.
Hessler & Ritchie (2006)Strategies to recruit and retain novice facultyTen suggestions to recruit and retain novice faculty: provide guidance, facilitate collaboration, foster socialization, allow for mistakes, encourage flexibility, coordinate teaching assignments, conduct orientation, grow your own, provide support, offer rewards
National League for Nursing (2006)Position statement: Mentoring of nurse facultyMentoring encompasses orientation to the faculty role; socialization; development of teaching, research, and service skills; and facilitation of growth of future nurse leaders and educators. The mentor should be available and approachable.
Zambroski & Freeman (2004)Faculty role transitionTransition can be supported through the guidance of mentors.
Lewallen, Crane, Letvak, Jones, & Hu (2003)To discuss strategies to enhance new faculty successStress is a given in the faculty role. The creation of a working support group provides an avenue for working on scholarly projects and a safe environment for venting stress.
Snelson et al. (2002)Caring as the theoretical perspective for a nursing faculty programMentoring supports the adjustment to the faculty role.
Siler & Kleiner (2001)To gain an understanding of the experience of new faculty to recruit and retain qualified nurse educators in academiaExpectations, learning the game, being mentored, fitting in
Genrich & Pappas (1997)To demonstrate how the use of a formalized orientation program works to develop and socialize new faculty members into academiaOrientation information is helpful but often overwhelming. The mentor relationship is valuable. New faculty is supportive of one another.
Brady (2007)To describe the factors affecting recruitment and retention of associate degree nursing facultyFactors affecting recruitment are role and salary. Factors affecting retention are salary, workload, and work hours.
Culleiton & Shellenbarger (2007)To describe the steps for transitioning from a bedside clinician to nursing faculty, including role preparation, job responsibilities, workload, and teaching expectations of nursing facultyConsider the advantages and disadvantages of a faculty job. Advantages include student success, professional collaboration, independence, autonomy, and access to research and technology. Disadvantages include salary, workload, and loss of personal time associated with course preparation. Consider shadowing an educator.
Kaufman (2007)Compensation for nurse educatorsSalary is the factor with which nurse faculty were least satisfied at their current jobs.
Little & Milliken (2007)To discuss the expectation of nurse educators as experts in practice and educationFull-time faculty position responsibilities are a barrier to active clinical practice.
Peterson & Sandholtz (2005)Perspectives on the scholarship of teaching and challenges that faculty experienceMany faculty engage in clinical practice, which adds a fourth tier to the 3-tier tenure system of teaching, scholarship, and service.

Ms. McDonald is Nursing Instructor, Chippewa Valley Technical College, River Falls, Wisconsin, and Staff Nurse, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Address correspondence to Paula Jo McDonald, MA, RN, CPON, Nursing Instructor, Chippewa Valley Technical College, 500 South Wasson Lane, River Falls, WI 54022; e-mail:


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