From Bedside Nurse to Clinical Instructor

Have you ever considered transitioning from the bedside nurse role to clinical instructor role; or being employed in both roles concurrently?

Bedside nurses are imperative to the future education of nursing students in the U.S.

According to the American Nurses Association2, the median age of nurses is 46; and more than 50% of the nursing workforce is close to retirement.

In addition, with healthcare reform giving healthcare access to millions of Americans, more nurses will be needed in the near future.

Unfortunately, there is also a shortage of nursing faculty. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing2, U.S. nursing schools turned away more than 75,000 qualified applicants from baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs in 2011. An insufficient number of nursing instructors was a driving force behind this shortage.

This article will highlight the characteristics necessary for the role transition from bedside nurse to clinical instructor; and how to start the transition from bedside nurse to clinical instructor.

Characteristics Needed for the Role Transition

In order to make the transition from the bedside nurse to a clinical instructor, there are characteristics that you will need to exhibit such as: coaching and mentoring; exemplifying a high standard detailed oriented nursing practice; teamwork and communication; and an appreciation for lifelong learning.

According to Florence Nightingale3, expert nurses should practice with autonomy within their scope of practice, collaborate independently with health care professionals; foster safe effective par excellent care environments; utilize clinical reasoning to make empirical decisions regarding patient care; and apply culturally sensitive attitudes toward others. Furthermore, Nightingale emphasized that nurse must pursue lifelong learning and maximize his or her potential within the profession.

Coaching and mentoring are important characteristics for a clinical instructor. There will be times, especially for beginning nursing students, when they are nervous or may be apprehensive to try a new procedure or meet a new patient. A clinical instructor who exhibits a coaching and mentoring approach can help ease the transition for nursing students from the classroom to the clinical area.

Also, it is important to exemplify a high standard of nursing practice with students. As a bedside nurse, you will be up to date on the latest policies and procedures on your specific unit. While it is important to demonstrate the nursing technical skills, the critical thinking behind that skill is just as important. For example, a nursing student may be very eager to start their first IV. However, if the patient is on hospice care and requests to not having any intravenous intervention, then it will be up to the clinical instructor to explain and educate the nursing student why starting an IV is less than ideal in that situation.

Open communication breeds teamwork among the nursing staff on the assigned unit; nursing students and the nursing school faculty. Communication is crucial with other nursing faculty to ensure that clinical objectives are met; following school policies; and student needs are met. It is important to have open communication with the nursing staff on the unit to make appropriate patient assignments for students.

An appreciation for lifelong learning is another characteristic of successful nursing faculty. With the transition from bedside nurse to clinical instructor, there will be a new set of skills needed to be successful during this transition. Skills included are the ability to provide formative and summative assessments for students in the clinical setting.

The expert nurse transitioning into the educator role has most likely obtained these skills while mentoring peers, precepting the novice nurse, and serving in roles such as charge nurse. Furthermore, the expert nurse has most likely served on committees that require this type of communication style and feedback assessment.

The clinical instructor will have the opportunity to transform critical thinking into clinical decision making. According to the call from experts in “Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation”4, nursing education must shift the thinking process from critical analysis to clinical reasoning. The act of clinical reasoning – decision making – allows the clinical instructor to capture the imagination of students; therefore, allowing them to consider all aspects of patient care. As an expert nurse transitioning into the clinical education role, you will be aptly skilled to parlay this transformative decision making.

Preparing for the Clinical Instructor Role

If you are interested in making the transition from bedside nurse to the clinical instructor role, there are a few steps to move forward in the process.

First, it is critical to have acute care experience as a bedside nurse. Acute care experience as a bedside nurse gives you the expertise to teaching nursing students in that particular setting. Second, contact your state board of nursing for the required experience and education needed to become a nursing instructor.

Third, self-reflection on your own value system is helpful. For example, nursing education is an area that requires many hours with students in stressful situations such as death and dying or a change in a patient’s health status. Some days can be daunting; while other days can be very rewarding. It is a good idea to reflect on your core reasons for pursuing nursing education. For some clinical instructors, it may be to educate the future nursing workforce to be patient-centered, critical thinking nurses.

According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing5, there are recommendations for preparation of clinical instructor and nursing faculty. These guidelines were considered after a rigorous review of 35 evidenced-based articles, considerations by Education Consultant Networks, collaboration with representatives from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Commissions on Collegiate Nursing Education, National Practical Nurse Education and National League of Nursing.

The recommendations were as follows: nursing faculty should have a master’s degree or doctoral degree in nursing, clinical preceptors should obtain educational level higher than student, preparation for instruction should include the roles of collaborator, director of learning , and role modeling, and all clinical instructors/nursing faculty (full time or part time) should have extensive orientation to affiliated nursing program, curriculum should be reviewed and mentorships established to promote successful transition.

Critical Link to Nursing’s Future

Bedside nurses transitioning to the clinical instructor role are the critical link for the future of nursing.

Your acute care expertise coupled with coaching, mentoring, communication, maintaining a high standard nursing practice, an appreciation for lifelong learning is necessary characteristics for a clinical instructor. In collaboration with clinical sites, schools of nursing, bedside nurses and clinical instructors, there can be a significant, positive impact on the future nursing workforce and healthcare.

As per findings in the Carnegie Foundation study6, due to an increase in population with complex health care needs and a shortage of nurse educators, this is the time for nurses to consider a change from clinical nursing to clinical education. The career change will allow for more comprehensive training of nursing students and quality patient outcomes.

References for this article can be accessed here.

Theresa Barnard is clinical nurse educator and Vickey Keathley is ABSN clinical educator, both at Duke University, Durham, N.C.

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