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Nursing vs Teaching: Why Pick One When You Can Do Both?

Nursing vs Teaching: Why Pick One When You Can Do Both?

If you’re driven by a desire to do good, help others, and impact change then most likely at one point you found yourself asking a question: Should I be a nurse or a teacher? Both careers are meaningful, rewarding, and fall right into line with your core values. 

If you chose to follow the nursing path, that doesn’t mean you need to give up on your dream of becoming a teacher. On the contrary, you can combine your two passions by becoming a nurse educator. That is your chance to get the best of both worlds: your academic experience will help shape the future of nursing, while the ties to clinical practice will keep you grounded and fully aware of your responsibility as a teacher. 

Read on to find out what teaching and nursing have in common, what makes them different, and how you can connect them. In the midst of the side-by-side comparison of these meaningful professions, you might discover if pursuing a career in education is the right move for you. 

What Are the Job Duties of Nurses and Teachers?

Although the main motivation behind both nursing and teaching is improving people’s lives, when it comes to day-to-day duties, the job of a nurse and the job of a teacher come with very different responsibilities. 

A registered nurse works as part of a medical team, alongside physicians and other healthcare professionals with the common goal of providing the best quality of care to patients. In doing so, nurses have a myriad of duties ranging from administering medication and monitoring vital signs, to educating individuals about how to manage their maladies and how to lead healthy lives. An RN’s duties might vary on their chosen specialization: for instance, pediatric nurses and surgical nurses generally have very different responsibilities, one works with children, the other assists surgeons during operations. But all in all, the duties of a nurse come down to treating patients and saving lives. 

Teachers, on the other hand, have one main goal: preparing and educating students for the world and helping them become the best professionals they can be. From developing lesson plans and holding classes or lectures, to grading papers and guiding students to learn and improve, it is a teacher’s fundamental responsibility to teach their students basic life (and academic) skills, to inspire them, and to sow the seed of knowledge in their hearts. 

nursing instructor

How Do Work Environments Differ?

Contrary to popular belief, registered nurses are not restricted to working in hospital settings, although the largest number of RNs work in medical institutions. However, nurses can also find employment in clinics, schools, assisted living facilities, or even patient homes. 

Teachers generally work in academic settings, such as schools, universities, colleges. Although these are the most popular, there are still other options out there. For instance, nurse educators can also find employment in teaching hospitals, laboratories, and clinical settings, alongside the traditional university route. 

What Skills do Nurses and Teachers Need in Order to Succeed? 

The jobs in themselves might be different, but the skills that make a successful nurse and teacher are very similar. 


Whether it’s students who have trouble following the material or patients who are non-compliant, you’ll need to be patient, calm, and understanding to solve any unexpected conflict. 

Communication Skills 

You must be able to speak clearly to your students, patients, and fellow colleagues. Effective communication skills will make your patients feel more at ease or your students more comfortable and confident.

Instruction Skills 

When it comes to students, on a daily basis, you will have to explain unfamiliar concepts and help them understand from scratch. That is also relevant if you’re a nurse. You might have to teach a patient the home management of diabetes, you might have to instruct a patient on how to use their heart monitor, or you might have to show first-time parents the right way to give their newborn baby a bath. Knowing how to help people navigate this uncharted territory is a valuable skill in both careers.

Problem-Solving Skills

Obstacles may arise in any given situation and you must be equipped with the skills to solve them. Is the WiFi down and you had all your lecture materials stored in Google Drive? Is your patient refusing to take his medication? You’ll have to figure out creative, efficient solutions. 

Dedication to life-long learning 

Both nursing and teaching rely on continuous learning. You need to constantly stay informed in order to be at the forefront of your field. 

nursing vs teaching

Education: How Long Does It Take to Achieve Your Goal?

In order to become a Registered Nurse, you have to earn an Associate’s Degree or a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. You get your license by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Depending on the route you choose to take, the length of your studies will vary. 

An ADN generally takes around 20 months to complete, the BSN can be completed in around 32 months, or, if you are already a nurse and want to advance your studies, you can do so by enrolling in an RN-to-BSN bridge fast track program, which can be completed in as few as 12 months. 

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding which path to take in order to become a nurse: it must be tailored to your time, preferences, and responsibilities. However, with more career options and higher salaries, BSN nurses hold a significant advantage over ADN trained nurses. 

 Find out more about how long it takes to get your BSN degree and what are the particularities of each of these routes. 

If you want to shift your focus from nursing to education, you need to be aware that the process is lengthier, more time-consuming, and more expensive compared to becoming an RN. Typically, nurse educators must hold more advanced degrees, such as a Master’s or a Doctoral degree in Nursing. For BSN nurses, an MSNEd program can be completed in 20 months. Also, generally, a few years of hands-on clinical experience are required in order to become a teacher. 

nurse educator

Read more about what it takes to become a nurse educator. 

Salary and Job Outlook

Registered nurses have great job prospects, as the employment of RNs is projected to grow by 12% by 2028, at a much faster rate than other occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be about 210,400 job openings for registered nurses every year over the course of the decade. Not only is the job outlook great for RNs, but they’re also compensated fairly well. Per the BLS, in 2019, nurses earned on average $77,460 a year

Meanwhile, nursing instructors and teachers make on average $83,160 per year. In D.C., nurse educators can even earn a median wage of $157,560, in Florida, salaries can go as high as $122,050, and in California teachers of nursing can earn up to $101,930. 

Find out how much nurses educators earn in each state

Not only are the salaries for nurse educators significantly higher, but there is also growing demand. The shortage of nursing faculty is affecting the entire healthcare ecosystem. With more than ⅓ of the current nursing teachers expected to retire by 2025, there is now a pressing need for more educators, which will only become more severe in the years to come. 

nurse educator vs registered nurse

Nursing vs Teaching: Challenges and Benefits

Each of the professions has its own benefits and challenges. You just need to weigh them and decide which holds more power in your book. 

As an RN, you might get a fairly flexible schedule as most hospitals condone the practice of the three-day workweek: you work three 12-hour shifts a week and have four days off, which is a great way to spend more time with your family. On the downside, these long shifts can take their toll. They’re tiring and stressful, and the long hours spent standing can lead to exhaustion. Another challenge is the fact that while you do have some flexibility over your schedule, you might still have to work nights, weekends, or during holidays. Also, as a nurse, you risk more exposure to work-related dangers and the overall stress of the job might lead to burnout. But you directly help people through difficult and scary times in their lives and that is an invaluable experience. 

Read more about nurse burnout and how to avoid it.

Meanwhile, teaching offers a more structured schedule. Not only do you have weekends and holidays off, but you work more reasonable hours in less stressful conditions. 

Some benefits are applicable to both professions: the jobs are in demand, they offer higher salaries than average, you can choose from a variety of workplaces and both careers are very reputable and respected. 

teacher vs nurse

Questions You Might Ask Yourself

Being an RN I’m directly helping people. Will I still make a difference if I switch to teaching?

It is true that as a nurse you can witness the direct impact of your care: you can see patients getting better under your watch and to some extent you can quantify the impact of your care. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing that you saved a life or helped treat a patient.

But when it comes to teaching, the impact not only is still there but, arguably, it’s even on a higher level. Granted, as opposed to nursing, you don’t see the results of your work immediately. However, by educating the future generations of nurses not only do you contribute to saving lives, but you get the added satisfaction of knowing that you help move the profession forward. So, by preparing aspiring nurses to the best of your ability, you play a decisive role in more lives being saved, more patients being treated to the highest standards of professionalism. You may not be in the ER, but your teachings go far beyond university classrooms. 

What if I can’t handle it? Working with one patient at a time is one thing, but a whole class?

Before going into teaching, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses. As a nurse educator, you will need strong communication skills, advanced knowledge of nursing (and, more specifically, of the field you choose to specialize in) as well as the skills to transfer the knowledge to your students. The comprehensive curriculum of the MSNEd program will help you transition into the nurse educator role, and the hands-on clinical experience will prove invaluable. So, one patient at a time is just the stepping stone you need to lead a whole class. 

Also, keep in mind that nursing is teaching. You spend your days as an RN teaching your patients how to deal with their maladies, you explain to the families everything they need to know about their loved ones’ conditions, you share knowledge with your fellow nurses in order to become a better professional. By becoming a nurse educator you do the same thing, only on a larger, more advanced, more professional level. 

What if you don’t want to change the hospital for a classroom, but you still want to follow your teaching passion?

Luckily, among many options, the MSNEd program also offers you the chance to work as a Nursing Professional Development specialist. You’ll work directly in the hospital, helping novice nurses transition into true professionals or constantly updating nurses’ competencies. You’ll still be teaching, but you’ll do it in the environment you’re most comfortable in. 

should I become a nurse or a teacher

Taking Advantage of the Best of Both Worlds

Obviously, the choice comes down to each individual, but if your love for teaching intersects your passion for helping others, becoming a nursing instructor is the perfect middle ground. By teaching nursing, you always have your finger on the pulse of the healthcare industry and you help shape its future. The responsibility is great, but so is the reward. Elevating the level of nursing and ensuring people are getting the highest quality care is no small accomplishment. 

Take the first step towards your career as a nurse educator. Enroll in our MSNEd program today! 

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