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Should I Become a Clinical Instructor?

Someone got you to where you are today.  You probably had some really great clinical instructors and maybe a few who didn’t stand out. Nursing students need *A LOT* of guidance from a patient and a kind helping hand.  If you think you’ve got those qualities, read on to determine if becoming a clinical instructor is right for you.

What is a clinical instructor?

There is no one answer to this type of education because it varies by specialty, level of the student, type of school, and even hospital involvement. Generally, a nursing clinical instructor works 4-12 hours a week with students on a nursing unit.

Many students have rotations in the ICU, OB, Telemetry, and Med/Surg.  Students also may have clinical in long-term care units, community health areas, and in school systems.

The goal is, of course, to introduce students to nursing techniques while letting them take more responsibility as they grow. For example, a first-year student may focus on CNA tasks like bed baths and toileting, while a 2nd year ADN student or a 4th year BSN student will take a partial team or complete tasks side by side with a nurse.

The actual nursing practice is just a part of clinical, though there are many learning opportunities in debriefing, care plans (eeewww), and simulation or lab time.

Each school sets different parameters for its clinical learners and environments, but the full-time faculty is responsible for setting up the experience in most schools.  As a clinical instructor, you would be responsible for your student’s safety and learning opportunities on the floor.

So is clinical instruction for me?

Good question. If you hate precepting, this is way more work-intensive, and you don’t get to sit back and relax once your trainee gets good at it.  Most nursing students are terrified they will do something wrong, which means their confidence is at level 0.  Your job is to let them try things, interfere before something goes wrong, and use data points to expand their learning experience throughout the day.

If you get exasperated with new nurses or students in the first couple of hours, you won’t enjoy 12 hours of tightly strung nerves in an uncontrolled environment.

You also need to be prepared to prevent and (unfortunately) react to mistakes.  Good school guidelines can help you prevent accidents from happening. Still, somewhere along the line, someone will accidentally poke themselves with a needle, will drop a pill cup full of unwrapped meds (even narcotics!), or may need 3 chances to get a foley placed correctly.

A great clinical instructor has nerves of steel, time management skills, and the patience of a saint. 

That’s not the end of it either.  You will be responsible for grading care plans, which are just as fun to grade as it was for you to write all those years ago.  You may also be responsible for creating simulation activities or lab practice.  You will get paid for the hours at clinical, but likely not for hours spent working at home.

The benefit is that most clinical instructors are considered adjuncts, which means the pay is usually higher.  The hours are limited and can often be worked into a nurse’s schedule or a 5x a week schedule if you are willing to work weekends.  You will have an opportunity to pass on the knowledge you’ve spent years collecting.

The biggest benefit, of course, is the light bulb moments.  You will literally see the excitement in your student’s eyes after their first successful IV and hear the understanding in their voice when they finally connect a med to a result or a lab to a problem.

Nothing beats the knowledge that you are helping the next generation of nurses become safe, confident, caring professionals.

If you like teaching new nurses, teaching students is a great next step. It’s lucrative in both money and personal achievement. Your students will ask you to be a reference, and your resume will look great! But, even more importantly, you will become a better nurse.  After all, learn one, do one, teach one is the best way to become an expert nurse. 


Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN

Amanda Ernst, DNP, RN, CEN


Amanda is an ER nurse with 10 years of healthcare experience. She currently works as a nurse educator and as an adjunct professor for several schools. She also works as a freelance healthcare writer in her spare time. Amanda thinks the greatest thing about nursing is the endless possibilities and opportunities to learn. What have you learned today?


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