From Nurse to Educator: Making the Transition from Bedside Nurse to Nurse Educator

By Mary Schmalfeldt, RN, Clinical Nurse Educator, VMS BioMarketing

As a nurse, you play many roles in healthcare, but one of the most lasting and impactful roles is that of a patient educator. After years of working solely with face-to-face communication between patients, the transition to Clinical Nurse Educator – especially one who works exclusively over the telephone – seemed overwhelming. It is important to remember that to become a Nurse Educator means having the opportunity to empower patients in taking a proactive role in the education and support of their health and treatment.

More than 50% of Americans are health care illiterate, according to recent research by Accenture. This has nothing to do with their ability to read and write, but rather their inability to understand health care information and what they need to do with that information. Clinical Nurse Educators can play a key role in increasing patient knowledge and hopefully quality of life.

A colleague once told me about her personal decision to become a CNE: “When deciding to make the change from bedside nurse to Clinical Nurse Educator, I realized one of my favorite aspects of the day was time spent educating the patient through pre-op or post-op instructions. Providing education was my passion before I left the bedside, which is what made me know I would be happy as a Nurse Educator. I truly enjoy education and empowering a patient.”

Part of my role as a CNE is to provide education and support via the telephone, which brought several key differences I needed to adjust to. The most noticeable difference was losing the ability to read the patient’s physical and non-verbal cues. I soon learned that I would need to further rely on patient teach-back and follow-up questions; this allows patients to demonstrate that comprehension has been obtained. When providing patient education, improving your skills to read non-verbal cues in a patient’s tone of voice and verbalization is important to making a successful transition.

As a Clinical Nurse Educator, there are so many rewarding aspects of the job; one is being able to listen to and support the patient on an ongoing basis rather than what are often singular interactions. While seeing a patient in an acute care setting, you are focused on the physical issue first and less focused emotionally on an educational level. As a Clinical Nurse Educator, we have the capability to focus on all aspects and in turn give the patient a greater chance for success.

Another of my colleagues once commented about our ability to meet patient needs: “As a CNE,e can reach a virtually unlimited territory. We have a lot of white space in our country where patients do not have access to live educators so by meeting them telephonically, we can assist with their education and still meet their educational needs.”


1More than 50% of consumers are healthcare illiterate, Internet Health Management Sep. 2018 https://www.digitalcommerce360.com/2018/09/13/more-than-50-of-consumers-are-healthcare-illiterate/