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Question: What Is the CNE Certification for Nurse Educators?

Answer: CNE stands for Certified Nurse Educator, which is the formal designation for a Registered Nurse (RN) who has met the requirements for and received a passing score on an examination administered by the National League for Nursing (NLN). CNE is a voluntary professional certification that indicates the holder has demonstrated certain proficiencies in the field of nursing education according to guidelines established by the NLN.

What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators are clinically trained, state licensed RNs who provide training and instruction to nursing students and continuing education to professional nurses in a variety of settings, including universities, community colleges, trade schools, and hospitals. While nurse educator is not a formal title, it is the informal designation for RNs in clinical and administrative positions who oversee nurse training programs, provide clinical and classroom instruction in nursing, and are tasked with teaching and advising students at various levels of the nursing profession. In contrast to nursing professors, who typically must hold a doctoral degree in nursing, nurse educators generally hold a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and have several years of clinical experience in addition to specialized training in educational protocols and pedagogy.

There is no formal path to becoming a nurse educator. However, many nurse educators receive general advanced training in specialized MSN programs with a nurse educator concentration. It is also common for nurse educators in some fields to have additional training in a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) specialization, which could include nurse-midwife, nurse-anesthetist, adult care, emergency care, psychiatric care, neonatal care, family care, and a number of other specialties. Passing the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) exam administered by the National League for Nursing (NLN) is one of the accepted ways for RNs to demonstrate their qualifications and expertise as a nurse educator.

CNE Certification for Nurse Educators

The CNE is a professional certification offered by the NLN, a national organization of nurse faculty and nurse educators that provides voluntary accreditation to nursing education programs through its Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation. CNE certification is open to RNs who hold an active and unencumbered license to practice, and who have completed a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing. There are additional requirements, depending on an individual’s level of professional experience and educational attainment. The following combinations of degree level and years of professional experience qualify RNs to take the CNE certification exam:

  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with an emphasis in nursing education.
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing plus a post-master’s certificate in nursing education.
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing and nine or more credit hours of graduate-level nursing education courses.
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in nursing with an emphasis in a field other than education combined with at least two years of employment at an academic institution within the past five years.

The CNE Exam

Applicants for CNE certification who meet the above qualifications may then apply to take an examination administered by the NLN. The exam registration process can be completed on the NLN website. It includes a filing fee of $400 for NLN members and $500 for non-members. Applicants are required to read the CNE Candidate Handbook, which provides detailed instructions about the registration process as well as sample test questions. Once registered, candidates have 90 days to schedule and complete the 150-question online exam, which tests for competencies in six areas:

  • Facilitate learning
  • Facilitate learner development and socialization
  • Use assessment and evaluation strategies
  • Participate in curriculum design and evaluation of program outcomes
  • Pursue continuous quality improvement in the academic nurse educator role
  • Engage in scholarship, service, and leadership

The NLN publishes a book designed to prepare students for the exam – The Scope of Practice for Academic Nursing – and provides a Self-Assessment Examination, which can also be used to prepare for the exam. CNE certification must be renewed every five years.

Benefits of CNE Certification

While the CNE certification is not a requirement for nurse educators, it serves as one of the widely accepted ways for nurse educators to demonstrate their qualifications. Many schools, hospitals, and nurse training programs require or prefer candidates who have achieved CNE certification, and it can serve as a means of career advancement for those working in the field of nursing education. For RNs who hold a master’s or a doctorate in nursing, CNE certification can provide a pathway to a career in a field where there is a high demand for trained professionals. There is a well-documented shortage of nurses in the US. In order to fill open positions, new nurses must be trained by qualified educators. According to an American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report on 2016-2017 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs, nursing schools turned away more than 64,000 qualified applicants to bachelor’s and graduate-level nursing programs in 2016. Two-thirds of those schools reported to AACN that their decisions were influenced by a dearth of qualified faculty members and clinical preceptors.


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