Patient Educator: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a patient educator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education, job responsibilities, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

A patient educator is usually a registered nurse who works with patients to understand programs and treatments options. These positions require good communication skills, computer literacy, and medical office experience. Registered nurses have an average annual salary of around $71,000.

Essential Information

A patient educator, who's generally part of a nursing staff, informs patients about the effects of a particular course of treatment to help them decide what's right for them. They help develop and execute various programs and treatments depending on a patient's needs, and they can specialize in an area of interest, such as diabetes or lactation. Some employers look for applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent and experience in patient education, but most employers look for a registered nurse to fill such a position.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent, associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing preferred
Certification/Licensure RN licensure often preferred
Additional Requirement Patient education experience
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for registered nurses*
Average Salary (2015) $71,000 annually for registered nurses*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description for Patient Educators

The job of a patient educator often falls to a registered nurse, but some clinics and other health care facilities employ other qualified caregivers to fill the position. Educators work with patients and physicians to create effective treatment strategies. They monitor a patient's condition and make recommendations as needed. Patient educators make sure their clients understand medical processes, and if necessary, they show them how to use specialty equipment.

Sometimes patient educators dedicate themselves to advising a certain type of patient. For example, a diabetes educator suggests necessary dietary and lifestyle changes after a person gets diagnosed with diabetes. Other patient educator specialties include HIV or respiratory aid, among others. An educator remains with the patient beyond the initial diagnosis to keep track of the patient's ongoing condition and make any necessary changes to treatment.

Education Requirements for Becoming a Patient Educator

Since the job duties of a patient educator can mimic a nurse's, many employers require applicants to be certified as a registered nurse (RN). This involves passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). To qualify for the NCLEX, an applicant needs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, an associate's degree in nursing or a diploma. Nursing programs can take anywhere from 2-4 years, depending on the degree type chosen. According to a December 2010 search of job postings on CareerBuilder.com, some employers simply look for applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as experience in patient education.

Job Requirements

A patient educator's job requires solid phone skills and an ability to communicate well with people. In addition, computer literacy is necessary to assist with entering data, scheduling appointments and keeping track of patient records. Most employers also require that prospective patient educators have previous experience working in a medical office environment. The job normally reports to a supervisor or physician, so patient educators must be able to take instruction.

Career and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't publish career or salary data pertaining to patient educators, but it does publish information about registered nurses. According to the BLS, job openings for RNs in general were expected to increase 16% between 2014 and 2024, which is a much-faster-than-average rate. The average salary among these professionals as of 2015 was $71,000.

Patient educators are usually registered nurses. As such, they must meet the requirements of becoming a registered nurse, which includes completing a degree program in nursing and obtaining a registered nursing license from the state. Registered nurses have a job growth outlook much faster than the market.


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