A Guide to Nurse Leadership and Administration Careers

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Leadership in Nursing

Leadership in nursing careers often involve managing nursing personnel at medical facilities. Aspiring nursing leaders typically begin as nurses, providing direct care to patients. After securing administrative positions, nursing leaders oversee nursing personnel and operations. Nursing managers hire, train, and schedule staff. Nurse administration professionals may also perform quality assurance and legal compliance duties.

Common nursing management and leadership positions include nurse manager, director of nursing, and chief nursing officer. These professionals need advanced communication, organization, and interpersonal skills. This guide explores career paths and professional resources for individuals interested in leadership in nursing.

How to Start a Career in Nurse Leadership and Administration

Many nursing management careers require specific credentials and preparation. Applicants for nursing leadership and management positions usually possess prior clinical nursing experience. The most competitive candidates hold graduate degrees, advanced professional certifications, and demonstrated leadership abilities. The following steps can help candidates secure nurse administration positions.

Step 1
Complete a BSN degree. Bachelor of science in nursing programs typically require 3-4 years, depending on the program pace. BSN students gain foundational knowledge in nursing principles, practices, and technologies. A BSN also qualifies holders to earn registered nurse (RN) licensure. Graduates can also enroll in BSN-to-MSN programs.
Step 2
Become a registered nurse. Candidates for RN licensure typically need an ADN or BSN. Licensure candidates must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs and complete nursing experience hours.
Step 3
Gain work experience. Nurse administrators typically need several years of clinical experience as an RN. Experience requirements vary by employer and job title. Demonstrated leadership ability can improve a candidate’s chance of securing a nurse administration role.
Step 4
Complete an MSN degree. Many nursing administration positions require an advanced nursing degree. RNs often pursue an MSN to specialize their skills and qualify for promotions. MSN curricula include leadership courses and clinical nursing hours. MSN programs require up to three years to finish. However, students can complete accelerated programs faster. Working nurses with busy schedules often choose online ADN-to-MSN and RN-to-MSN programs.
Step 5
Get certified. Aspiring nurse administrators can impress employers by earning professional certifications. The American Nurses Credentialing Center administers credentials including the nurse executive certification. The American Organization for Nursing Leadership delivers the certified nurse manager and leader and certified executive nursing practice credentials. Each certification features unique experience and education requirements.

Nurse Leadership and Administration Career Pathways

Many nursing administrators begin their careers as nurses before pursuing further education and training. Nursing leadership and management job titles vary by role and organization. Examples include nurse educator, nurse manager, and nurse administrator. Professionals with significant leadership in nursing experience may become chief nursing officers and directors of nursing.

  • Chief Nursing Officer

    CNO represents the most advanced nursing management position for RNs. These officers coordinate nursing operations and speak on behalf of nurses. CNOs work in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation facilities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for medical and health services managers to increase 32% from 2019-2029. According to July 2021 PayScale data, CNOs earn an average salary of $134,300 per year.

    CNOs typically need an MHA, an MSN with a concentration in nursing administration, or an MBA in healthcare administration. Some organizations prefer applicants with a DNP in administration. Aspiring CNOs may benefit from earning the nurse executive certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

  • Nurse Administrator

    Nurse administrators can work for in-home nursing companies and assisted living facilities. These professionals serve as case managers, who hire and supervise healthcare personnel.

    The BLS projects medical and health services manager positions to increase 32% from 2019-2029, significantly faster than the average projected job growth for all occupations. According to July 2021 PayScale data, nurse administrators earn an average annual salary of $89,000. These professionals typically need a nursing degree and RN certification.

  • Director of Nursing

    These administrators plan, oversee, and assess care programs. They often work in healthcare departments and institutions. Directors of nursing hire and supervise staff, conduct budgeting activities, and guide their department’s communication with healthcare professionals.

    According to July 2021 PayScale data, nursing directors earn an average salary of $88,100 per year. The BLS projects employment for medical and health services managers to increase 32% from 2019-2029. Requirements for nursing director positions vary, but most employers require candidates to hold a BSN and a state nursing license.

  • Nurse Educator

    Nurse educators include college nursing professors and continuing education providers at healthcare institutions. These professionals often collaborate with hospital administrators to create continuing education programs, set policies, and design patient care systems. Nurse educators earn an average salary of $77,350 per year, according to July 2021 PayScale data.

    Typically, nurse educators need at least a BSN, an RN license, and relevant certifications. Many employers require candidates to hold a graduate degree. The BLS projects employment for postsecondary teachers to increase 9% from 2019-2029. Continuing growth in the healthcare field may lead to better-than-average job prospects for nursing educators.

  • Nurse Manager

    Nursing managers coordinate and oversee nursing staff. They work in hospitals and other medical facilities. Duties often include staffing, scheduling, and designing and implementing policy. These professionals need at least a BSN. Many employers prefer candidates who hold certifications. Nurse practitioners and advanced practice RNs often pursue nurse manager roles.

    According to PayScale data from June 2021, clinical nurse managers earn an average annual salary of $84,290. The BLS projects employment for medical and health services managers to increase 32% from 2019-2029.

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Resources for Nurse Leadership and Administration

  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership The national professional organization supports innovative nurse leadership. AONL delivers advocacy, networking opportunities, and in-person and online education.
  • AONL Career Center This resource provides job listings. Users can search by job title, keyword, and location. Job-seekers can post their resumes, sign up for job alerts, and view informative presentations.
  • American College of Healthcare Executives ACHE offers professional development resources for healthcare administrators. The organization advocates for affordable, accessible, and safe healthcare. This professional society maintains an online learning center, a career resource center, and more than 75 local chapters.
  • Organization of Nurse Leaders The nonprofit professional membership organization provides educational opportunities. ONL also maintains a job board and administers awards. The organization hosts a leadership academy, an annual meeting, and an educational conference.

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