What You’ll Do as a Nurse Administrator

Explore the responsibilities and day-to-day work of a nurse administrator.

Nurse administrators have a unique role in blending business skills with health care expertise. Many nurse administrators start as registered nurses so they understand the day-to-day tasks and challenges of nursing. At the same time, their education background will likely include health care administration and business. Nurse administrators are expected to be innovative in how they think since much of their job revolves around cost management and the quality of patient care.

If you’re motivated, analytical, possess leadership skills and are interested in the business of health care, becoming a nursing administrator could be for you.

What does a nurse administrator do?

Nurse administrators are responsible for providing leadership to a team of nurses and at the same time, they must employ their business skills to ensure they are providing the best patient care. The best clinical nurse leaders aren’t in this career for the glory, instead they go to work every day to fulfill a mission and advance patient care. A nurse administrator has to be passionate about their role and understand they must provide the best care to as many people as possible.

On the job, nurse administrator roles can vary depending on their specialty, but general tasks include:

  • Oversee nursing staff
  • Create budgets, approve spending and manage overall finances
  • Ensure services meet regulatory requirements
  • Serve as a leader and motivate nursing staff
  • Supervise assistant administrators
  • Maintain records on facility services and resources used
  • Direct, supervise and review work activities of staff
  • Undertake tasks to ensure efficiency and cost savings

What education or certification will I need to become a nurse administrator?

Like other health care managers, nurse administrators who have a bachelor’s degree in health administration tend to be a bit more prepared than someone with another degree. These programs specifically focus on hospital management, accounting and other finance topics, health economics and laws.

If you’d prefer to start your nursing career as a registered nurse (RN), you can enroll in a program to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This allows you to gain clinical experience which can serve you well in a later career as a clinical nurse leader. You’ll have comprehensive knowledge about what nurses do and problems they face.

Master of Science in Nursing (BSN) degrees are relatively prevalent among health care managers. If you earned a BSN, but still need training in health care administration, enrolling in an MSN program is particularly helpful. Programs differ by school, but a few options include a Master of Health Care Administration degree and Master of Science in Nursing Leadership. Learn more about what you’ll study.

MSN programs are offered online and in traditional classroom settings. The coursework will be more advanced than those in a bachelor’s degree program, but the undergraduate curriculum is used as a building block. If you have an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in another field, you can find schools offering accelerated programs for BSNs and MSNs.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers certification to nurse administrators. By passing the exam, you’ll earn certification as a Nurse Executive or Nurse Executive, Advanced.

Nurse administrators who plan to work specifically in critical care can become certified by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). The certification, called the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader credential, are given as part of collaboration with the American Organization of Nurse Executives Credentialing Center (AONE).

What career paths can I take as a nurse administrator?

You can find jobs in a variety of health care settings, like hospitals, laboratories and long-term and nursing care facilities. Nurse administrators may find themselves managing a large team of nurses in a large city hospital or they might work with a small team at a nursing care facility.

Nurse administrators might choose a career as a consultant, where they provide their nursing expertise and advice to one or more medical institutions. And as the general health care management field grows, nurse administrators may choose to broaden their reach and work as a health care administration for an entire hospital or facility.

When searching for nurse administrator jobs, you may hear these titles used:

  • Nurse Executive
  • Nurse Manager
  • Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL)

Learn about pay & job projections for nurse administrators.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17; Medical and Health Services Managers; Houston Chronicle, Many Transitioning RNs Choose Nurse Administration, 2013.

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