Here’s What You’ll Study in a Nurse Administrator Degree Program

Learn about nurse leadership and administration degrees, what you’ll learn and what you’ll be prepared to do upon completion of your program.

What nurse administration and leadership degrees are available?

Nurse administrators typically need a bachelor’s degree, but with so many master’s degree programs in health care management, it’s becoming more common for nurse administrators to hold the advanced degree.

Whether you’re a high school graduate looking at colleges or already have an RN license through an associate’s degree program, there are a variety of paths you can take to become educated in nurse administration.

Bachelor’s degree programs

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree programs are available at colleges and universities, both online and in a traditional classroom. Consider your current educational background and weigh the BSN paths.

  • Enroll in a four-year college or university
  • For current registered nurses (RNs) without a BSN, enroll in a RN-to-BSN program, which gives students credit for their associate’s degree or nursing diploma coursework.
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses (LPN/LVN) can enroll in a bridge program similar to option 2: LPN-to-BSN.
  • If you already have a bachelor’s degree, but in another field, enroll in an accelerated BSN program. General education credits from your first degree will apply. This route takes between one to one-and-a-half years.

As an example of a typical RN-to-BSN course load, Kaplan University offers the following:

Bioethics: Ethical reasoning is covered in this course and students are taught how to apply it in issues of medical privacy and genetic technologies and end-of-life care.

Fundamentals of Microbiology: Both classroom and lab work is included in this class, which covers basic microbial facts, viral and bacterial diseases, immunology, parasites and epidemiology. Students are taught how this relates to medical and public health.

Professional Leadership Transitions: Leadership, research, culture and values and professional nursing roles are discussed and students are asked to draft a professional development plan.

Leadership and Management in the Changing Health Care Environment:Students will learn more in-depth information about organizational and systems leadership, safety, quality improvement, communication and patient outcomes. Critical thinking and ethical decisions are covered.

Public Health Nursing: A variety of issues are covered in this course, ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to nursing informatics. Students will be immersed in the differences between public health issues and treating individuals. A review of public health nursing jobs is also discussed.

Master’s Degree Programs

It’s fairly common for nurse administrators to hold a master’s degree in nursing (MSN). These programs educate students on advanced nursing practices and ethics and policy. If you choose an MSN with a nursing administration focus, coursework will be very specific to the nurse administrator role and its challenges.

Some MSNs will include a practicum where students are supervised in a health care facility and must apply their knowledge to different administration situations.

For a snapshot of what you might encounter in an MSN program, the University of St. Mary’s MSN in Nurse Administration program teaches students:

  • Organizational management: Advanced issues  such as the effect of work outcomes, controlling workplace behavior, interpersonal issues and how to implement conflict management and team building. Students should leave with a solid grasp on how individual, group and organizational processes play a role and effect behavior in an organization.
  • Leadership: Students are taught to distinguish between good and poor leadership characteristics and assess themselves. Motivating people and performance improvement are also covered.
  • Human and Fiscal Resource Management: Explores a wide range of administration issues, such as finances, laws, safety, employee relations, performance appraisal and staffing.

What certification will I need?

The American Nurses Credentialing Center certifies nurse administrators as Nurse Executive or Nurse Executive, Advanced. You’ll need to sit for an exam and renew your credentials every five years.

Eligibility requirements for the Nurse Executive certification:

  • Active RN license
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing
  • Have held a mid-level administrative or higher position OR a faculty position teaching graduate students nursing administration OR a nursing management or executive consultation position full-time for at least 24 months (or the equivalent) in the last 5 years
  • If you don’t have a MSN in nursing administration, 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years

Eligibility for the Nurse Executive, Advanced certification is the same as above except for experience. To qualify, you’ll have to hold an administrative position at a nurse executive level OR a full-time faculty position teaching executive-level nurse administration for at least 24 months (or equivalent) in the last five years.

Additionally, nurse administrators can take a certification exam to earn the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) credential. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers the certification in conjunction with the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE).

Eligibility criteria:

  • Active RN license
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing
  • Two years of experience as a nurse manager OR a non-nursing bachelor’s degree and three years of experience in a nurse manage role OR an associate’s degree or nursing diploma and five years of experience as a nurse manager. Experience should be a minimum of 1,040 hours for all scenarios.

What will I learn in my courses?

A BSN program will provide students with the foundation they need to become a nurse administrator. Classes will include core education requirements and an emphasis on various aspects of the nursing field.

Typical courses include:

  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Nursing practice and theory

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a nursing degree can take the following time to complete:

  • Associate’s degree programs, which provide entry-level opportunities, usually take two years
  • A bachelor’s degree program takes four years
  • A bachelor’s degree with direct entry typically takes three years
  • Master’s degree programs  generally require two years

Attending part-time is usually an option at most schools, but the program will take longer to complete.

Are online programs available?

Although nursing is a hands-on field, many online programs exist. Distance learning usually requires to students complete their studies online and perform their clinical experiences at a local health care facility. If you’re looking for a direct-entry or accelerated nursing degree program, there are plenty to choose from online.

Are there prerequisites?

An associate’s degree in nursing or a nursing diploma is required to practice as a registered nurse, but entry to a program is based on a few things.

  • Minimum SAT or ACT exam scores
  • GPA range between 2.0 and 3.25 (check your specific school’s requirements)
  • 3 years of math, including geometry and algebra II
  • 3 years of science, including biology and chemistry
  • 4 years of English
  • 2 years of a foreign language

If you’re applying to a 4-year college or university to earn a BSN, you’ll be required to have a high school diploma or equivalent, minimum SAT or ACT scores and any items specific to individual schools, like an essay or letters of recommendation.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Accreditation is a guarantee to students and employers that a program meets nationally-recognized nursing education standards. Independent accrediting organizations register schools once they’ve undergone a rigorous application process.

Students stand to benefit from accreditation because it’s a gateway to potentially reach financial aid eligibility. Secondly, earning a degree at one accredited school allows a student to pursue further education at other accredited schools.

A few things to know about accreditation: It isn’t earned and maintained in perpetuity. Accreditations are usually valid for an allotted time period, usually between 5 and 10 years, and are different for each school.  It’s a good idea to check with your potential program about the length of time it’s accredited for.

Main accreditation bodies

The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN), formerly NLNAC: Accredits the entire spectrum of nursing programs (associate’s, diploma, bachelor’s and master’s)

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE): This body accredits bachelor’s and master’s nursing programs

There’s another element students should consider when researching nursing schools. State boards of Nursing approve schools so they can prepare students for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). However, state board approval does not automatically equal school accreditation from one of the national organizations. While most accredited schools are state board-approved, it’s always a good idea to check.

Non-accredited schools: If you’re thinking of attending a non-accredited, but state board-approved school, there can be drawbacks.

While you can still take the NCLEX to become an RN, your nursing profession may stall out if you’re seeking additional education. Generally, education from a non-accredited school doesn’t qualify students to attend an accredited school.

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