Nursing Administration Degrees: Requirements, Courses & Timelines

Nursing administrators are professionals with advanced skills in both nursing practice and business management. Overseeing the overall quality and efficiency of patient care, they fill rolls such as nurse manager, charge nurse, or director of nursing in facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and physician offices.

In addition to clinical nursing know-how, nurse administrators need leadership skills in areas like human resources, financial planning, risk management, and policy creation. Gaining these skills can put you on the path to advancing into this rewarding field, where you can have a truly important impact on the health of your patients.

What Degrees Qualify You for a Nursing Administration Job?

To find a role in nursing administration, you’ll first need to earn your registered nursing (RN) degreeMany programs and jobs require several years of work as an RN before you can advance into the field. The sections below cover some degrees and certificates that may prepare you for the duties of a nursing administrator, including:

  • RN-to-MSN in Nursing Administration
  • MSN in Nursing Administration
  • Graduate Certificate in Nursing Administration
  • Dual Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Health Administration (MSN/MHA)
  • Dual Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration (MSN/MBA)
  • Postgraduate Nurse Executive Certification

Do I need to have an advanced degree?

For almost all nursing administrator roles, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), through some employers are now requiring a master’s (MSN). The majority of jobs will also require postgraduate coursework.

RN-to-MSN in Nursing Administration

If you’ve earned your RN license following an associate’s degree (ADN) program , you might still be able to advance to a nursing administrator role.

There are many programs designed for working nurses that can let you fast-track from an RN to an MSN in nursing administration.

RN-to-MSN programs are offered both on campus and online at schools, so you can tailor your education to fit your individual needs.

What prerequisites are required?

No matter what type of school you choose, an RN-to-MSN program will likely have prerequisites and requirements for admission. These might include:

  • A current and unrestricted RN license earned through an accredited associate’s or diploma program
  • A minimum GPA from your program, especially if you’ll be applying any credits to your MSN degree
  • A resume of your nursing experience, including professional references from within the field

What courses will I take?

In an RN-to-MSN in nursing administration program, you’ll first take classes that cover bachelor’s level requirements such as:

You’ll then need to take classes toward MSN-level practices. These might include courses that cover topics such as:

  • Healthcare ethics
  • Healthcare economics
  • Advanced nursing leadership
  • Health laws
  • Transitional care

As the role involves a good deal of administrative duties, you’ll also need to take some business courses. To earn your specialization in administration, you may take classes like:

  • Healthcare budgeting
  • Nursing administration theory
  • Management theory
  • Organizational theory

How long does it take to complete this degree?

When choosing a program to earn your master’s in nursing administration, you’ll likely be able to choose whether you want to attend classes on a full- or part-time basis. Full-time classes may help you earn your degree faster, but they could also make it difficult to work while you’re in school. Regardless of schedule,most programs can take you from an RN to an MSN in nursing administration within 24 to 36 months.

MSN in Nursing Administration

If you already have your BSN, you can begin looking into programs to earn your MSN in nursing leadership and management.  In an MSN program, you’ll learn about healthcare policy, budgeting, leadership, and other important components of nursing administration.

What prerequisites are required?

To enroll in an MSN program, you’ll need to meet prerequisites. These typically include:

  • A BSN in nursing from an accredited college or university
  • An active and unrestricted RN license
  • A minimum GPA from your BSN program
  • Other general requirements, such as a resume of your nursing experience, professional references, a written essay, or a pre-admission interview

Some MSN programs require you to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) before admission. However, if your bachelor’s-level GPA was excellent, some programs may waive the requirement if they have it.

What courses will I take?

Your MSN program will include courses in advanced nursing, leadership, and business. You’ll take a variety of courses designed to help you advance your career, such as:

  • Resource management
  • Healthcare economics
  • Public health
  • Nursing leadership
  • Nursing administration theory

Earning an MSN also requires practicum and clinical hours, allowing you to get hands-on experience in nursing administration while working toward your degree.

How long does it take to complete this degree?

Programs for a master’s in nursing leadership are available online and on campus at many institutions. They generally take anywhere from 12 to 36 months to complete.

Graduate Certificate in Nursing Administration

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Graduate certificates are designed for professional nurses who already have a BSN or MSN and want to expand their careers by learning advanced administrative skills. A graduate certificate program can normally be completed on a part-time basis while you work. If you already have your MSN in a different nursing specialty but want to move into nursing administration, earning a graduate certificate can help you make this transition.

What prerequisites are required?

To pursue a graduate certificate, you’ll need to hold at least a BSN and be a registered nurse with a current and unrestricted license. In programs that allow you to enroll with a BSN, you may be able to apply certificate credits toward a future MSN in nursing administration.

Other graduate certificate programs will require that you have an MSN before enrolling. These programs are designed to be an addition to the master’s-level coursework you’ve already completed.

What courses will I take?

In your graduate certificate program, you’ll take business and healthcare administration courses that’ll help you in your nursing administration career. These might include coursework in:

  • Human resources
  • Healthcare information technology
  • Organization theory
  • Business leadership
  • Healthcare finance

How Long Does It Take to Earn This Certificate?

Graduate certificate programs can generally be completed in a year or less, and many can be taken entirely online. You’ll earn between 10 and 30 credits, depending on your program.

Dual Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Health Administration (MSN/MHA)

If you’re really interested in the business side of nursing administration, you might want to consider earning a dual master’s in nursing and health administration. An MSN/MHA degree will give you education in both advanced nursing practice and healthcare administration. Having this dual degree could allow you take on a wide variety of senior leadership roles in healthcare, such as director of nursing or chief nursing executive.

What prerequisites are required?

To enter a dual MSN/MHA program, you’ll need to meet the standard requirements for admission to the graduate level school of your choice. You’ll need at least a BSN in nursing and have a current, unrestricted RN license. Some schools may also have prerequisites such as business, math, or management credits earned at the bachelor’s level.

What courses will I take?

While working toward your MSN/MHA, you’ll take advanced courses in nursing. You’ll also take health administration classes for your MHA. These might include courses in:

  • Leadership
  • Operations
  • Healthcare law
  • Organizational behavior
  • Quality control

How long does it take to complete this degree?

To earn your MSN/MBA dual degree, you’ll need to complete 50 to 60 credits, depending on your school, and the program will take between 18 and 24 months to complete.

Dual Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration (MSN/MBA)

A dual MSN/MBA degree might be a great path if you’re interested in taking a strong business education into your nursing leadership position. Earning your MBA alongside your MSN can prepare you to make high-level business and financial decisions in a healthcare setting.

What prerequisites are required?

To start an MSN/MBA program, you’ll need to meet the requirements to enter both the MSN and the MBA programs. You’ll need to have a BSN from an accredited college or university, and you’ll need to have an active and unrestricted RN license.

Many programs will require a GPA from your bachelor’s program of at least a 3.0. You might need to take bachelor’s level coursework in math, business, or management before starting the program. Since you’ll be entering an MBA program, you may also need to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and earn a minimum score.

What courses will I take?

In these programs, you’ll be working to earn both an MSN and MBA, so you’ll need to take classes in advanced nursing and business administration. Your coursework might include:

  • Nursing leadership
  • Nursing ethics
  • Business strategy
  • Marketing
  • Data analysis
  • Accounting
  • Communication
  • Business management

How long does it take to complete this degree?

An MSN/MBA program will typically include 62 to 72 credits of coursework and take 24 to 36 months to complete.

What to Look for in a Degree Program

When selecting a program to put you on the path to nursing administration, you’ll need to make sure the program is accredited. You’ll also want to find a program that works for your lifestyle and goals. You might want to ask questions such as:

  • Can I complete this program while I work?
  • Can I apply credits I’ve earned in the past toward my degree?
  • What kind of financial aid is available for this program?
  • Is this program online, on campus, or a hybrid program?
  • What kind of jobs have other students who’ve graduated from this program found?
  • Do I need to take any exams (such as the GRE or GMAT) for program admission?

Are There Accelerated Nursing Administration Degrees?

If you’ve done additional classwork after earning your BSN, if you hold a master’s degree in another area, or if you already have nursing administration experience, you might be able to complete an accelerated program.

Additionally, in some cases, you may be able to enter an MSN program without a BSN , if you have an RN diploma or associate’s degree along with a bachelor’s degree in another area. You’ll still need to meet minimum GPA and active license requirements.

I did find that there are some schools that offer direct entry MSN programs to people without a nursing background at all. They don’t prepare for you an admin role, though, so I did not include them here.

Nurse Administrator Certifications

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers professional postgraduate certification for nurse administrators. Earning one of these credentials is a great way to show potential employers that you’re both qualified and committed to your career.

The available certificates from the ANCC include designations as a Nurse Executive-Board Certified (NE-BC) or a Nurse Executive, Advanced (NEA-BC).

What prerequisites are required?

To take the exam to earn your NE-BC, you’ll first need to:

  • Have at least a BSN in nursing
  • Hold an active and unrestricted RN license
  • Have held at least a mid-level nursing administration position, nurse management position, or taught administration at the graduate level for at least 24 months within in the last 5 years
  • Have completed at least 30 hours of continuing education in the field within the last 3 years, unless you hold your MSN in nurse administration

To take the NEA-BC exam, you’ll need to meet additional requirements that include:

  • Having held an executive-level nursing administration position or having taught executive-level administrative nursing within the last 3 years.
  • Holding either a master’s in nursing or a BSN with a master’s in another area

How do I take the exam?

Earning your Nurse Executive Certification requires taking and passing the exam offered by the ANCC. You’ll need to apply to take the test, pay an exam fee, and then find a testing center near you . The test will ask questions on nursing leadership, healthcare structures and processes, and advanced professional practice. Study aids for this test are available online from the ANCC.

When can I take the test?

You can apply online for the test and take it within a 90-day window at a time and location that’s convenient for you. If you pass the exam and earn the credential, it’s valid for up to 5 years, so long as you maintain a current nursing license. You can apply to renew the certification up to 1 year prior to its expiration.

Ready to Get Started?

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare management jobs such as nursing administration are predicted to increase by 20% through 2026 and currently pay an average salary of $98,350 a year.

A nursing administration degree offers you the chance to become a part of this rapidly growing field. If you’re ready to get started, use our Find Schools button to find an RN, BSN, or MSN program that fits your needs.

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Nurse Administrator Career and Degree Guide


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