Are You a Leader? Become a Nurse Administrator
If you’re a nurse with a talent for leading, a nurse administrator role could be your next career step.
In This Article
Nursing administration is a fast-growing healthcare field with opportunities for nurses with strong leadership and communication skills and a desire to shape the direction of patient care. Instead of seeing patients, nurse administrators oversee other nurses and make decisions about staffing, budgets, policies, and more.
Nurse administrator is one of a number of nurse specialties, and the term can refer to several roles, including charge nurses, nurse managers, and directors of nursing. In each of these roles, you’ll combine nursing expertise with business and administrative skills.
“Nurse administrators are in a position where they face complex challenges daily and thrive on driving change and education, leading by example, and showing compassion to the community,” says Amanda Savage, MEd, BSN, RN, a house manager registered nurse at Eastern Maine Medical Center, where she oversees hospital operations and patient care. “The relationships nurse administrators build in this role provide them with lifelong learning, values, and relationships.”
Instead of seeing patients, nurse administrators oversee other nurses and make decisions about staffing, budgets, policies, and more.
Learn more about what you’ll do, what education you’ll need, how much you could earn, and more.
What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?
No matter the job title, nurse administrators lead—creating policy, overseeing nursing staff, and making high-level decisions. Savage says your duties will depend on the needs of your unit or facility and can change quickly.
“The day-to-day responsibilities are vast and ever-evolving,” she says. “Being able to multitask and communicate are essential if one is to be an empowering and successful nursing leader on a daily basis.”
“In one day, you might be expected to drive patient safety, quality improvement measures, and evidence-based practices,” says Savage. “A nurse administrator/nurse leader also needs to balance budgets, hire, train, and engage staff, do performance evaluations, create policy, and ensure compliance.”
Typical Day-to-Day Job Duties
With so many possible duties, you’ll need to be comfortable thinking quickly and addressing unexpected situations as they arise. Here are just some of the tasks you may take on during a typical workday:
What’s the Difference Between a Clinical Nurse Leader and a Nurse Administrator?
One of the primary differences between nurse administrators and clinical nurse leaders (CNLs) is the education required for each role.
Education: Requirements for nurse administrators can vary depending on the facility and the position. Most have a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). At the very least, you’ll need to have earned or be working toward a BSN, Savage says. This scenario would apply to a nurse who has an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and nurse management experience.
“Nurse administrators need to have an RN license and either be actively enrolled or have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited institution,” Savage says. “This will help aspiring nursing administrators gain a conceptual understanding of the foundation of the professional nursing practices, policies, and standards that are needed to be successful in this role.”
In contrast, there’s no educational leeway for CNLs. All CNLs must have a master’s degree and Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) Certification from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).
Duties: Beyond education, another major difference is daily job duties. Unlike nurse administrators, CNLs sometimes provide direct care for patients. CNLs also may oversee complex procedures, mentor other nurses, and work to implement best practices by making changes to patient care models and measuring their outcomes.
CNLs and nurse administrators might work together on some of these tasks, but unlike nurse administrators, CNLs aren’t normally involved in executive tasks such as scheduling, budgeting, and hiring.
Types of Nurse Administrators
You can take on several different roles under the umbrella of nursing administration, each with different tasks and varying levels of responsibility. For example, while charge nurses manage a shift in their unit, a director of nursing manages the operations of all nursing units and staff in a facility.
Where Do Nurse Administrators Work?
From physicians’ offices to the boardrooms of multi-hospital healthcare systems, you can find nurse administrators in just about any healthcare setting, including:
- Rehabilitation centers
- Skilled nursing and other long-term care facilities
- Physicians’ and specialists’ offices
- Outpatient clinics
- Mental health facilities
- Community health organizations
- Healthcare systems
- Government facilities
How Do I Choose a Specialization?
You can choose to specialize in nursing administration during your master’s-level coursework. If you’re not going for your MSN right away, you can sometimes take nursing administration coursework as part of your BSN degree.
In addition to administration coursework, it can be helpful to take courses geared toward the kind of unit or specialty you’re interested in. For example, if you want to work as a pediatric nurse manager, it’s a good idea to take classes in both nursing administration and pediatrics during your bachelor’s program.
Helpful Personality Traits and Skills
You can probably already guess that it takes leadership skills to be a nurse administrator, but other traits also will help you succeed in this role. High levels of emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills are a must for leaders in a nursing administrator role,” Savage says.
“Individuals who hold these positions have good working interprofessional relationships, strong communication skills, and a bedside understanding of how to deliver excellent patient-centered care.”
What Education Is Required?
Your education will depend on the role you want but, in general, it’s best to aim for an advanced degree. While you might be able to find nurse administrator roles before you complete your BSN, most employers are looking for nurses with MSNs. Additionally, many employers will want nurses who also have completed postgraduate coursework in nursing administration.
While you might be able to find nurse administrator roles with an ADN or BSN, most employers look for nurses with MSNs.
Check out some of the paths you could take toward a nursing administration career below.
RN-to-MSN in Nursing Administration
You can fast track from an ADN to an MSN in nursing administration in two to three years. This can be a great way to advance your career if you’re currently working as an RN, since many RN-to-MSN programs are designed with working nurses in mind.
You can find these programs both on campus and online, and many schools have full-time and part-time options. Financial aid is often available. Your current employer might even reimburse you for earning your degree.
MSN in Nursing Administration
You can apply to an MSN program if you already have your BSN. Expect to dedicate anywhere from one to three years earning your degree. Programs are offered both online and on campus. Most programs will involve clinical hours that you’ll need to get in a healthcare setting. This will allow you to get the hands-on experience you’ll need to succeed in nursing leadership.
Dual Master’s Programs
If you’re really ambitious, you might consider earning dual master’s degrees. Combining two advanced degrees can give you an even deeper knowledge of nursing administration and possibly more career options.
Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Health Administration (MSN/MHA)
Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Business Administration (MSN/MBA)
Graduate Certificate in Nursing Administration
Nurse Administrator Certifications
What’s the Career and Salary Outlook for this Specialty?
Nursing administration is a fast-growing field. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 18% growth in jobs for medical and health service manager roles through 2028. This includes nurse administrators—good news for the many nurses interested in the field.
According to a 2017 study by AMN Healthcare, a healthcare staffing company, and the Center for the Advancement of Healthcare Professionals, more than a third of millennial nurses expressed interest in moving into leadership. “For Gen X nurses, the numbers were smaller, with one-fourth interested in leadership roles, while for baby boomer nurses, only 10% expressed interest,” the study found. “However, baby boomer nurses had a much higher percentage of RNs already in leadership positions, compared to Gen X and Millennial nurses.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 18% growth in jobs for medical and health service manager roles through 2028.
That means that now could be a great time to get started if you’re interested in the field. Earning a degree or credential now could put you ahead of the pack for nursing leadership roles down the road.
What’s the Salary Range?
The BLS doesn’t track salary data for nurse administrators specifically. However, it does track annual salaries for medical and health services managers in general and says they earn an average of $115,160.
Your salary will depend on multiple factors, including your education and experience. Where you work also can be a major factor, as this BLS salary list shows:
How Do Nursing Administrator Salaries Compare to Similar Jobs?
Based on BLS data for health services managers, nurse administrators can make around 49% more than registered nurses, who make an average annual salary of $77,460. With the exception of nurse anesthetists, nurse administrators generally make more than nurses in other advanced positions:
How to Stay Informed in this Field
You can stay current on emerging trends and issues in your field by joining organizations, subscribing to journals and following social media accounts for nurse administrators. A great place to start is the AONL. This group advocates for nurse administrators, offers continuing education, and provides networking opportunities. Here are some more useful resources:
The Journal of Healthcare Leadership, which publishes peer-reviewed research dedicated exclusively to leadership in healthcare.
The Organization of Nurse Leaders on Twitter, a social media account that provides news about the profession and information about conferences.
The Nursing Management podcast, which interviews nurse administrators about the latest in the profession.
Emerging RN Leader, a blog dedicated to nurses who are pursuing leadership roles.
You can check out our resource page for even more ways to stay informed.
Is This the Right Specialty for You?
If you’re a motivated leader with great communication skills, a career as a nurse administrator could be a great fit for you. Nurse administrators have the opportunity to help shape policy and create standards for exceptional patient care.
“Nursing leaders are passionate about their patients and staff,” Savage says. “There’s lots of growth opportunities, no matter what educational level you start at. Through utilizing continuing education, certifications, advanced degrees, and professional organizations, nurse administrators are given the opportunity to mentor, lead, and cultivate a culture of caring.”