Nurse Executive Career Overview
Updated May 26, 2022 · 6 Min Read
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Nurse executives fulfill important roles as nursing leaders within healthcare organizations of all sizes. Learn what nurse executives do and how you can become one.
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Nurse executives are nursing leaders who use their knowledge and experience to guide various healthcare-related organizations toward success. For a nurse seeking a position of responsibility, increased earning power, and the ability to inspire and make decisions, this can be an exciting and fulfilling career path with countless possibilities.
Nurse Executive Career in Brief
A nurse executive can differ from managers. They use skills in leadership, operations, finance, human resources, communication, collaboration, and big-picture thinking to guide healthcare-related organizations to success.
Roles may include chief nursing officer, director of nursing (DON), or chief executive officer. Such a leader may supervise a number of individuals and interact with other executives, department heads, and boards of directors if serving in the nonprofit sector.
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Where Do Nurse Executives Work?
Common workplace settings for nurse executives include hospitals, clinics, home health agencies, nursing schools, community health, and many other settings.
- 1. Hospital
In the hospital setting, the nurse executive may serve as chief nursing officer, nursing director, or nurse administrator. Skills include an understanding of patient care in the hospital setting, collaboration with other disciplines, and compliance with regulatory bodies, such as The Joint Commission.
- 2. Assisted/Independent Living
In these settings, the nurse executive may serve as chief nursing officer, nursing director, or nurse administrator. Skills involve having familiarity with the needs of patient (especially the elderly and those with living disabilities), managing multidisciplinary collaboration, and an understanding of the financial aspects of running an organization.
- 3. Home Health
Nurse executives may serve as chief nursing officer, nursing director, or nurse administrator. Skills include knowledge of the field of home health, compliance with regulatory bodies, and the management of a multidisciplinary workforce.
Why Become a Nurse Executive
Serving as a nurse executive can be an interesting, intellectually stimulating, and a satisfying career path. This role can also demand a great deal, with high-level responsibility for many aspects of an organization's 24/7 operation, such as the management and oversight of a large community of employees.
Advantages to Becoming a Nurse Administrator
Positive patient outcomes
A guide to helping a healthcare organization to success
Median salary of $101,340
Disadvantages to Becoming a Nurse Administrator
High levels of responsibility (for example, budgets, human resources, strategic growth, regulatory compliance, etc.)
Difficult not to bring work home
Always feeling like you must have all the answers
Feeling distanced from direct patient care
How to Become a Nurse Executive
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX exam to receive a registered nurse (RN) license.
Step 3: Earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctoral degree.
A doctorate (also known as a terminal degree) confers upon the recipient the highest level of nursing education. A doctorate in nursing can be helpful in terms of marketability and credibility in a competitive field.
Step 4: Pass a certification exam.
Step 5: Get board certification (optional).
How Much Do Nurse Executives Make?
Although the BLS does not differentiate among various types of nurse leaders in its data beyond "Medical and Health Services Managers," in general, there is a projected 32% job growth between 2020 and 2030, which is considerably faster than other industries.
Indeed.com reports that the average salary for a director of nursing in the U.S. is $91,640 as of April 2022, whereas the BLS states that $101,340 is the median salary for medical and health services managers. At the same time, Salary.com reports the median salary for a chief nursing executive as of April 2022 to be $243,400.
This disparity may reflect how each website chooses to classify and categorize various nurse leadership positions.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nurse Executives
What does a nurse executive do?
A nurse executive uses skills in leadership, operations, finance, human resources, communication, collaboration, and big-picture thinking to guide healthcare-related organizations to success.
How much do nurse executives make?
Salaries range from $91,640 for a director of nursing, according to Indeed in April 2022, to $243,400 for a chief nursing executive, according to Salary.com in April 2022.
How long does it take to become a nurse executive?
If an individual chooses to pursue both a BSN and an MSN degree, the length of the educational journey could be at least five years. This includes general education and prerequisite undergraduate courses.
The certification process typically does not take more than a few months if the applicant has completed the required continuing education hours and other requirements.
Is a DON (director of nursing) a nurse executive?
Yes, the DON is considered a nurse executive.
Resources for Nurse Executives
Page last reviewed April 24, 2022
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