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Nurse Administrator Career Overview

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Nurses interested in healthcare management should consider a career as a nurse administrator. These highly trained and well-paid professionals oversee nursing staff in healthcare facilities and physician group practices. In larger hospitals, they may manage a department or clinical specialty.

What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?

BSN required
certification optional


Nurse administrators bring the experience, knowledge, and skills gleaned in prior clinical practice to provide operational management and strategic leadership to nursing staff in healthcare organizations. Specific roles and responsibilities may include:

Primary Responsibilities

  • Collaborating with boards and committees to set performance goals
  • Conducting performance reviews
  • Coordinating with medical staff
  • Developing policies and procedures
  • Facilitating professional development activities
  • Formulating and managing budgets
  • Monitoring compliance with laws and regulations
  • Recruiting and hiring nurses
  • Representing nursing staff in meetings
  • Scheduling nursing shifts

Key Skills

Analytical, communicative, interpersonal, leadership, attention to detail, technical skills

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Where do Nurse Administrators Work?

Thirty-three percent of nurse administrators work in hospitals, 12% in physicians’ offices, and 10% in residential care facilities. Common duties in each of these workplaces include:

Hospitals


Develop and implement departmental procedures, policies, and goals; direct and evaluate nursing staff; prepare reports and budgets.

Physicians’ Offices


Collaborate with medical and administrative staff; hire and train nurses; manage patient billing and recordkeeping.

Residential Care Facilities


Supervise nursing staff; oversee finances and facility maintenance; manage residents’ care.

Why Become a Nurse Administrator?

The advantages of becoming a nurse administrator include greater opportunities and larger paychecks, but nurses who entered the field to treat patients directly may find themselves too far removed from patient care. RNs can become licensed in two years, but a nursing administrator may need to devote an additional 2-3 years to earning a master’s degree.

Advantages to Becoming a Nurse Administrator

  • Much faster-than-average projected job growth rate of 32% from 2019-2029
  • High annual salaries averaging $110,000 in hospitals, $92,000 in physicians’ offices, and $87,000 in residential care facilities
  • Career path options include chief nursing officer, nurse manager, and nursing director
  • Fewer physical demands than in traditional nursing roles

Disadvantages to Becoming a Nurse Administrator

  • Distance from direct patient care
  • More paperwork and meetings
  • Additional education potentially required
  • Probability of engagement in conflict resolution

How to Become a Nurse Administrator

The path to become a nurse administrator will vary depending on leadership experience. To minimum qualifications include an RN license and BSN but many employers may prefer a graduate degree.

Earn a BSN.
Nurse administrators need a BSN at minimum. BSN programs typically take four years to complete, and graduates can apply for their RN licenses.

Pass the NCLEX-RN to Receive RN Licensure.
A passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination qualifies nurses for RN licensure. Most BSN-holders take the exam about a month after graduation.

Gain Required Nursing Experience.
Licensed RNs can begin logging clinical nursing hours. Graduate nursing programs and certification organizations may require specific hours or years of work experience.

Advance your Career with a Graduate Degree.
Graduate degree-holders enjoy more opportunities, and many employers require a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), dual master of health administration/MSN, or doctor of nursing practice/DNP.

Consider Applying for Certification.

Types of Nurse Administrator Roles

bsn Required
High Demand

Nurse Administrator

Often employed at residential care facilities, nurse administrators oversee nursing staff, ensure compliance with laws and regulations, and work to improve patient care.
Salary $88,000*
Job Outlook 32% increase from 2019-2029

msn Required

Chief Nursing Officer

CNOs usually work in hospitals directing and managing nursing activities, designing and implementing patient care strategies, collaborating with leadership, and handling budgeting and planning.
Salary $132,000*
Job Outlook 4% increase from 2019-2029 (for top executives)

bsn Required
High Demand

Nurse Manager

Nurse managers supervise nursing staff at hospitals and physicians’ offices. They perform duties such as scheduling, formulating patient care policies, hiring and training, and conflict resolution.
Salary $84,000*
Job Outlook 32% increase from 2019-2029

msn or dnp Required
High Demand

Nursing Director

Nursing directors work in a variety of healthcare facilities, supervising nursing staff, preparing and monitoring budgets, coordinating with physicians and other staff, and addressing patients’ needs.
Salary $88,000*
Job Outlook 32% increase from 2019-2029

*SOURCE: PayScale

How Much Do Nurse Administrators Make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists nurse administrator salary data under medical and health services managers. According to the BLS, these nurse leaders earn a median annual salary of $104,280 or an average annual salary of $118,800. Government nurse administrators can expect to earn a median wage of $112,000, followed by hospital nurse leaders at $110,000. Nurse administrators make a median salary of $95,000 at outpatient care centers, $92,000 in physicians’ offices, and $87,000 at nursing and residential care facilities.

The tables below outline the top-paying states, metropolitan areas, and industries for nurse administrators.

Top Paying States for Nurse Administrators

Top Paying StatesAverage SalaryTotal Number of Medical and Health Services Managers
District of Columbia$150,0401,600
New York$147,00025,740
Hawaii$133,3201,540
California$133,04036,940
Massachusetts$132,96015,810
Source: BLS

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Nurse Administrators

Top Paying Metropolitan AreasAverage SalaryTotal Number of Medical and Health Services Managers
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA$163,280420
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$159,190450
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT$154,5701,200
Salinas, CA$154,440280
Hanford-Corcoran, CA$145,340120
Source: BLS

Top Paying Industries for Nurse Administrators

IndustryAverage Salary
Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing$204,300
Scientific Research and Development Services$169,240
Wholesale Electronic Markets and Agents and Brokers$162,880
Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing$159,910
Chemical Manufacturing$155,180
Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take to become a nurse administrator?

    Nurse administrators must hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Most BSN programs take four years to complete; however, accelerated or bridge programs admit licensed RNs. An MSN may be required by some employers, which adds 2-3 more years to the educational timeline. Nurse administrators should also log a year or two of clinical work as an RN.

  • How do I get a job in healthcare administration with no experience?

    Students can pursue a master of healthcare administration (MHA), which does not require a healthcare management background for admission. An MHA focuses on the business of healthcare and educates graduates on government regulations, healthcare ethics, health informatics, and insurance reimbursement systems, along with leadership and strategic planning.

  • How can I make a career change to nursing administration?

    RNs can streamline their path to a nursing administration career through RN-to-MSN bridge programs. Students can graduate in 2-3 years rather than spending four years earning a BSN and another 2-3 pursuing an MSN. Many programs offer nursing administration concentrations, often called nurse executive or leadership tracks.

  • What can you do with an MSN/MBA?

    A dual MSN/MBA degree provides another pathway into nursing administration and leadership. The three-year curriculum typically includes coursework in accounting, financial management, and healthcare informatics. Graduates obtain nursing administration jobs as nurse managers, chief nursing officers, departmental directors, and directors of compliance. These positions generally command high salaries.

Resources for Nurse Administrators


  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership AONL boasts a community of 10,000 nurse leaders and provides links to crisis and coronavirus resources, hosts programs and events, and credentials nurse leaders. Membership is not required to access the job listings, podcasts, and some of the other resources, but it is required to read articles in the bi-monthly magazine and attend free webinars.

  • AONL Career Center The career center lists job postings for positions in nurse leadership, including administrative nurse manager, chief nursing officer, and clinical director. Job seekers can browse employment opportunities as guests, but those who set up an account can post their resumes, apply for jobs through the site, and sign up for job alerts.

  • American College of Healthcare Executives ACHE welcomes MHA students, seasoned professionals, and healthcare leaders transitioning from military service. ACHE features communities, forums, and networks, including Asian Healthcare Leaders, healthcare consultants, and early careerists, and offers scholarships and educational resources for students. Students pay less than half the dues of regular membership.

  • Organization of Nurse Leaders New England-based ONL seeks to advance a culture of health and serves its members with educational and networking events, committee opportunities, recognition awards, and knowledge resources, such as position statements, job postings, and links to information relevant to nurse leaders. The ONL Foundation invests in leaders who aim to transform nursing care.

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Reviewed by:

Portrait of Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne, DNP, FNP-BC

Anna-Lise Krippaehne is a recent graduate from the University of Portland’s doctor of nursing practice program. She received her bachelor’s in nursing science from the University of Portland in 2012, and worked in acute care providing bedside nursing care on a general surgical unit for eight years at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington before pursuing her doctorate.

There, she also assisted in teaching new graduate nurses through simulation experiences with Swedish’s Nurse Residency Program, in addition to contributing to several quality improvement projects during her tenure. She will soon begin her first position on faculty as a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Oregon Health & Science University’s Family Practice Department in Portland, Oregon.

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