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How to Become a Nurse Administrator

Ann Feeney, CAE
Updated August 4, 2022
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Nurse administrators are responsible for nursing leadership and outcomes. Learn how to become a nurse administrator and what the work is like.
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As a nurse administrator, you make a difference in the lives of all patients at your workplace, not just the ones you care for directly. You can exercise your leadership skills to improve nursing outcomes, retain quality staff, and build strong collaborations within your organization.

This guide explains how to become a nurse administrator and what the work is like. Discover if becoming a nurse administrator should be your next career move.

What Is a Nurse Administrator?

Nurse administrators lead nursing teams, typically in hospitals or health systems. They might also work in long-term care facilities. They are responsible for staffing, budgeting and spending, and quality management and outcomes.

To be a successful nurse administrator, you must excel in leadership and management, strategy, collaboration, and understanding and applying the best evidence-based practices. You must communicate with staff at all levels and from all departments. Understanding how the nursing team fits into the organization’s strategy is key.

In some organizations, nurse administrators still provide some direct patient care. In others, their roles are entirely administrative, with the possible exception of emergencies.

While nurse administrators work more traditional business hours, most medical facilities and hospitals have an on-call or on-duty nurse administrator for weekends, holidays, and the night shift. Typically, each shift has an on-call nurse administrator who does the bed assignments, admissions, and staffing.

Steps to Becoming a Nurse Administrator

Nurse administrators generally start as registered nurses (RNs) and move into administration as they develop experience. Many earn a graduate degree or certification in nursing administration. Most hospitals require that RNs have certification in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support.

  1. 1

    Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

    To become an RN, you must first earn a nursing degree, either an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor of science in nursing. An ADN takes two years; a BSN takes four. While many employers require or prefer a BSN for becoming a nurse administrator, if an ADN is the right degree for you now, you can later enroll in an RN-to-BSN degree program.

  2. 2

    Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive RN licensure.

    Once you graduate with your nursing degree, the next step in becoming a nurse administrator is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a multiple-choice examination on every nursing topic your classes covered, including nursing practice, communication, and legal and ethical aspects of nursing.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience as a nurse administrator

    Nurse administrators develop experience in management, leadership, and ongoing professional development. Finding a nursing mentor can be especially valuable. You can learn from their experience, and they can help you find advancement opportunities.

  4. 4

    Consider becoming a certified nurse administrator

    While certification is not a legal requirement for becoming a nurse administrator, many employers give preference to certification. Some require it. Several organizations offer nurse administrator certification.

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Nurse Administrator Education

The short answer to any question about how to become a nurse administrator is experience and education. The minimum required education is an ADN, but many employers, especially large academic medical centers, prefer a BSN or even a master of science in nursing (MSN). Some may require certification.

Employers also require experience as an RN, as do most certifications. While nurse practitioners can be nurse administrators, nurse practitioners and nurse administrators are different. Nurse administrators usually have their MSN in nursing education, nursing leadership, or nursing administration.

Nurse Administrator Licensure and Certification

Some hospitals have established career pathways that lay out how to become a nurse administrator, while others do not.

Becoming a nurse administrator always requires maintaining an RN license. Beyond that, you can enhance your qualifications by pursuing certifications or a graduate degree.

Certification options include nurse executive certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Other choices include certified nurse manager and leader or certified in executive nursing practice through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership. These certifications require experience in nursing leadership and passing a certification examination.

Working as a Nurse Administrator

Becoming a nurse administrator calls for the ability to see both the large organizational picture and the smaller one focused on nursing. You can develop this ability through active participation in organization-wide initiatives, taking on additional responsibilities, and demonstrating your leadership skills by coaching and mentoring staff.

You can also improve your chances for becoming a nurse administrator by developing your cultural competence and ability to improve health equity as a nurse. Experience and education in diversity, equity, and inclusion is increasingly important in healthcare.

Typical nurse administrator annual salaries range from $65,000 to $133,000, according to Payscale in August 2022. The average salary is $89,490. A higher degree, certification, and experience can help you negotiate the salary you want.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse Administrator

question-mark-circleWhat does a nurse administrator do?

Nurse administrators are responsible for the performance of a nursing team or department. Their responsibilities might include supervising nurses and other staff, managing staffing plans and schedules, and assessing outcomes.

They also budget and oversee expenditures, represent the nursing team or department in organization-wide or department-wide meetings, and communicate between departments.

question-mark-circleWhat makes a good nurse administrator?

A good nurse administrator communicates effectively with all staff and people from all backgrounds; maintains continual quality improvement; responds effectively to crises; and inspires trust at all levels.

question-mark-circleWhat is the quickest way to become a nurse administrator?

The quickest way is to earn an ADN, become an RN, and seek continuing professional education and opportunities to gain administrative experience and demonstrate your qualifications. However, for higher-level positions, you may need to earn a BSN or certification.

question-mark-circleDo nurse administrators get paid well?

According to Payscale in August 2022, the annual salary for a nurse administrator is $89,490. The top 10% of nurse administrator salaries are $133,000 or higher. These highest-paid roles often require many years of leadership experience and an advanced degree or other ongoing learning.

Page last reviewed July 13, 2022

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