Nursing Administration Definition, Responsibilities & Certifications


Healthcare centers have a variety of managers depending on the number of staff and patients. There are facility managers, clinic managers, office managers, health information managers, information technology managers, human resource managers, and more. Many clinics, hospitals, and long term care centers choose to have a specialized manager oversee nursing staff and patient care. This is the work of nurse administrators.

Nursing administration is a leadership role in a given healthcare setting. This strategic management of staff, patients, and facilities is done by implementing policies written by the nurse administrator or more senior staff. Nurse administrators may not be involved with the day-to-day care of patients but rather are occupied with scheduling, managing budgets, overseeing nurses, writing reports, and ensuring a high quality of patient care.

The work nurses perform is very specialized, which is why nursing administration is critical to a smooth-running healthcare center. The best person to supervise nurses is another nurse who has specialized training in leadership and management. The American Nurses Association (ANA) publishes the “Nursing Administration: Scope and Standards of Practice,” which details field-tested best practices for this department. A nursing administrator’s main tasks are to assess both patients and staff; identify issues, problems, and trends; identify outcomes; develop a plan to reach desired outcomes; and implement the plan.

According to the ANA, an outstanding nursing administration department will enhance the quality and performance of the nursing practice at their facility. The nursing administration department will also participate in and provide continuing education opportunities, collaborate with other departments, use ethics to inform decision making, and base care for patients off of peer-reviewed research.

Nurses who wish to move into nursing administration can do so through a combination of education and on the job training. Most nurse administrators have completed at least a master’s degree. This master’s can be in healthcare administration (MHA) or more typically, it is a master’s in nursing (MSN) with additional coursework in leadership and management.

Assuming leadership roles while working as a registered nurse can help prepare prospective nurse administrators prepare for this line of work. Working as a charge nurse, volunteering on work committees, or participating in leadership opportunities outside of work signal to employers that a nurse is seeking advancement. Additionally, earning certifications such as the nurse executive certification through the American Nurses Credential Center (ANCC) is an excellent way to demonstrate the necessary skills to become a nurse administrator.

Due to an aging Baby Boomer population, there is an increased demand in the United States for healthcare services. This means there is a greater need for professionals at all healthcare levels, including nurse administrators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019) estimates that between 2018 and 2028, there will be an 18 percent increase in jobs for healthcare managers.

Continue reading to learn more about this growing career, including what a nurse administrator does, how to become one, what certifications are available, and what wages are for this growing field.

What Do Nurse Administrators Do? Duties & Responsibilities

Nurse administrators are members of the management team in a given healthcare setting. They are employed in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, public health offices, and large clinics. While they may occasionally interact with patients, their primary responsibility is managing a team of nurses. Over the course of a given day, nurse administrators will wear many different hats to ensure quality care is provided and facility and state regulations are upheld.

Titles for nurse administrators vary based on the place of employment and scope of duties. Nurse administrators can be nurse managers, nursing supervisors, directors of nursing, vice presidents of nursing, and even chief nursing officers (CNO). Day-to-day responsibilities will vary based on the place of employment and the kind of patients served, but typical job duties include:

  • Hiring, supervising, and firing of nursing staff
  • Scheduling shifts to ensure there are enough nurses to serve the patients
  • Writing and adhering to a departmental budget
  • Attending managerial meetings
  • Addressing patient complaints
  • Ensuring accurate record keeping is happening
  • Providing educational opportunities for nurses to meet their continuing education requirements
  • Writing reports on departmental performance for senior staff
  • Participating in fundraising efforts should they work for a non-profit institution
  • Planning and facilitating staff meetings
  • Ensuring the facility upkeep happens
  • Overseeing projects

A successful nurse administrator will be collaborative, forward-thinking, self-motivated, creative, and diplomatic. They must be able to handle pressure with ease and be able to manage conflict amongst their staff. Strong leadership skills are also required as well as a compassionate nature for both their nurses and their patients.

How to Become a Nurse Administrator

Education, training, and experience are all necessary to become a nurse administrator. Below is one possible path to embark on a career in nursing administration.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (Four Years)

While aspiring nurses can enter this field with an associate degree, those pursuing a nursing administration career will be required to complete more education. At a minimum, a bachelor’s degree is required to enter this field. There are numerous bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) programs across the country. Students who aspire to be in administration will benefit from taking on leadership roles such as joining student nursing association chapters or student government.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse (Timelines Vary)

Nursing administrators must hold an active nursing license. Also, most nursing administration master’s programs require applicants to be registered nurses. Requirements to become a registered nurse vary by state, so applicants should check with their local board to ensure they meet all the requirements. The most common requirements are to hold an associate or bachelor’s in nursing, pass a background check, and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Step 3: Gain Work Experience (One Year Minimum)

Since nursing administration is a leadership position, work experience is required. Aspiring nurse administrators should look for opportunities to take on leadership roles such as becoming a charge nurse, volunteering for work committees, and shadowing supervisors to learn the additional skills necessary for this career.

Step 4: Complete a Graduate Degree in Nursing Administration (Two to Four Years)

In most cases, an advanced degree is required to become a nurse administrator. The most common master’s degrees completed are a master of science in nursing (MSN), a master’s in health administration (MHA), or a master of business administration (MBA) dual degree program. These programs can often be completed online allowing a student to continue working while furthering their education.

Step 5: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timelines Vary)

Certification is not required for nurse administrators. However, earning a certification can help nurse administrators stand out when applying for a job and even command higher salaries. The most common credentials are through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE).

Certification Requirements for Nurse Administrators

It is highly recommended that aspiring nurse administrators earn certification. This voluntary process is an excellent way to demonstrate a specific level of education and experience to prospective employers. It also shows they are dedicated to advancing their career.

The common certification nurse administrators earn is either Nurse Executive or Nurse Executive, Advanced through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Requirements for the Nurse Executive certification are:

  • Have a current RN license
  • Complete a bachelor’s degree or higher in nursing
  • Have at least 24 months of experience in the last five years of administrative work experience or hold a faculty position educating graduate students
  • Have a master’s degree in nursing administration or complete at least 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years

For the Nurse Executive, Advanced certification, candidates must:

  • Have a current RN license
  • Complete a master’s degree or higher in nursing or have a bachelor’s in nursing and a master’s in another field
  • Have at least 24 months of experience in the last five years of administrative work experience or hold a faculty position educating graduate students
  • Have a master’s degree in nursing administration or complete at least 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years

How Much Does a Nursing Administrator Make?

Working in nursing administration can be quite lucrative versus working as just a registered nurse. The added responsibilities and skills required for this role are commensurated with higher wages. Nursing administrators are classified as medical and health services managers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), and they earn $115, 160 per year on average, with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $58,820
  • 25th percentile: $76,770
  • 50th percentile (median): $100,980
  • 75th percentile: $133,520
  • 90th percentile: $189,000

Certifications, work experience, and advanced degrees can all contribute to higher wages for nurse administrators.

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.

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