Career Resources

How Do I Move From Nurse to Nursing Leadership?

Transitioning from bedside nursing to nursing leadership starts with supplementing your education and experience. Before you tackle these requirements, be sure it’s a position you really want to take on. Nurse leaders have extensive roles that require much more than telling other nurses what to do and differ from nursing house supervisors, whose role is primarily administrative and doesn’t require advanced education. While each hospital has its own qualifications for RNs wanting to transition to nurse leaders, certain steps are generally standard.

What Is a Nurse Leader?

Nurse leaders, also known as nurse managers or nurse administrators, have numerous responsibilities. They’re usually advanced practice RNs with a master’s degree and a strong clinical nursing background. Besides their responsibilities related to the nursing staff they supervise within a healthcare facility; they also have responsibilities from upper management. Some of the common responsibilities and duties of a nurse manager include:

  • Interviewing and hiring new nurses
  • Training, advising and coaching nurses
  • Creating nursing schedules to ensure the facility is fully staffed, providing quality care
  • Collaborating with medical staff
  • Resolving disputes on the hospital floor
  • Supervising daily unit operations
  • Disciplining and dismissing nurses
  • Planning treatments for patients
  • Maintaining medical health records
  • Developing and managing unit/department budgets and monitoring expenditures
  • Facilitating communication between upper management and nursing staff
  • Helping carry out the healthcare facility’s mission

Professional Experience Requirements

Nurse managers are often required to have at least five years of experience as a bedside nurse in either a hospital or a similar healthcare facility. New nurses should concentrate on learning clinical skills before tackling managerial skills. Honing your expertise in patient care is vital to becoming an effective leader to other nurses. Experienced nurses with aspirations of moving from bedside nursing to nursing leadership should supplement their current experience by working in different departments. Rotating between varied departments provides you with a more rounded experience that better prepares you to supervise nurses in various roles because you gain intimate knowledge of their daily tasks and the common problems that arise.

Education Needed To Move Into Management

You can begin your nursing career with an Associate Degree in Nursing, but if you want to move into management, you need at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The quickest way to accomplish this is to complete an RN-to-BSN program if you currently hold an ADN. However, a BSN is the minimum. It can be difficult to earn a nurse manager position without an advanced degree. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing degree or higher prepares you for the increasingly complex demands of a leadership role in healthcare. Continuing your education also can help hone your administrative skills to pair with the clinical skills you’ve obtained on the job. 

Many major healthcare institutions employ nurse leaders with an MSN, but some seek those with a Master’s in Business Administration. To facilitate the best of both worlds, some universities offer a coordinated MSN-MBA. A dual nursing, business administration degree combines management, finance and marketing within a framework designed for nursing and healthcare administration. Graduates learn how to effectively manage departmental budgets while supervising nurses and other healthcare employees. Even when an advanced degree isn’t required, earning one certainly makes you a more appealing candidate for supervisory positions.

Certifications Help Smooth the Move

Professional certifications are another way to increase your appeal as a nurse leader and may help you move into higher-level managerial positions if your job prospects have stalled. Certifications related to nurse management enhance your professional credibility and demonstrate you have the skill to lead others. Each credential has set criteria for eligibility and requires applicants to pass an exam to earn certification. Nurses seeking supervisory roles have several certification options, including:

  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) credentials earned through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) are designed exclusively for nurse leaders in the nurse supervisor role. Applicants must have a BSN or higher with one year of experience in a nurse manager role or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree with three years of experience in a comprehensive leadership support role. They must pass a 115-question exam that covers human resource management, performance improvement, financial management and strategic management, among others.
  • Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) certification through the AONL is designed for current nurse leaders engaged in executive nursing practice. Applicants must have an MSN or higher with two years of experience or a BSN with four years of experience in an executive nursing role. The 175-question exam covers knowledge of the healthcare environment, communication and relationship building, business skills, leadership and professionalism.
  • Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is for nurses who typically supervise a single group of nurses and/or non-nursing staff and focus on staffing, daily operations, staff development, individual/group performance and making tactical decisions. Applicants must have a BSN or higher and at least 2,000 hours of experience in a leadership role involving the daily operations of one or more units/departments and 30 hours of continuing education in leadership within the last three years.
  • Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC) through the ANCC is for nurses who typically supervise multiple groups of nurses or non-nurse personnel and operations. Applicants must have a graduate degree with either their BSN or graduate degree in nursing. They must have at least 2,000 hours of experience in a leadership role that includes nursing and responsibility for operations on an organization-wide or system-wide level and 30 hours of continuing education in leadership within the last three years.

Nursing Leadership Salary Considerations

Nurse managers’ salaries vary by region, experience and many other factors, but average salaries reflect the significant education, experience and continued development required for these positions. The average annual wage of medical and health services managers was $104,280 in May 2020, which works out to about $50.13 per hour in a 40-hour workweek. Medical and health services managers include clinical managers who oversee specific departments, such as nursing departments. In comparison, the average hourly wage for registered nurses was $37.24, which works out to not quite $77,500 annually.

All nurses remain in high demand and this demand is only expected to increase. As the rate of employment of RNs grows as does the need for nurse leaders to manage them. As a nurse manager, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on staff and patients alike. Transitioning from bedside nursing to nursing leadership requires years of hard work, smart career choices and a positive attitude that undoubtedly pay off in the end.

Join Vivian Health and let us help you make the leap to nursing leadership. We can help you find your next healthcare job faster and easier than ever before.

Moira K. McGhee

Moira K. McGhee has been a professional writer since 1999. She’s written 1,000s of print or digital feature articles, blogs, advertorials, how-to guides, and landing pages throughout her career. Her work has been featured in several nationally distributed magazines, on numerous websites, and in two super-fun cozy crime anthologies. Moira especially enjoys writing about nurses and the amazing jobs they do!

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