How to Become a Nursing Director: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a nursing director. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career as a nursing director.

Should I Become a Nursing Director?

A nursing director supervises a nursing staff and works directly with patients and doctors in a hospital setting. In addition to administrative and management duties, nursing directors must be registered nurses and often take difficult or higher profile cases themselves.

Nursing directors, like other registered nurses, work in hospitals, clinics, and other medical care settings. They usually work full-time, although their hours may be irregular (such as 12-hour shifts), in the evenings, overnight, or on the weekends, depending on the employer. Nurses may be exposed to infectious diseases through patient contact. The job of a nursing director can be highly stressful, but great reward comes with helping others, as well. The following table contains the main qualifications for nursing directors:

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is required; master's degree is common
Degree Field Nursing and health care management
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required
Experience Experience in health care is required usually as registered nurses
Key Skills Active listening, speaking, critical thinking, time management, writing, management of personnel, and judgment and decision making skills, familiarity with analytical or scientific software, categorization or classification software, database user interface and query software, document management software, and medical software
Salary $92,810 per year (Median salary from May, 2014 for medical and health services managers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and O Net Online

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Though there are several education paths to become a registered nurse (RN), many nursing director positions require applicants to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A BSN program usually takes four years to complete and includes courses that focus on nursing science and principles, patient care, clinical procedures, research and nursing management.

Step 2: Earn Licensure

After earning a degree from an approved nursing program, candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination - Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN), as well as acquire any state-specific certificates to complete the nursing licensure process. While some entry-level RN positions require only an associate's degree and state-specific certificates or licenses, a bachelor's degree is necessary for advancement into management-level nursing positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 3: Gain Experience as a Registered Nurse

Nursing directors often begin their career as registered nurses and, after acquiring the appropriate experience, work their way up to the director positions. Most employers require director of nursing applicants to have a minimum of two years of experience as registered nurses. Registered nurses can find positions in physicians' offices, nursing homes or hospitals.

Step 4: Gain Experience in a Leadership Role

A director of nursing uses leadership and communication skills to oversee a large staff of registered and practical nurses, and they interact with patients and doctors, so previous supervisory experience is necessary. Registered nurses can work their way up to management positions, such as head nurse or assistant unit manager, which equip them with the leadership skills essential to advancing to director of nursing positions.

Step 5: Complete a Graduate Degree Program

Some employers may prefer to hire nursing directors who have a graduate degree in nursing or health services administration. A Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program usually takes two years to complete and includes courses that focus on ethics, management principles, pharmacology, health care finance and advanced research. Along with earning a graduate degree in nursing, candidates may need to complete additional certificate and licensing programs according to state requirements. After gaining leadership experience and earning a graduate degree in nursing or health care administration, a candidate is often qualified for a director of nursing position and can advance to other management, administrative and leadership roles.

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