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How to Become a Charge Nurse

Learn how to become a charge nurse. Research the education requirements, licensure information, and experience required for starting a career as a charge nurse. View article »

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  • 0:03 Should I Become a…
  • 1:09 Career Requirements
  • 2:19 Steps to Become a Charge Nurse

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who plan and coordinate the nursing care provided in a given nursing unit or a given shift, assigning tasks to ensure the unit or shift runs efficiently. Charge nurses intercede in difficult situations and institute emergency procedures. They also monitor patient care and provide education on hospital policies and practices.

Outside of a charge nurse's supervisory duties, their day-to-day work environments are identical to those of registered nurses. They work in medical care settings, such as doctors' offices, hospitals, urgent care clinics, and nursing homes. The job can be very stressful, although caring for others is also rewarding. Working as a nurse is physically demanding. They help move and lift patients, spend long hours walking and standing, and must react very quickly when medical emergencies occur. There is also a risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Charge nurses work full-time, although their schedules may include evenings, nights, weekends, and on-call hours.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degrees, diplomas, or bachelor's degrees
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and Certification Must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) and meet any other state requirements; in addition, certification in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support and pediatric advanced life support may be required
Experience At least three years of experience, with at least one year of experience in a specialization
Key Skills Compassion, with sound judgment, and have critical-thinking, customer service, and organizational skills; familiarity with the technology of their field, which includes IDX Systems, the Microsoft Office Suite, the Eclipsys Sunrise Clinical Manager, Misys Healthcare Systems software, QuadraMed Affinity Healthcare Information System, and Siemens SIENET Sky
Salary (2015) $67,490 (median annual salary of all registered nurses, which include charge nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com job postings in July 2012, O*Net Online, PayScale.com

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Steps to Become a Charge Nurse

What do I need to do to become a charge nurse?

Step 1: Earn a Degree or Diploma in Nursing

Prospective charge nurses begin their career path by completing the education needed to become a registered nurse. This can take the form of a nursing diploma, which can be acquired through a hospital-based instruction program or postsecondary institution, or an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. A diploma or associate's degree program in nursing typically takes two to three years to complete. A bachelor's degree program in nursing generally takes four years. The nursing curriculum may include courses in anatomy, psychology, physiology, and pharmacology, as well as clinical rotations.

You may want to consider an advanced education in nursing. An associate's degree or diploma program in nursing can provide the education necessary to become an RN and eventually a charge nurse. However, a more advanced education, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, offers extra training in areas necessary for effective leadership, such as critical thinking and communication. A bachelor's degree program also might offer extra clinical time in non-hospital settings and may be required for administration and consulting positions.

Step 2: Earn Licensure

Every state requires that nurses be licensed. The NCLEX-RN, offered through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, can be taken after graduation from a licensed nursing program and is a required aspect of licensure. Individual states may have additional licensing requirements. Therefore, nursing students should check in their states to ensure that the state licensing requirements are met.

Step 3: Gain RN Experience

Charge nurses typically need at least three to five years of experience as an RN. Nurses care for patients, administer tests, provide medication, educate patients, and observe patient conditions, usually under the direction of a health care provider, such as a doctor or a nurse practitioner. They typically perform these duties in a hospital, clinic, or nursing home setting.

It's a good idea to earn nursing experience in a specialization. Hospitals often prefer to hire charge nurses who have experience in the same field as the opening. For example, a nurse who wants to be a charge nurse in a maternity ward would be best served by getting RN experience in a maternity ward or similar unit.

You will also want to develop your communication and people skills. Much of the work a charge nurse does involves communicating with fellow nurses as well as patients. The ability to keep lines of communication open, explain assignments clearly, and provide instruction is important for a charge nurse.

Use your experience to learn how to prioritize tasks and assignments. Not every task in a unit or shift is of equal importance, and priorities can shift rapidly during emergency situations. A nurse can utilize experience in a clinical setting to learn to prioritize tasks and assignments during a shift. This is an important skill for a charge nurse and one that may impress potential employers.

Charge nurses are RNs who manage the nursing care provided in a given nursing area. They have college degrees, licenses, and certifications required by their locations. They have strong organizational skills, along with proficiency using patient-centered technology, and they earn a median annual salary of $67,490.

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