How to Become a Nurse Administrator

Thinking about becoming a nurse administrator? Check out our detailed guide on the steps you’ll need to take.

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by Blake Weil

Published August 23, 2022

Reviewed by Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC

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How to Become a Nurse Administrator
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Nursing administration can be a great career for nurses with strong communication skills and attention to detail as well as an eye for business. Nurse administrators are the supervising managers of healthcare facilities' nursing teams. They recruit nurses, organize schedules, manage supplies, and connect the nursing team with the hospital staff. According to Payscale, the average nurse administrator's salary was $89,490 as of June 2022.

Becoming a nurse administrator involves school, licensure, and additional education to specialize in administration. Nurses should also gain clinical experience working in a hospital.

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Ready to start your journey?

What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?

A nurse administrator manages a nursing department for a healthcare facility or oversees an at-home nursing company. Nurse administrators start their careers as registered nurses (RNs) before specializing and changing careers. With experience and further education, such as a master's degree, a nurse administrator might manage a larger team or supervise other nurse administrators. Eventually, a nurse administrator might be promoted to a nurse executive, overseeing high-level nursing business decisions for a hospital or healthcare system.

Nurse Administrator Responsibilities

  • Manage the recruiting, staffing, and training of nurses for a department at a healthcare facility
  • Monitor nurses' performances, ensuring both quality patient care and adherence to all regulations
  • Oversee nursing department supplies and facilities
  • Communicate the status and needs of the nursing team to hospital administration

Nurse Administrator Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Steps to Become a Nurse Administrator?

The process of becoming a nurse administrator is based on education and experience. While it can be a long and potentially expensive journey, there are ways to make it both quicker and more affordable. Students and established RNs can pursue careers in nursing administration.

Step 1: Earn a BSN

For students pursuing a career in nursing administration, a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is the most common degree. As many states require a BSN to receive a nursing license, students seeking any sort of career in nursing should not pursue a different major.

In a BSN program, students learn the fundamentals of nursing, including health sciences, build soft skills such as communication, and gain practical experience working as a nurse. Those pursuing a career in nursing administration might consider a specialization or minor in management or human resources. Typical program costs vary considerably, from $100-$600 per credit, but affordable options are available.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam

The NCLEX is a national licensing exam to test nursing competency. As of 2022, it takes about five hours to complete and has about 145 questions. It focuses on four areas: Safe and Effective Care Environment, Health Promotion and Maintenance, Psychosocial Integrity, and Physiological Integrity. These are broken down into further subcategories.

The NCLEX is strictly pass-fail. Students can prepare with a wide variety of prep materials and practice tests.

Step 3: Get a Job in a Clinical Practice Setting

Someone looking to become a nurse administrator typically spends a few years working in an acute care setting. While earning money, they also gain useful experience dealing with the day-to-day life of nursing practice that will help them manage other nurses as administrators. According to Payscale, entry-level RNs earned an average of $68,590 annually in July 2022. Many nursing graduate programs also require minimum clinical hours or years of experience in a clinical setting.

Step 4: Earn Your MSN

While an advanced degree isn't necessary to become a nurse administrator, most have at least a master's degree. At the very least, an advanced degree can increase your earning potential.

An MSN can prepare a nurse for various future careers depending on their focus. These include:

  • Nurse Administrator
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Nurse Educator

Tuition varies wildly, but many online options can save students money. It makes sense to take stock of your financial and job state before deciding whether to go to graduate school and if it makes financial sense.

Step 5: Obtain Nurse Administration Certification

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a Nurse Executive Board Certification. To be eligible, a nurse must have a bachelor's degree or higher, have completed more than 2,000 hours of leadership experience in the past three years, and have completed 30 or more hours of continuing education in the last three years.

They then must pass a three-hour, 150-question exam to receive a certification of competency in nursing administration. It costs between $295-$395. This is an important step for further advancement as it shows skill and expertise in the industry.

What to Know Before Becoming a Nurse Administrator

Accreditation

It is important to pick an accredited degree program for your BSN and any potential future schooling. Accreditation ensures that a program is providing quality education. Only accredited degrees are valuable when seeking a job, as potential employers and licensing boards recognize them.

Cost

It can be expensive to pursue a nursing degree. A BSN costs a minimum of $40,000 in tuition, and that's before factoring in other expenses. Licensing, exam fees, and additional expenses like room and board and transportation can add up. Explore financial aid options and apply for scholarships and grants.

Salary

According to Payscale, nurse administrators earned an average of $89,490 per year as of June 2022. Additional education and years of experience can increase a professional's earning potential. Payscale highlights New York City as having particularly strong salaries for nurse administrators.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Nurse Administrator

What qualifications do you need to become a nurse administrator?

To become a nurse administrator, you need certain educational and experiential qualifications. The first thing you need is a bachelor's in nursing (BSN). Then, you need to pass the NCLEX exam to receive your nursing license. After that, a majority of nurse administrators work for some years before settling into their jobs as nurse administrators.

To receive an official Nurse Executive Board Certification from the ANCC, you must fulfill additional requirements. You need at least 2,000 hours of leadership experience in the past three years and 30 hours of continuing education credits in the past 30 years. You must also pass a certification exam. This certification is not needed for most nurse administrator jobs.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse administrator?

There aren't many shortcuts to becoming a nurse administrator. Those who are already registered nurses should pursue jobs that give them leadership and managerial experience and potentially pursue further education, such as an MSN or doctorate. New students should pursue a BSN and licensure as registered nurses.

RNs who have not yet obtained a bachelor's degree should work to upgrade whatever degree they hold to a BSN. Anyone returning to school can strengthen their application by taking additional classes or specializing in management or HR.

What is the difference between nursing administration and nursing management?

While management is a part of nursing administration, a nurse administrator is responsible for various tasks and has a higher level of independence. In addition to managing nurses who work under them, a nurse administrator also manages facilities, supplies, and regulatory matters. A nurse administrator also serves as the liaison to the rest of the hospital, advocating for the needs of the nursing department they work in.

They also tend to oversee complex cases that require coordination from the larger nursing team, such as organizing nursing for larger-scale events, like natural disasters.

Who does the nurse administrator report to?

A nurse administrator typically reports to higher management: either a president, executive officer, or vice president in charge of nursing. They are part of the executive team at a healthcare facility and, as such, have a large degree of responsibility and independence. In larger systems, a nurse administrator at the hospital level may report to a higher level administrator overseeing a full health system.

Nurse administrators also oversee nurse managers. In this role, they are the link between the nursing team and upper management.

How much money can I make as a nurse administrator?

Nurse administration is one of the highest-paying specializations within the nursing field. According to Payscale, nurse administrators earned an average of $89,490 annually as of June 2022. However, additional education and experience can increase a professional's earning potential. The primary factors influencing salary are level of education, years of experience, and job location. Certifications can also influence pay levels.

Possible avenues for promotion include CNO (chief nursing officer), vice president in charge of nursing, or nurse administrator for a larger population or healthcare system.

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