Nurse managers play pivotal roles in hospitals or health care facilities. They perform dual roles as providers of clinical care and administrative leaders of nursing departments, guiding and directing their colleagues in order to maintain harmony and efficiency in the workplace.

History’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, worked as a nurse manager and trainer during the Crimean War in the mid-1850s. Nightingale later founded the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London in 1860 — a facility that is still in operation today. Keep reading to learn more about duties and educational requirements involved with becoming a nurse manager.

What is a Nursing Manager?

Nurse managers are registered nurses who have made the transition from routine clinical care to management. Although they still rely on their clinical expertise, they must also utilize their leadership and management skills in order to oversee and coordinate the entire nursing staff.

Nurse managers perform a wide range of administrative duties that are crucial for smooth operations, such as maintaining adequate staffing levels, creating schedules, providing periodic performance reviews of staff nurses, and similar administrative functions.

Nurse managers strive to achieve a healthy work-life balance for their nursing staff, as well as nurture strong working relationships between lower-level staff and upper-level management. Many of the additional duties routinely performed by nurse managers include:

  • Hiring new nurses and sustaining nurse retention
  • Nurse training and mentoring
  • Execution of strategic organizational goals for the nursing department
  • Budgeting, records management and scheduling
  • Motivation for professional excellent among staff
  • Maintaining proper levels of patient care and satisfaction

Working as a nurse manager requires organizational, managerial, clerical and financial acumen. The position carries a great deal of responsibility in organizations both large and small, and requires specialized training outside of the extensive clinical preparation that registered nurses complete.

Nurse Managers Skills

Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Source: O*NET® 22.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,

Step One: Earn Your Education

Nurse managers begin their careers the same way as other registered nurses: by completing a Bachelor of Science degree (or similar) in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

After earning state licensure, prospective nurse managers usually work for several years or more in a clinical setting to gain nursing experience and log clinical hours — a prerequisite by many employers for nurse management positions. While some nurse manager positions may not require candidates to possess a master’s degree, many nurse managers opt to advance their education to the graduate level by completing Master of Science degree programs in nursing, healthcare or business administration. These advanced nursing programs can help nurse managers to learn and/or refine crucial managerial, organizational and financial skills.

Many U.S. colleges offer M.S. degrees in nursing with concentrations in either nurse leadership or nurse management. A sample of the curriculum in these programs might include study in the following areas:

  • Nurse leadership
  • Leadership competencies in nursing and healthcare
  • Inter-professional organizational and systems leadership
  • Managing human resources
  • Strategic planning for healthcare organizations
  • Finance and economics in healthcare delivery
  • Using technology to transform nursing and healthcare

Nurses who wish to work as nurse managers can complete either B.S.N. to M.S.N or RN to M.S.N programs. Length of nurse management or nurse leadership programs varies depending upon the nurse’s prior educational obtainment and overall program requirements.

Step Two: Earn Your Certification

All nurse managers must earn and maintain state licensure from the board of nursing in their home state. However, there is also certification to consider. Certification is important because it demonstrates to potential employers that nurse managers have mastered core competencies related to their career, helping to describe and reinforce a candidate’s capability and dedication.

The following certifications are a few of the more prevalent options in the field of nurse management:

  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML): This certification — offered by the American Organization of Nurse Executives, or AONE — is intended for nursing leaders working in healthcare settings, and can be earned by passing an exam. The exam consists of 115 questions in four core areas: human resource management; financial management; strategic management and technology; and performance improvement. The certification must be renewed every three years.
  • Certified Executive in Nurse Practice (CENP): Also offered by the AONE, this certification is meant for nurse leaders who work in executive management. The certification demonstrates core competencies in the following areas: business and leadership; communications and relationship building; health care knowledge; and workplace professionalism. The certification is valid for three years and must be renewed.
  • Nurse Executive, Board Certified (NE-BC): Offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, this certification is valid for five years. The exam to earn this certification consists of 175 questions. Candidates must hold an active RN license, have earned a bachelor’s degree, and have worked in an administrative position for at least 24 months. They must also have completed 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration.

Step Three: Continuing Education

All nursing professionals are required to complete continuing education courses in order to maintain their licenses. Continuing education also is an important aspect of renewing nurse manager certifications. Organizations such as the American Nurses Credential Center and American Organization of Nurse Executives offer self-directed online and print-based continuing education modules and materials that are tailored to the field of nurse management and nurse leadership.

There are many other resources available for continuing education in this field as well. Nurse managers should check with their state board of nursing about continuing education requirements for their RN licensing, and with their credentialing organization for certification renewal requirements.

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