What Is a Nurse Administrator?


In this colorful illustration, a nurse administrator is shown in profile, surrounded by an ID badge, a medication container and other health care-related imagery.

We picture nurses as the hands-on health care providers who juggle multiple tasks to keep us well. That’s definitely true. But in the field of nursing, it’s the nurse administrator who, you might say, juggles the nurses.

Nurse administrators supervise nurses and other health care team members. They recruit, hire and train nurses. Other responsibilities include building work schedules and conducting performance reviews.

Nurse administrators—sometimes called nurse managers, nurse directors or chief nursing officers—do not get directly involved with patient care. However, their job duties most assuredly affect patients’ experiences and outcomes. Administrators keep their staff motivated, oversee or provide needed training, and ensure that regulations are met, if not exceeded.

Because they operate in managerial roles, nurse administrators have to have a solid business sense, exhibit strong communication skills and be masterful at time management. In addition, they must possess an extensive medical background and training.

As mentioned, a nurse administrator doesn’t typically interact with patients. As a result, these professionals usually work out of an office (but may travel) and keep more traditional hours than an RN.

Nurse administrators are responsible for:

  • Maintaining the budget and reporting on financial matters.
  • Serving as a liaison between nurses and other hospital workers, including executives.
  • Establishing policies and procedures and ensuring staff is in compliance.
  • Developing a strategic vision for the hospital or department.

How Do You Become a Nurse Administrator?

Nurse administrators almost always start their careers as registered nurses, which means they usually have earned a bachelor’s of science in nursing. They must hold a postgraduate nursing degree—typically a master’s of science in nursing or a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or DNP)—and have extensive experience in the field.

Beyond those basics, a truly effective nurse administrator must have leadership ability.

For example, consider building up a tool kit of “soft skills” like critical thinking, problem-solving and emotional intelligence. After all, in this career, you supervise nurses, who, by definition, are spending their days in high-stress, high-stakes situations.

Supporting—not just supervising—these nurses means an administrator has to maintain a positive attitude (even at the end of a long day), remain calm during emergencies and give staff opportunities to expand their capabilities. Oh, and don’t forget you’ll have to balance the needs of a variety of stakeholders.

As an executive-level employee, a nursing administrator can earn more than $120,000 a year, though the median salary sits at about $81,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for registered nurses has been growing for decades, and so their supervisors are also in demand.

Most often, the administrators work in hospitals, but they may also oversee a network of hospitals or other health care facilities, such as nursing homes or long-term rehabilitation centers.

Ready for the Next Step?

If you’re ready to increase the responsibilities and rewards that come with an MSN degree, Elmhurst University’s nursing program will enable you to reach higher in your nursing practice. The program offers three areas of expertise for you to choose from: Clinical Nurse Leader, Nurse Educator, or Nurse Administrator.

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