The demand for strong leadership in nursing is on the rise as healthcare systems around the world face increasingly complex challenges. As a result, nurse managers are more critical than ever.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 28 percent from 2022 to 2032.

If you're a nurse hoping to step into a leadership role and make a significant impact in the healthcare industry, now is the perfect time to advance your career. Here’s everything you need to know about what a nurse manager is, and how to become one.

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What Is a Nurse Manager?

A nurse manager is a vital leader in healthcare. They play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the administrative and clinical aspects of healthcare by overseeing nursing staff and ensuring high-quality patient care.

“A nurse manager is the first person the staff goes to to problem-solve,” says Deborah Roy, Director of the RN-to-BS in Nursing degree program at Regis College.

Beyond overseeing the nursing staff, nurse managers also monitor patient care, manage department budgets, and schedule staff. These responsibilities often require a unique set of skills and qualities, including:

  • Clinical expertise
  • Critical thinking
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Negotiation
  • Advocacy
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Financial management
  • Medical equipment knowledge

While all of these competencies are important to successful nursing management, perhaps the most important is developing the emotional component of this line of work.

"Emotional intelligence is really important,” Roy emphasizes “Nurse managers deal with not only the nursing staff, but care extender staff, patients and families, and even physicians, pharmacists, and administrators."

Nurse managers can also expect a rewarding salary for the work they do. The average annual salary of a nurse manager is $122,500, but this can vary based on location, healthcare setting, level of education, and years of experience. For example, nurse managers in urban hospitals might earn more than those in rural clinics due to differences in cost of living and operational budgets.

If this leadership role interests you, here are some important steps you need to take to become a nurse manager.

How to Become a Nurse Manager

1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

If you want to become a nurse manager, you must already be a registered nurse (RN). However, that doesn’t mean you automatically have the right educational background. For example, many nurses have become RNs through an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program.

Nurse managers, on the other hand, need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This practical training is crucial for developing the confidence needed to provide high-quality patient care.

After completing your nursing education, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become licensed. This standardized exam assesses your knowledge and skills, ensuring you’re prepared for entry-level nursing practice.

While this licensure doesn’t mean you're ready to become a nurse manager, it does provide the foundation you need to achieve your long-term career goals.

2. Gain Relevant Experience

After becoming an RN, the next crucial step toward becoming a nurse manager is gaining relevant experience. Practical experience in various healthcare settings is vital for building the skills and knowledge needed for a management role.

Common healthcare settings where you can gain relevant experience include:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Long-term care facilities

Gaining relevant experience is essential to building credibility and trust with your team once you become a nurse manager.

“There’s a certain amount of credibility and trust that nurse managers need to develop with their staff which only comes from having years of experience,” Roy adds.

Experienced nurses who transition into management roles are often more respected and trusted by their peers, which is crucial for effective leadership. Therefore, past experience can lay a solid foundation for becoming a successful nurse manager.

3. Continue Your Education

While not always required, obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can significantly enhance your qualifications. An MSN program provides advanced training in both clinical practice and leadership, preparing you for the complex responsibilities of nurse management.

In addition to a degree program, pursuing certifications from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) can further bolster your credentials as well, including:

  • Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP)
  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML)

This commitment to continued education demonstrates a high level of competence and dedication to the field of nursing leadership, making you a more attractive candidate for nurse manager positions. They also provide opportunities for professional development and networking within the field.

4. Find a Mentor

One of the most valuable steps you can take on the path to becoming a nurse manager is finding a mentor. Networking and building professional relationships with experienced nurse managers can provide invaluable guidance and support as you advance in your career.

A mentor can offer insights into the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges of the role, helping you understand what to expect and how to prepare effectively. They can also share their experiences, offering practical advice on navigating the complexities of nursing management. “You really need a mentor either within the organization or outside the organization and is someone who’s working in the position you want,” Roy advises.

Having a mentor who’s already working in the position you want can provide specific, actionable advice that’s more tailored to your career goals. For example, they can help you identify areas for development, recommend relevant training or certifications, and offer constructive feedback on your performance.

By leveraging the experience and knowledge of those already in the role, you can gain valuable guidance, enhance your skills, and build a professional network that supports your career growth.

Take the First Step Toward Nursing Leadership

Becoming a nurse manager is a rewarding career path that offers numerous opportunities for professional growth and impact. However, you need to take the necessary steps to achieve your personal and professional goals. Transitioning into this role requires patience and adaptability as you navigate new challenges and responsibilities.

“You need to give yourself some grace,” Roy concludes. “There's a lot of new things you have to learn and some of your relationships will have to shift, particularly if you’re going to manage a unit you were previously working on.”

The RN-to-BS in Nursing degree program at Regis College is perfect for RNs who want to take their training to the next level. The program lasts 12 to 16 months and is available in online and part-time formats, giving working nurses the flexibility to work toward a leadership role while still working in the field.

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