How to Become a Director of Nursing

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A director of nursing manages the continuum of care in a long-term care center, clinic or hospital. To provide high-quality care, these professionals interact with patients and their families, as well as physicians, all while managing an entire staff of nurses.

Progressive supervisory experience, along with advanced education, is required of a nursing director because the position requires a high degree of responsibility. In an entire department that focuses on patient care, the director of nursing becomes the point-person.

That is why skills in communication, leadership and creating policy can be at least as important as the academic background and nursing experience that qualify an applicant for the job.

Skills that will matter on the job

  • Nursing directors have to be top-level communicators. They have to keep the lines of communication open among doctors, patients, families of patients, health care providers (in addition to nurses), government officials and so on.
  • Nursing directors must have excellent leadership skills. The job is not for shy people or for people good at following but not leading. This requires, among other things, a very detailed knowledge of the ins and outs of nursing, as well as the latest trends and developments in the profession, and often also requires external legal and professional expertise.
  • Nursing directors manage not just nurses but also support people who provide health care, as well as non-health care staff.
  • Nursing directors help establish strategies and policies and consulted about laws and nursing board changes.
  • Nursing directors may be legally held responsible for events and occurrences in facilities where they work. So they need to have a good knowledge of policies and legal requirements across the board.
  • Nursing directors need to be good at managing stress.

How to get the job

These professionals often work their way up to nursing management after beginning their careers as registered nurses. A graduate degree and leadership experience in the field follow, rounding out the skills necessary for the position. With a bachelor’s degree and licensure in hand, here are three steps needed to become a director of nursing.

Step 1: Gain experience in the field

For most higher-level positions, such as director of nursing, employers require at least two to five years of RN experience, and more is better. With this experience, the degrees, and licensure, registered nurses can find director positions in hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians’ offices. However, about 60 percent of all registered nurses are hired by hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 2: Leadership role experience

Because directors typically interact with doctors and patients, as well as oversee a large staff of practical and registered nurses, supervisory experience is vital to the role. Directors will use both communication and leadership skills to accomplish most tasks. Furthermore, to gain the necessary leadership experience and become equipped with the leadership skills essential to the position, registered nurses work their way up. RNs will start at lower-level management positions such as assistant unit manager or head nurse, gain experience, and then continue up the ladder.

Step 3: Graduate degree program completion

Obtaining a master’s degree will help registered nurses with experience get a leg up as a director of nursing candidate. Nursing master’s degree programs have courses focusing on:

  • Advanced research
  • Health care policy and operations
  • Pharmacology
  • Management principles
  • Organizational leadership

These programs take approximately 2½ years to complete. Further, in addition to the master’s degree, some employers and/or states may require the completion of more licensing and certificate programs.

edited by Colin Seymour

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