How to Become a Nurse Executive

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Nurse executive is frequently a management position within large health care organizations such as hospitals, government agencies, insurance companies and similar entities. The job entails policy-setting and supervision of internal groups and dozens of subordinates, often including other nurses and others in support positions.

Nurse executives also help coordinate interactions between physicians and nurses within large organizations, including nurses’ training, hiring, assignment and promotion.

Work environment and job duties

Most nurse executive positions are established in large health care provider facilities or in regulatory agencies. These jobs can exist in hospitals or with insurance companies, government health services and even home health entities.

Nurse executives usually face significant demands and decision-making responsibilities within their organizations. Executives also spend a great amount of time dealing with outside parties with which a health care organization might interact. These can include patient advocacy groups, attorneys, the government, local community leaders and more.

The work involved tends to fall under management and design of patient care by a provider or insurance coverage provider. Often, the executive dictates the business processes to be followed and the resources to be committed. Financial management and budgeting are also involved.

Requirements and education

Eligibility to be considered for an executive nurse position usually requires an advanced degree, and nearly always requires extensive experience in nursing.

A candidate also should have a master’s degree in nursing. Many employers require a background in general business, usually in the form of a college minor or as a dual major with the nursing degree. The Wilkes master of science with a nurse executive concentration includes coursework in business concepts and organizational leadership, along with study of health care policy.

After acquiring direct experience as a registered nurse, an executive hopeful can then pursue certification from the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) to become a certified nurse executive.


The salary and other compensation for a nurse executive often depend on the type of organization, the geographical location, whether it is in a rural or urban center, and the size of the organization.

The lower end of the spectrum for an executive typically paid in rural areas and government agencies ranges from about $50,000 to $75,000. For highly concentrated urban areas and positions in large organizations or insurance companies, salaries can range from $65,000 to $150,000.

The majority earn salaries from $60,000 to $140,000, according to a 2013 AONE survey. More than half of nurse leaders employed by consulting firms reported salaries of $140,000 or more. The highest salaries went to nurse executives, or chief nursing officers, employed by health systems or corporate offices, and the survey found a correlation between salary level and years of leadership experience.

edited by Colin Seymour

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