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What does a Director of Nursing do?

Nursing often invokes images of bedside patient care, and for good reason: nurses set up IVs, administer medicine, and provide for the health and well-being of patients. But this is not the life of all nurses. As a director of nursing, your primary tasks will be administrative.

The director of nursing has tough shoes to fill. To be successful, first, you need to be an excellent nurse. Additionally, you need to possess a high level of tact, patience and strong leadership, listening and negotiation skills. On top of all this, you must be good with numbers, in particular, finances.

Becoming a director of nursing

Becoming a director of nursing does not happen overnight. Your first step, if you have not already done so, is to become a Registered Nurse, or RN. You can become a RN by earning a bachelor's or associate degree or by completing a hospital-administered diploma program.

While both bachelors' and associates' in registered nursing are widely available (unlike diplomas, which are hard to find), earning a bachelor's degree could allow the most direct entry into administrative positions. Increasingly, employers require master's degrees from nursing administrators. With a bachelor's degree, you can apply directly to graduate school.

Becoming a director of nursing, though, typically takes more than earning an RN degree. Lucky for you, there are plenty of educational programs--mostly at the graduate level--that offer degrees in nursing administration. These programs involve taking such courses as:
  • Health care policy
  • Advanced nursing research
  • Health care finance
  • Nursing administration
  • Human resources management
Furthermore, even as advanced degrees are often preferred for nursing administrators, it is possible to land such a job with a bachelor's degree. Doing so with an associate degree is a considerable challenge.

Director of nursing careers

Even with a shiny degree in hand, you need to practice as a RN before becoming an administrator. This is a good thing: How can you direct nursing without first being a nurse? A common route toward becoming a director of nursing involves the following steps:
  • Working as a RN
  • Becoming head nurse or assistant unit manager
  • Advancing to assistant director
  • Becoming director of nursing
And the steps don't have to stop there. For the very ambitious, there are vice president and chief of nursing positions, which carry high levels of responsibility and offer high pay. In general, the more administrative duties your job entails, the more it should pay.

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