How to Become a Nurse Administrator - Expert Guide

April 25, 2024


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

Curious about the career choices you have in nursing? Read on to learn more about how to become a nurse administrator, one of the most sought after professions in the healthcare industry!

When thinking about a nurse’s role, the most common image conjured up is a healthcare professional administering IVs, checking vitals, and monitoring patients. While all nurses have some experience with bedside nursing, there are other roles they can play within healthcare.

For instance, once you have some experience as an RN, you can work as a nurse administrator and play a larger executive role in the hospital or clinic you work for. Rather than providing bedside care, you’ll be overseeing other nurses, implementing policies, and developing training programs.  

If you’re interested in learning more, this guide will share the steps required to join this profession, their duties, and career outlook!

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Steps to Becoming a Nurse Administrator

To work as a nurse administrator, you need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), pass the NCLEX-RN exam, obtain a Master's in Nursing Administration, and gain experience working as a registered nurse (R.N.). Considering nurse administrators oversee other nurses, they require years of experience and training. 

However, there isn’t a definitive timeline to become a nurse administrator because there are several paths you can take to join this profession. Depending on your chosen path, it can take at least five to seven years. Here’s what these years will involve:

Step One: Maintain High Grades in High School

Although this step does not count towards the estimated timeline to secure a nurse administrator role, it’s essential you maintain high grades throughout high school to secure a spot at a top nursing school. Nursing schools offer limited seats each year and aim to fill them up with the most promising and academically talented students.

Step Two: Complete a Nursing Degree

There are two degrees students hoping to become RNs and eventually nurse administrators can choose from: an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). 

The former is the quickest option; it only takes two years and teaches you the basics of patient care. However, because an ADN  does not provide the same extensive research, clinical, and leadership experience as a BSN, it is less sought after by employers. 

Employers prefer RNs to have BSNs, which is a demanding and competitive four-year degree. However, the nursing administration degree you choose should align with your career goals and the level of responsibility you aim to achieve in the healthcare field. 

Step Three: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Once you’ve completed your nursing degree, you’ll have to write the NCLEX-RN to receive licensure to work as an independent practitioner. This exam has a relatively high passing rate but still requires adequate preparation.

It will test you on your ability to provide a safe and effective care environment, your healthcare promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and physiological integrity. 

Step Four: Consider a Master’s Degree

While earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is not required to become a nurse administrator, some employers will strongly prefer if you have one. 

Having this degree will also give you a competitive edge as an applicant. You may be able to secure a position as a nurse administrator with less experience than applicants who do not hold Master’s degrees.

If you have a BSN, these degrees take around two years to complete. If you have an ADN, some ADN-MSN programs typically take three years to complete.

Step Five: Gain Experience

Once you’ve completed your nursing education, you will have to gain significant experience in the field. The more advanced your education, the less experience you will require to qualify for nurse administrator positions.

For instance, nurses with ADNs typically require at least three years of clinical experience to become nurse administrators, whereas BSN and MSN holders usually only need at least one or two years. The exact amount of experience you need will depend on your employer, but the more experience you have, the better. 

Along with clinical experience, most jobs will require or prefer if you have some experience in nurse management or training.

Step Six: Consider Becoming Certified

You aren’t required to gain certification to work as a nurse administrator, but doing so can enhance your expertise and advance your career.

The most popular certifications nurse administers pursue include:

  • Nursing Executive Certification (NE-BC): for nurses with BSNs and at least two years of work experience in an upper-level nursing capacity
  • Nursing Executive Advanced Certification (NEA-BC): for nurses with MSNs, two years of work experience as a nursing administrator, and 30 hours of continuing education
  • Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC): for nurses with BSNs and at least two years of experience working as an RN
  • Certification in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP): for RNs with BSNs and at least four years of experience as a nurse leader or RNs with MSNs and at least two years of experience as a nurse leader
  • Certification in Nurse Management and Leadership (CNML): for nurses with BSNs and at least one year of experience in a nurse manager/leader role

The first three certifications are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the last two are offered by American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). All of these certifications involve examinations. 

What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?

Nurse administration involves management, policymaking, and training. They must know the ins and outs of healthcare in order to oversee other nurses and ensure their patients are provided with the best care! To do so successfully, nurse administrators perform the following specific duties:

  • Scheduling nursing shifts
  • Developing policies and procedures
  • Reviewing existing policies and procedures for improvement
  • Collaborating with boards and committees to increase performance
  • Coordinating with medical staff
  • Formulating and managing budgets
  • Ensuring staff follows regulations and safety procedures
  • Overseeing the recruitment and training of new nurses

As its title suggests, nurse administrators are responsible for many administrative tasks. As such, they rarely interact face-to-face with patients or treat them. These professionals often work in hospitals, clinics, and residential care facilities.

Nurse Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

Across the globe, there is a shortage of nurses, meaning there is a large job market for these professionals. Nurse administrators are also in high demand, with an expected job growth of 28% within the next decade. However, many nurses aim to join this profession, so there is typically fierce competition for these positions. 

Nonetheless, if you do secure a nursing administration position, your salary will reflect your extensive education and experience. The average salary for nurse administrators is around $104,830 per year, however, your pay potential depends on your location and experience.

For instance, nurse administrators in New York are paid the most, with median salaries of $171,620 a year

FAQs: How to Become a Nurse Administrator

We’ve explored the basics of nurse administration and what to expect in this role. To find the answers to any further inquiries about this profession, read on!

1. Is Being a Nurse Administrator Worth It?

When deciding if becoming a nurse administrator is worth it, there are several factors to consider. For one, reflect on your reasons for joining this field. If you are only entering the nursing field to become a manager so that you don’t have to interact with patients, this career is not the right fit for you. 

You will have to complete several years of clinical experience to qualify for these positions, and you will need to have a genuine passion for patient care to be an effective nurse administrator!

If you’re interested in patient care, policymaking, and management, then nurse administration is certainly worth it! You will play a large role within your healthcare organization and can make real change within it!

2. Is Nursing Administration a Good Career?

Yes, nursing administration is a great career that is highly sought after by nurses. You will not only have the authority to make changes to your hospital or clinic, but will be a leader in your field! You can also feel assured by the growing job market for nurse administrators, and expect a high salary once you join the profession. 

3. Are Nurse Administrators Nurses?

Yes, all nurse administrators are RNs. They must have considerable clinical experience working as nurses before they become nurse administrators.

4. How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Administrator?

It will take at least five to seven years to join this profession: 

  • MSN Path: six years to complete a BSN and MSN and at least one year of RN experience
  • BSN Path: four years to complete a BSN and at least two years of RN experience 
  • ADN Path: two years to complete an ADN and at least three years of RN experience

These are the minimum expectations to join the field. The most competitive nurse administrator candidates will exceed these expectations. They will also have some experience working in a nursing manager, trainer, or leader capacity.

5. Where Do Nursing Administrators Work?

Nurse administrators typically work in hospitals, physician’s offices, or at residential care facilities. 

6. Where Are Nursing Administrators Paid the Highest?

New York has the highest median salary for nurse administrators. 

Final Thoughts

The first step to joining the nursing field is understanding your career options. Now that you know what nursing administrators do and the impact you can have in this role, you can decide if it’s a match for you and if you’re ready to put in the time and effort required to join this profession!

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