How to Become a Charge Nurse


    Two nurses discussing with a clipboard in a hospital

    If you’re considering becoming a charge nurse, your interest in nursing extends beyond patient care — you also want to be a leader within your field. Charge nurses oversee specific departments and are responsible for the many details that make a unit run smoothly. While charge nurses have bedside responsibilities, they are also the person who coordinates the schedules and assigns each nurse’s duties and responsibilities. They ensure that admissions and discharges are running smoothly and that all supplies and medications are available as needed, while also being available to communicate with patients and family members should an issue require attention.

    To help you decide whether a career as a charge nurse is right for you, we’ve assembled this guide. It will provide the answers to the most frequently asked questions about being a charge nurse and give you real insights into what to expect from this essential role.

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    FAQs

    • What Is a Charge Nurse? 

      • A charge nurse is both a clinical care professional and a leader who assumes some responsibilities for the nurses and support staff on a unit on a particular shift.
    • What Degree Do You Need to Be a Charge Nurse?

      • Charge nurses are Registered Nurses. Though most have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), those who have earned their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are likely to be looked on more favorably when a charge nurse position is available.
    • Can an LVN/LPN Be a Charge Nurse? 

      • An LPN can be a charge nurse if they have a significant amount of clinical experience and have demonstrated the necessary leadership skills for the role.
    • What Are a Charge Nurse’s Duties? 

      • Charge nurses have patient care duties as well as responsibility for supervising and supporting staff, creating schedules, monitoring and ordering supplies and other administrative tasks.
    • Is a Charge Nurse the Same as a Nurse Manager? 

      • Though both nurse managers and charge nurses have managerial roles, charge nurses work exclusively on the staff on their unit and continue to participate in patient-facing nursing tasks. Nursing managers’ roles focus more on administration and management issues including budget and policy and oversee a broader range of staff.

    Part One What is a Charge Nurse?

    Charge nurses both care for patients and take on leadership responsibilities for their unit, department, or shift. Combining the best of both the clinical world and management, being a charge nurse allows you to apply your years of nursing experience to advance your career into management and become a role model for those around you. 

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    Part Two What Do Charge Nurses Do? 

    As a charge nurse, you’ll be responsible for ordering supplies, scheduling nursing assignments for others on your shift and delegating responsibility, often while still interacting with your own patients and their families. You will continue to provide care while also being the person who oversees admissions and discharges, and it will be you to whom family members and patients can address concerns and issues that may arise. 

    Charge nurses work in many different facilities: wherever there are nursing units that require even a minimal level of oversight, organization and orientation for new staff, there’s a need for a charge nurse. 

    Charge nurse responsibilities can vary depending upon the department, specialty and facility in which they work, but can include:

    • Patient care
    • Delegating nurse assignments and directing patient care
    • Preparing schedules
    • Overseeing admissions and discharges
    • Monitoring and ordering medicines and supplies
    • Providing guidance and advice to other nurses on the team
    • Documenting and evaluating nurse performance
    • Developing educational programs and training for nurses and staff

    Being a charge nurse requires excellent communication and organizational skills, the ability to multitask and remain calm under pressure, and excellent interpersonal skills.

    Part Three What Is the Average Salary for a Charge Nurse?

    According to Salary.com, as of March of 2020, the national average salary for a charge nurse was $87,752, with a range starting at $81,499 and going as high as $97,563

    Charge nurse salaries are dependent upon a number of variables, including their level of education, how many years of experience they have, the geographic location of the facility and the facility itself, as well as what skills and certifications the individual nurse brings with them. 

    The biggest variable in pay is how many years of experience they have, with Payscale.com reporting a more than $9 per hour difference between the hourly wage of a charge nurse in their first year compared to what a charge nurse with over 20 years of experience can earn. 

    It is important to keep in mind that compensation is not limited to one’s paycheck and that many facilities provide significant benefits in the form of paid vacation time and sick leave as well as coverage for health, dental and vision care, prescription coverage and even onsite childcare and tuition reimbursement.

    Part Four How to Become a Charge Nurse

    Becoming a charge nurse provides a broader exposure to and responsibility for all sides of patient care. Not only do charge nurses continue to display their competence and compassion at the bedside but they’re also the person that is relied upon to ensure that staffing and supplies are well-coordinated and who is the first person who serves as the conduit between the team on the floor and hospital administration.  

    Becoming a charge nurse requires everything that goes into being a licensed Registered Nurse combined with years of experience in which you’ve demonstrated the personal and professional characteristics that the position demands. 

    Becoming a charge nurse involves:

    • 2-5 years to earn ADN, BSN or MSN degree
    • Pass NCLEX-RN exam
    • 3 years working in clinical patient care, with much of that time spent in a specialty field if it is your goal to work on a specific unit

    Step 1.) Become a Licensed Registered Nurse 

    You begin with pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (AND), a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and becoming a licensed nurse in your state by taking and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. 

    Step 2.) Gain Experience

    Following that, your focus should be on gaining a minimum of three years of hands-on clinical nursing experience, and if your interest lies in being a charge nurse in a specific field, then you will also want to pursue those certifications to enhance your skill set.

    Step 3.) Gain and Display Leadership Skills

    Perhaps most important of all, if you want to be promoted into the charge nurse role you will need to distinguish yourself as an exceptionally organized and empathetic individual with leadership skills. 

    Charge nurses are multi-taskers who demonstrate problem-solving skills and the ability to remain calm under pressure. The rule requires working with patients and their families as well as with health care professionals at all levels, so the ability to communicate clearly and compassionately is also key to success.

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    Part Five What is the Career Outlook for Charge Nurses?

    Finding nurses with the experience, knowledge, and supervisory talents that charge nurses possess would be a challenge under any circumstances, but the national nursing shortage has further elevated the need. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for nurses across all specialties will grow by 12% through the year 2028, and the demand for charge nurses, with their unique characteristics and capabilities, will likely be even greater. 

    Part Six What Are the Continuing Education Requirements for Charge Nurses?

    There are no continuing education requirements specific to being a charge nurse, but different states do have nursing continuing education requirements specifically for Registered Nurses, and if your charge nurse responsibilities are tied to a specialty area that you’ve earned a certification in, you will need to maintain your certification status. You can learn more about the requirements in your state in our Continuing Education Guide

    Part Seven Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Charge Nurse?

    Nurses tremendously benefit from membership in professional organizations related to their chosen specialty, and the same is true for charge nurses. Though there is no specific organization dedicated to the challenges that charge nurses face, the American Organization for Nursing Leadership provides invaluable information that enhances professional nursing practice and supports career advancement. You will also find excellent resources and supportive articles on the Nurse.org website.

    Charge nurses are promoted into their positions after demonstrating high-level clinical knowledge and the kind of professional excellence that instills confidence and ensures that their department will thrive under their leadership. They are organized, confident and competent, and are integral to the success of their facility. 

    Charge nurses have the best of both worlds. They are still part of hands-on patient care but are also integral parts of administration. The charge nurse manages the rhythm and flow of the unit, so they need to be very good multi-taskers who are able to remain calm under pressure, to communicate clearly, and to act as an advocate for their patients and the other staff whose responsibilities they oversee. 

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