How to Become a Charge Nurse

8 Min Read Published September 27, 2023
How to Become a Charge Nurse | Nurse.org Career Guide Series

Nursing is a profession with many specializations, roles, and career advancement opportunities. One such opportunity is becoming a charge nurse, which incorporates leadership and organization into your job description. 

Charge nurses are responsible for overseeing departments and ensuring the unit runs smoothly. While they still have bedside responsibilities, they also coordinate schedules, delegate tasks, record and order inventory, and communicate with patients and family members.

Being a charge nurse comes with many responsibilities, and you may wonder whether it's the right path for you. This article dives deep into what being a charge nurse is like, including charge nurse duties, salary, and education requirements. Read on to learn more about this exciting nursing career and whether it suits your professional goals.

What is a Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who oversee specific units, departments, or shifts. They are managers, leaders, mentors, and bedside nurses rolled into one. Charge nursing is a career that combines the best of clinical work and management, allowing you to apply years of experience to a nursing leadership role.

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What Does a Charge Nurse Do?

Charge nurses are responsible for several duties that ensure their department or unit operates seamlessly. As a charge nurse, you'll be in charge of ordering supplies, scheduling nursing shifts, and delegating tasks while simultaneously completing bedside tasks for patients in your care. 

The administrative side of charge nursing also includes overseeing admissions and discharges. Additionally, you'll be the point of contact for all family members and patients to address their concerns and issues.

Where Can Charge Nurses Work?

Any setting where nursing units require even a minimal level of oversight, organization, and new staff orientation will have a need for a charge nurse. Therefore, you can find charge nurse job opportunities at several sites. Though many charge nurses work in hospitals, you can also find them at urgent care clinics, nursing homes, government facilities, and other specialized clinics.

Charge Nurse Duties & Responsibilities

Charge nurse responsibilities can vary depending upon the department, specialty, and facility in which they work. However, some common charge nurse duties include the following:

  • 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

Charge Nurse Essential Skills

Charge nurses are highly skilled RNs with years of clinical experience. Some nursing skills that will help you develop into a successful charge nurse include the following:

  • Critical Thinking: As a team leader and manager, charge nurses make several pivotal decisions every day. They need critical thinking skills to issue sound judgments by quickly analyzing and evaluating every situation.

  • Organization: With so many responsibilities to juggle between managing the nursing staff, coordinating with administrators, and clinical duties, charge nurses benefit from being highly organized.

  • Communication: Charge nurses need to be capable communicators to ensure their unit or department runs smoothly. From relaying scheduling information to delegating tasks and advocating for their staff to administrators, charge nurses are most effective when they provide thorough and clear communication.

  • Compassion and Empathy: Compassion and empathy are essential nursing skills that charge nurses must foster. As they work as role models for their team and bedside caregivers for patients, they will find success through listening, empathizing, and caring for others' concerns.

  • Problem-Solving: There is no shortage of problems in any given hospital unit, which means charge nurses must be quick thinkers and flexible problem-solvers.

Charge Nurse Salary

The median annual charge nurse salary in the United States is $96,410 (Salary.com). Charge nurses in the 25th percentile earn $89,545, while those in the 75th earn up to $107,181. However, the highest earners can make $116,988 or more every year.

Factors Impacting Charge Nurse Salaries

Your charge nurse salary may vary depending on several variables, including your education level, experience, and location. The location of the facility in which you work, the facility itself, and your certifications and skills may also impact how much you earn as a charge nurse.

However, the most impactful variable is your experience level. Payscale reports a difference of over $10 per hour in first-year charge nurse wages vs. the salary of charge nurses with over 20 years of experience.

Other Salary Considerations

Remember, compensation is not limited to your paycheck. Many facilities also provide significant benefits like paid time off, sick leave, onsite childcare, or tuition reimbursement. Your compensation may also include health, dental, and vision care, along with prescription coverage. 

So, before you turn down a charge nurse job offer because it doesn't meet the median salary expectations, consider the full compensation package. You should also think about your area's cost of living and whether the salary and benefits package meets your needs.

How to Become a Charge Nurse

Becoming a charge nurse provides a broader exposure to and responsibility for all sides of patient care. As a charge nurse, you will continue to display competence and compassion at the bedside while conducting other crucial administrative duties.

Your staff will rely on you to coordinate schedules and supplies and act as the conduit between your team and the hospital's upper management. Therefore, becoming a charge nurse takes a combination of education, experience, and action - taking advantage of opportunities to showcase your leadership and organizational skills.

How Long Does It Take To Be a Charge Nurse?

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

The time it takes to become a charge nurse will vary depending on your facility, experience, and available opportunities. In general, it takes the amount of time to become an RN (2-5 years, depending on your degree path) and at least three years of relevant clinical experience.

Step 1. Become a Licensed Registered Nurse 

Your path to becoming a charge nurse begins with pursuing a registered nursing license. To become an RN in the United States, you must have at least an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

After completing your accredited nursing program, you must pass the NCLEX-RN examination. A passing score on this test allows you to become a licensed RN in your state.

Those interested in leadership positions may find added benefits from completing a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program as well. Keep in mind that many MSN programs require that applicants already have some RN experience, which will extend your timeline. However, completing these programs may make you a more competitive candidate for charge nurse roles.

Step 2. Gain Clinical Experience and Certifications

After becoming an RN, you should focus on earning at least three years of hands-on clinical nursing experience. If you're interested in working as a charge nurse in a specific field, then you will also want to pursue those certifications to enhance your skill set.

Step 3. Foster and Display Leadership Skills

Perhaps most important of all, if you want to be promoted to 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 role 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.

Charge Nurse Career Outlook

Finding nurses with the experience, knowledge, and supervisory talents that charge nurses possess would be a challenge under any circumstances. However, 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 28% through the year 2032, which is faster than all other occupations. The demand for charge nurses, with their unique characteristics and capabilities, will likely be even greater. 

Charge Nurse Continuing Education Requirements

There are no continuing education requirements specific to being a charge nurse. However, specific states do have continuing education requirements for registered nurses that you will have to maintain. Additionally, if your charge nurse responsibilities are connected to a specialty area in which you're certified, you'll need to maintain your certification status.

Read our comprehensive guide to learn more about your state's nursing continuing education requirements.

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. Unfortunately, there are no organizations dedicated to the challenges that charge nurses face. However, there are some specifically for nursing leadership:

  • American Organization for Nursing Leadership: The AONL provides invaluable information that enhances professional nursing practice and supports career advancement

  • American Nurses Association: The ANA provides professional development resources to help cultivate and enhance your leadership prowess. These resources are available whether or not you're an ANA member, though members receive special discounts. Some resources may even count toward continuing education, depending on your credentials.

  • Organization of Nurse Leaders: ONL membership provides career development opportunities to nursing leaders. As a member of ONL, you can grow your professional network, get involved with nursing policy initiatives, and learn from nursing leadership experts at quarterly and annual meetings.

Looking for more informative content on growing your nursing career? Nurse.org has several excellent resources and supportive articles to help you achieve your goals. Check out our nursing resources for more!

Becoming a Charge Nurse: Final Thoughts

Charge nurses achieve 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, communicate clearly, and act as an advocate for their patients and the other staff whose responsibilities they oversee. 

Charge Nurse FAQs

  • What is a charge nurse?

    • A charge nurse is a clinical professional and leader who assumes administrative responsibilities for the nurses and support staff in their department, unit, or on their shift.
  • What degree do you need to be a charge nurse?

    • Charge nurses are registered nurses, which means they have at least an Associate's Degree in Nursing. However, most have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These higher degrees are often favored by hiring managers and employers.
  • Can an LVN/LPN be a charge nurse?

    • Yes, 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 supervise and support staff members, create schedules, monitor and order supplies, and complete other administrative tasks while continuing their patient care duties.
  • 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. Nurse managers focus more on administration and management issues, including budget and policy, and oversee a broader range of staff.

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