7 Steps to Becoming a Director of Nursing


    GUIDE
    August 18, 2020
    Female healthcare professional in lab coat at desk with laptop computer

    By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, BA, RN, CBC

    Looking for a nursing career that’s not at the bedside? Becoming a Director of Nursing could be the right path for you! Nursing Directors are key administrators in the healthcare system. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals while overseeing the day-to-day operations of a nursing department. With high pay and many opportunities for career advancement, it’s a highly sought after position. 

    If you are considering becoming a Director of Nursing, this career guide will give you all of the information you need to make that decision.

    Ready to take the plunge? The first step is earning your Master’s of Science in Nursing. Here are some of the top programs: 

    Part One What is a Director of Nursing?

    A Director of Nursing, also known as a Nurse Director, is an advanced nursing role where you’re responsible for leading a nursing department or an entire healthcare system.

    Nursing Directors typically have years of bedside clinical nursing experience as well as leadership skills, and an advanced education -- either an MSN or DNP.

    As a  Director of Nursing, you have a lot of responsibilities, including overseeing the nursing staff, as well as communicating between the nursing and medical teams and other healthcare professionals throughout the organization.

    Show Me All Specialized MSN Programs

    Part Two Director of Nursing Salary

    The Nursing Director role certainly comes with a lot of responsibilities, but it has a high salary to match. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 2019 median salary of $100,980 per year or $48.55/hr, the BLS does not differentiate between different healthcare administrators and managers; so this figure isn’t specific to Directors of Nursing.

    However, according to glassdoor.com the average annual salary for a Director of Nursing is $81,104. And Payscale.com reports an annual average salary of $88,174 or $38.10/hr.

    How to Make the Most Money as a Director of Nursing

    Both your experience level and where you work can impact how much you can make as a Nursing Director.

    Director of Nursing Salaries by Levels of Experience

    Directors of Nursing can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience. Payscale found that:

    1. 1-4 years of experience earn an average salary of $81,815
    2. 5-9 years of experience earns an average salary of $83,296
    3. 10-19 years of experience earns an average salary of $91,995
    4. 20+ years of experience earns an average salary of $96,303

    Highest Paying Cities for Directors of Nursing 

    As of 2020, the highest paying cities for Directors of Nursing that have reported salaries, according to payscale.com, are:

    1. New York, New York - $138,889
    2. Los Angeles, California - $125,208
    3. Houston, Texas - $120,079
    4. Dallas, Texas - $110,007
    5. San Antonio, Texas - $96,467

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    Part Three What Does a Director of Nursing Do?

    As a Director of Nursing, you’ll work with the day-to-day operations of a hospital unit, hospital, department, or other healthcare setting. Your specific responsibilities will depend on the work location, but your duties may include:

    1. Managing and leading all nursing personnel operations
    2. Acting as a point of contact between the nursing staff and all other health consultants 
    3. Creating a standard of care that complies with state and national standards of care and law
    4. Monitoring expenses, finances, and accounting
    5. Collaborating with all health staff members and outside agencies to improve the quality of services provided and to resolve any problems
    6. Overseeing hiring, firing, and development of nursing staff
    7. Developing short and long-term goals for nursing department
    8. Establishing new policies and updating existing policies to improve the standard of care for patients

    Directors of Nursing generally work alongside other healthcare administrators, either from a central corporate location or an individual facility. Typically, Nursing Directors work during the first shift but may be needed to work off shifts including evenings, nights, and weekends depending on the work setting. They can work in a variety of settings including:

    1. Hospitals
    2. Long-term care facilities 
    3. Insurance companies
    4. Healthcare Corporations
    5. Government agencies
    6. Academia
    7. Private practices
    8. Outpatient care centers

    Part Four How Do You Become a Director of Nursing?

    1. Attend Nursing School

      The first step to becoming a Director of Nursing is nursing school. You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become a registered nurse. 

    2. Pass the NCLEX-RN

      Your next step is to study for and pass the NCLEX examination to become a registered nurse.

    3. Gain Experience or Continue Your Education

      Nurses can choose to gain some nursing experience before going back to school or go directly into an MSN program depending on their unique situation. ADN-prepared nurses will need to complete an additional step of either completing their BSN degree or entering into an accelerated RN to MSN program which will let them earn their BSN and MSN at the same time.

    4. Graduate with an MSN degree

      In order to become a Director of Nursing, you’ll usually need at least a Master’s degree, typically in healthcare administration or nursing leadership. 

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    5. Get Certified

      There are several certifications for Directors of Nursing. The most specific is offered by the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services is the Director of Nursing Services - Certification (DNS-CT). In order to earn it, you’ll need to hold a current RN license and have the equivalent of two years of full-time long-term or post-acute care experience, with a minimum of one year of experience either as a DNS or relevant nursing leadership experience.

      Other Certifications for Directors of Nursing are:

      1. The National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration Long Term Care offers the Certified Director of Nursing (CDONA) Exam.
      2. Nurse Executive, Certification (NE-BC)
      3. Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)
    6. Get a Management Role 

      Aspiring Directors of Nursing will want to obtain a role in management to get the experience they need. This can be something like a nurse manager, clinical leader, or department manager.

    7. Enroll in a Doctoral Nursing Program or Gain Administrative Experience

      This is not required, but it is preferred for the Director of Nursing to earn a doctoral degree. You can also gain experience by working in administrative roles. Show Me DNP Programs

    Part Five What is the Career Outlook for a Director of Nursing?

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Directors of Nursing fall under the Top Executives category. There is not a current breakdown of the specific career outlook for a Director of Nursing, but as of 2018, there were 2,639,500 top executives in the U.S. and by 2028 there will be a need for 2,790,200, which is a 6% increase. 

    Part Six What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Director of Nursing?

    Directors of Nursing have the same continuing education requirements as other RNs. This will vary on a state by state basis. There are no specific CEU requirements related to this nursing title unless they have obtained an advanced certification. Even though Directors of Nursing no longer work at the bedside, they must maintain their RN certification for this specific position. 

    All advanced certifications require a minimum number of CEUs to maintain certification. These generally have to be related to administration, leadership, and management. They can also be used for RN licensure renewal. 

    Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

    You can find a detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours here.

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    Part Seven Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Director of Nursing?

    Becoming a Director of Nursing requires hard work, dedication, and determination. You need to be able to multitask, have strong leadership skills, clinical skills, and communication skills. This position requires years of dedication and multiple levels of advanced education and certifications. It is not a quick process and generally, individuals know they want to take an administrative path vs. bedside nursing path early in their career, but it’s a journey that’s well worth it!

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    Part Eight Director of Nursing FAQs

    • What is the role of the Director of Nursing?

      • The Director of Nursing is responsible for overseeing the nursing department in an administrative capacity. They are responsible for reviewing policies and procedures, implementing changes, developing a budget, and supporting the staff. 
    • What makes a good Director of Nursing?

      • Directors of Nursing must be good communicators, have strong clinical abilities and leadership skills. They need to be professional, compassionate, and flexible. They should also have experience in staff development, delegation, legal compliance, operations and budget management, and treatment planning. 
    • How do you become a Director of Nursing?

      • A Nursing Director must first earn an RN through an accredited program. After gaining bedside experience, they will need to continue their education by obtaining an MSN with a focus in leadership or administration. While a DNP or Ph.D. is not required for this position, it will make an individual more marketable. 
    • How much does a Director of Nursing make?

      • According to Payscale.com, reports an annual average salary of $88,174 or $38.10/hr for Directors of Nursing.

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