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How to Become a Director of Nursing?

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

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After earning their license, Registered Nurses (RNs) have the option to dedicate their careers to a chosen healthcare specialty.

Every specialty carries its own set of unique job responsibilities, work environments, and benefits. Specialized nurses can gain several benefits, including increased job security, higher earning potential, and greater opportunities for career advancement.

For many RNs, the path to specialization begins with earning their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. By enduring this extensive training and education, RNs can enrich their careers, both professionally and financially. In fact, many of the highest-paid nursing jobs require an MSN degree.

For this reason, we created a new series of career guides to highlight the top nursing professions that require an MSN degree.

(Click here to see our list of the top nursing jobs for MSN graduates).

This career guide will focus on the role of the Director of Nursing.

Continue reading to learn how to become a director of nursing, as well as the duties, requirements, and benefits of this esteemed profession.

Director of Nursing Definition

What Is a Director of Nursing?

A nursing director is a registered nurse (RN) who holds a senior administrative role on a medical team.

The director of nursing serves as the liaison between nursing staff and other faculty members, including doctors and senior management. This position is earned through extensive nursing education as well as years of clinical nursing and management experience.

Nursing directors oversee the operations of medical staff and work with department heads and administrators to maintain a high standard of care. Nursing directors are also responsible for maintaining medical records, developing budgets, and overseeing department resources.

Director of Nursing: Job Description

What Does a Nursing Director Do?

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Director of Nursing: Day-to-Day Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a nursing director include:

  • Supervising and reviewing nursing staff
  • Reporting performance to high-level staff members
  • Overseeing department budgets and resources
  • Managing patients’ data and medical records
  • Educating patients and families about their treatment plan
  • Maintaining high standards of care

Director of Nursing Jobs

Where Does a Nursing Director Work?

Nursing directors can find employment at any healthcare facility that staffs nurses.

Some of these healthcare facilities include hospitals, physicians’ clinics, long-term care facilities, as well as universities and colleges. Nursing directors typically work in an office setting alongside healthcare administrative professionals.

Director of Nursing: Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nursing Director?

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Nursing Director?

Due to the administrative nature of their role, the educational requirements of a nursing director go well beyond the RN licensing credentials.

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN certification exam, nursing directors must earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN) from an accredited program.

Nursing directors must also gain a significant amount of experience working as an RN before applying for a nursing director position.

Some employers may also require you to obtain certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Steps to Becoming a Director of Nursing

Here are the steps required to become a director of nursing:

1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

Option 1: The first step to becoming a director of nursing is earning your bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). If you have no prior nursing education or experience, a BSN program can take about three to four years to complete.

Option 2: If you already have a diploma or associates degree in nursing (ADN), you can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program. Programs such as these could take an average of three years of full-time study.

Option 3: If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can skip past the BSN and earn the master’s degree by completing what’s known as a MEPN program (Masters Entry Program in Nursing). These programs provide an accelerated nursing curriculum to non-nursing college graduates.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Certification Exam

Upon graduating from your BSN or MEPN program, the next step to becoming a director of nursing is earning your nursing license.

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is a nationally mandated license that all nurses must receive before they can become registered nurses (RNs).

3. Earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

After you’ve earned your BSN and passed the NCLEX, the next step to becoming a director of nursing is to earn your MSN from an accredited program. Most MSN programs take about 18 to 24 months to complete. Students enrolled in an MSN program can expect to take courses like physiology, pharmacology, neurophysiology, and nursing science.

Regardless of which specialization you decide to pursue, earning your MSN will set you up for higher earning potential and a greater job outlook throughout your career.

4. Gain experience working as an RN

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requires you to fulfill several requirements before sitting for their nurse executive (NE-BC) certification exam. The ANCC requires previous experience in a mid-level administrative position (or higher) for at least two years, and a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration.

5. Pass the American Nurses Credentialing Center Exam (ANCC)

Upon earning your master’s degree and completing all other eligibility requirements, you’ll be one step away from officially becoming a director of nursing. A final optional step would be to pass the nurse executive certification exam.

The certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) consists of 175 multiple-choice questions. You’re given three and a half hours to complete the exam, and upon passing the exam, you’ll be awarded your NE-BC credential. Like the majority of ANCC certifications, this credential is valid for five years at a time.

Director of Nursing Salary

How Much Does a Director of Nursing Make?

Nursing directors rank amongst the highest paying nursing specialties. The average annual salary* for a director of nursing in the United States is about $148,132 (

The lowest 10 percent of nursing directors earned less than $113,000, and the highest 10 percent can earn more than $191,310.

Nursing director who achieve the rank of “Head Nurse” (or Head of Nursing) can make an average salary* of $231,568.

The highest paid 10% of head nurses can make up to $303,000, or more (

What Is the Job Outlook for a Director of Nursing?

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report any specific data on the job outlook of nursing directors. However, it does indicate that the overall employment of medical and health services managers is projected to grow 18 percent by 2028. This is significantly higher than the average growth of all occupations (5%).

Nursing directors will be needed to manage and organize medical information and medical staff as the vast baby-boomer population ages, and the demand for healthcare services in our country increases .

Director of Nursing Career

Are you ready to start your career as a Director of Nursing?

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Earning your MSN can open the door to many exciting career opportunities.

If you’re dedicated to furthering your training and education, you can become the leader of nursing staff and work alongside the senior administrators of a healthcare facility.

If you enjoy leading teams, overseeing operations, and holding a high degree of managerial responsibility, becoming a director of nursing might be the perfect career path for you.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards becoming a director of nursing, you can start by earning your MSN degree at Eagle Gate College.

Click here to learn more about our MSN degree program or Direct Entry MEPN program.