Job Profile: Nurse Manager

Nurse managers are the backbone that keeps the American health care system upright and delivering safe, quality treatment to patients across the lifespan. Also called head nurses or nurse supervisors, nurse managers are mid-level leaders who aid patients by overseeing the clinical workers who treat them. It's their duty to act as command central and ensure department goals are being met on the frontlines. Advancing to nurse management makes RNs accountable for the personal and professional development of their staff. Nurse managers are highly concerned with recruiting, hiring, training, and disciplining nurses to keep patient care effective. Improving retention is also prioritized since 33 percent of RNs leave their first nursing job in two years. Nurse managers wear countless hats to promote strong clinical performance.


Based on survey statistics collected by, the median annual salary for nurse managers in the United States is $101,098. This equates to a median hourly wage of $49, or $1,944 each week. Added benefits like bonuses, social security, healthcare, 401K, and vacation bring the total average yearly compensation to $140,165 for nurse managers.

Beginning Salary

Gaining supervisory responsibility as a nurse manager leads to an average starting salary of $83,730 each year. However, senior nurse managers with more leadership experience can eventually bring home over $120,473 annually. Those who advance to upper-level positions like Director of Nursing (DON) make base salaries averaging $134,891 per year.

Key Responsibilities

Nurse managers are tasked with managing the clinical and administrative aspects of a health care facility's specific unit. As supervisors, they'll evaluate each nurse's strengths and weaknesses to effectively assign patient cases. Nurse managers carry out evaluations consistently to critique nurses' care and provide direction for improvement. As veterans, they'll guide less experienced staff on ways to handle unusual clinical situations. Nurse managers become role models by answering nurses' questions and giving helpful feedback. When conflicts occur, nurse managers are mediators to resolve disputes professionally. Other leadership responsibilities include creating budgets, overseeing medical records, addressing patient complaints, handling disciplinary actions, and ensuring legal compliance.

Necessary Skills

Having a friendly, compassionate bedside manner doesn't necessarily qualify RNs for nurse management. Becoming a nurse manager will require impeccable leadership skills to motivate a highly productive workforce. A strong administrative acumen with good knowledge of finance, strategic planning, HR, and information technology will help nurse managers direct their department's mission. Excellent communication skills are important because nurse managers interact with nurses, staff, executives, and patients daily. Listening skills are another must for nurse managers to mentor nurses under their wing. Nurse managers need to sharpen their critical thinking skills to confront operational problems effectively. When shifts get hectic, nurse managers should also have the clinical ability to dive in and meet patient needs.

Degree and Education Requirements

Being promoted to nurse manager takes a sharp mind and tremendous skill. Registered nurses must complete at least a four-year university education with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Attending a nursing school accredited by the CCNE or ACEN is essential. Those who already have an associate degree can benefit from the United States' plethora of RN-to-BSN programs. Employers will prefer nurse managers who've pursued a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) though. Master's degrees often allow for specialization in nurse management for advanced practice role definition. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is a voluntary step that could unlock the role of Chief Nursing Officer.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Transitioning from registered nurse to management will provide both benefits and drawbacks you should weigh. Let's begin on the plus side with the obvious gain – a significantly higher income potential than the modest RN salary. There's a healthy job market ripe with opportunity for budding nurse managers. Job location flexibility means nurse managers can find employment across the United States, including traveling positions. Nurse management takes individuals always from bedside sores to play a pivotal role in administrative policies. Managers can positively impact hundreds to thousands of patients with their great leadership. In the negative column, nurse managers have more responsibility burdened on their stressed shoulders. Long hours can tip work-life balance with unexpected evening or weekend shifts. Nurse managers can still be exposed to infectious diseases and harmful chemicals. Usually, they need to invest time and tuition in advanced education too.

Getting Started

Experience reigns supreme when it comes to reaching nurse management. While earning your BSN, aspire beyond your college's required clinical practicum. Bulk up your resume with part-time nursing internships and residencies. Some may practice as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) to gain experience while finishing school. Remember that having a bachelor's degree is crucial because facilities won't qualify for the ANCC Magnet Program otherwise. Upon graduation, take and pass the National Council for Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). You'll then be state licensed to assume professional nursing practice. Typically, three to five years at the bedside will prepare you for supervision. Earning professional certification can pave the path to promotion too. The AONE Credentialing Center offers a Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) designation with an eight-module course and exam. Other offered credentials vary by workplace, such as Certified Corrections Nurse Manager (CCN/M).

Future Outlook

According to the AONE, the average vacancy rates for nurse managers have reached a high at 8.3 percent nationwide. The majority of "baby boomer" nurses are reaching retirement age, which means critical shortages will grow over the next 10 years. Nurse managers are in-demand to help the industry's growing shift towards patient safety initiatives. More patients will inundate nurses' workplaces as affordable insurance coverage expands. Elderly adults are likely to experience more acute and chronic conditions requiring treatment from nurses too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nurse management jobs will spark like wildfire and grow by 17 percent through 2024. Job prospects outside hospitals, such as physician offices, medical group practices, nursing homes, outpatient centers, and home health, are brightest.

Overall, nurse managers shape their department's day-to-day patient care plans to promote an optimal healing environment for patients. Nurse management jobs occupy every practice sub-specialty from obstetrics to geriatrics because RNs depend on strong leaders. Managers maintain control over planning, organizing, and staffing clinical operations, but often report to a service director. Leaving behind your scrubs for a lab coat and becoming a nurse manager could revitalize your health care career.

50 Best Graduate Nursing Schools in America

Find A Degree is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.