Charge Nurse vs. Nurse Manager: What's the Difference?
Charge nurses and nurse managers are equally critical to the hierarchy of nursing. Though the scope of responsibilities varies, they both support, supervise, and amplify the voices of their fellow nurses. That ensures staff nurses can provide the best patient care possible. Learn what each position entails, how they're similar, and how they differ.
What Is a Charge Nurse?
Charge nurses oversee the operations of their specific nursing unit during a set period while working alongside the team. The primary role of a charge nurse is to ensure that all nursing functions within the department run smoothly and efficiently. They also provide guidance and support to help staff through challenging situations as they arise. Like staff nurses, charge nurses are generally patient-facing.
Typical charge nurse responsibilities include:
● Ensuring staff adheres to workplace protocols and procedures
● Assisting nurses in their charge with patient-related questions
● Overseeing the smooth transition from one shift to another
● Acting as a liaison between nurses and doctors
● Creating and evaluating staffing plans and schedules
● Checking the availability of patient supplies and medications
● Handling their own patient assignments, if applicable (varies by facility)
For a registered nurse (RN) to become a charge nurse, they typically require three to five years of clinical experience. According to Zippia, the median annual salary for RN charge nurses is $71,342.
What Is a Nurse Manager?
Nurse managers are licensed nurses in upper management positions. Because their roles are mainly administrative, they often work in an office environment versus a clinical setting. They're usually RNs or advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), such as nurse practitioners (NP). Some nurse managers also have specific certifications, such as Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC). And because the position requires legal and business acumen, they may also hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Typical responsibilities of a nurse manager vary by facility but generally include:
● Handling staffing issues, such as hiring and setting or amending schedules
● Supervising nursing personnel, including training and disciplining
● Supporting other personnel in their unit, like social workers, therapists, and pharmacists
● Managing financial and human resources for their unit
● Overseeing the effectiveness of operations, including patient record maintenance
● Serving as a liaison between nurses, physicians, and upper management, such as a hospital's director of nursing or C-suite
● Ensuring their unit aligns with the strategic goals of the hospital or workplace setting, including following best legal and safety practices
Besides having administrative and management savviness, nurse managers must demonstrate clinical excellence. Many health care facilities require at least five years of hands-on experience. Nurse managers fall under the fast-growing field of medical and health services managers. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, their average annual salary is $101,340, with a rapid estimated growth rate of 28%.
How the Roles Are Similar
Nurse managers and charge nurses share many similar responsibilities, such as guiding and supporting staff, addressing questions or feedback, and implementing or overseeing new procedures. Strong organizational and problem-solving skills are integral to each position, so clinical excellence is required. If you enjoy a role that entails leading with purpose and compassion, a career as a charge nurse or nurse manager can be a fulfilling option.
In either role, you'll serve as a de facto mentor. You'll provide candid, nonjudgmental feedback and ongoing education to the nurses on your watch. You'll also ensure they have what's needed to succeed. For a nurse manager, that may involve developing and protecting an environment calibrated to prevent burnout. If you're a charge nurse, it could mean ensuring time gets managed correctly, so your entire staff gets their necessary shift breaks.
If you're in a charge nurse role, you may decide to become a nurse manager. Depending on your institution's requirements, you may need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and an MBA in addition to the required RN credentials.
How the Roles Differ
Nurse managers and charge nurses share the overarching duty of ensuring their teams have the support needed to thrive in the organization. However, their day-to-day responsibilities and standard requirements for eligibility vary.
Interaction With Staff and Patients
Charge nurses work alongside their nursing staff during shift hours and have direct contact with patients. Nurse managers are more clinically removed, focusing on setting overall standards of care.
Charge nurses are on the ground floor overseeing the daily operations of their unit and staff. That typically includes:
● Assisting patients and administering treatment
● Distributing assignments to staff based on patient volume and needs
● Assessing needs for incoming shifts and requesting additional staff accordingly
Nurse managers' daily schedules generally focus on administrative undertakings rather than patient care. They typically meet with other supervisors, check in with staff members, and oversee hiring new employees.
Scope of Oversight
Charge nurses are generally responsible for the activities within their unit for the duration of their shift. A nurse manager may be responsible for all activities at one or more locations and for all shifts within a 24-hour cycle.
Education and Advanced Degrees
Nurse managers typically hold advanced degrees, such as an MSN, NP, or APRN. They often also obtain an MBA to prepare for the business aspect of their role. Charge nurses don't have standardized license requirements but are usually registered nurses and may also have certifications specific to their unit, such as Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS).
Whether you decide to become a charge nurse or nurse manager, both positions are in high demand and offer challenging and rewarding career opportunities.