How to Become a Director of Nursing
A director of nursing is one of the most ambitious nursing career paths you can take. This top-level management position entails managing the entire administrative component of the nursing department at a hospital or health care organization.
You'll need extensive education, experience, and leadership skills to succeed as a director of nursing. If you're a career-oriented nurse who prefers the challenge and pace of a high-level management role over day-to-day patient care, you may find this to be a rewarding career.
What Does a Director of Nursing Do?
As a top-ranking administrator, the responsibilities of a director of nursing in a hospital or health care organization include making decisions such as the hiring of staff, developing a business plan and budget, implementing new policies and procedures and establishing departmental goals. In this role, you can significantly impact every aspect of the nursing experience for patients and nurses.
You'll oversee the nursing budget and act as a liaison between various departments within the organization and outside partners. Another critical aspect of the job is representing the nursing staff under your supervision to ensure all standards are met and your staff's concerns get heard.
Director of Nursing Requirements: Education and Experience
You'll need considerable education and experience to meet the requirements for this position. Director of nursing qualifications include an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS), or Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) degree.
Besides advanced degrees and years of on-the-job experience with bedside care, health care organizations typically prefer candidates with certifications that attest to their administrative abilities and history of working in managerial or leadership roles like a nurse administrator.
Director of Nursing Education Timeline
The journey to becoming a director of nursing takes time. If you're interested in becoming a nursing director, it can take up to fifteen years or more from the time you enter college.
- Years 1–4: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a four-year undergraduate degree.
- Year 4: Take the NCLEX-RN exam to get licensed as a registered nurse (RN).
- Years 5–7 or 5–9: Earn at least one of the following graduate nursing degrees (could take up to eight years if earning both degrees):
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), usually a two-to-three-year program or master's program in a relevant area, such as health care administration
- Doctorate in Nursing (DNS or DNP), which can take three to five years
- Year 10+: Prepare to get a director of nursing certification by passing a test like the Certified Director of Nursing Exam (CDONA) from the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long Term Care or the Director of Nursing Services-Certified (DNS-CT) credential from the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing. These certifications typically require at least one year of working in a relevant paid or volunteer role.
You'll also need to demonstrate an established track record of success as a practicing nurse, so it can take fifteen years or more to become a director of nursing.
Director of Nursing Salary and Career Prospects
Nurses are always in high demand, and that need will grow as the baby boomer generation requires additional medical care in their later years. If you're highly motivated and have strong nursing leadership skills, you may want to consider a career as a director of nursing.
How Much Does a Director of Nursing Make?
Although competition can be fierce, it can be personally and financially rewarding. Studies have shown that nurses in management roles are typically satisfied with their jobs. Director of nursing salaries often exceed six figures — average earnings are in the $90,000–150,000 range depending on location and overall experience.