Advanced Practice Nursing

How Much Does a Director of Nursing Earn?

How Much Does a Director of Nursing Earn?
You can earn a six-figure salary as a director of nursing. Image from Death to the Stock Photo
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer February 19, 2020

The title "director of nursing" often applies to the supervisory nurse at a long-term care facility. It can also refer to a higher-level administrator in a hospital or healthcare system. Both jobs pay well, although the latter pays better.

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Search the term “director of nursing” at any major job posting website and you will likely see a bewildering array of results. Many of the advertisements will seek a registered nurse to lead the nursing team at a long-term care facility. Some, however, will be looking for a nursing administrator, more engaged in budgets and project management than in personnel supervision. And some will describe a job that sounds an awful lot like a chief nursing officer (CNO), a top-level executive at a large hospital or healthcare system. Which is it?

It’s all of the above. Because there are no universally agreed-upon terms to describe nurses’ various roles within healthcare organizations, employers assign whichever name seems appropriate to the jobs they offer. What a director of nursing is, then, depends on the practice in which they work and the discretion of their employer.

As a result, the average director of nursing salary depends on which usage of the term “director of nursing” applies. In this article, we’ll cover the most common uses of this job descriptor, and we’ll answer the following questions:

  • What is a director of nursing?
  • How do you become a director of nursing?
  • How much does a director of nursing earn?
  • Should I become a nursing director?

What is a director of nursing?

That’s an excellent question! Regardless of the answer, the title indicates a position of significant responsibility. What those responsibilities entail, however, can vary considerably, depending on the type of employer.

Many of the healthcare providers advertising for a director of nursing are long-term care facilities, particularly nursing homes for the elderly. You must be a registered nurse to qualify for this job, and employers typically require several years of experience in both long-term care and in supervisory roles. In this position, you will:

  • Supervise and evaluate the nursing team
  • Establish short- and long-term objectives for the nursing staff
  • Oversee patient admission and care
  • Monitor nursing practices for legal compliance and quality control
  • Manage budgets, authorize expenditures, and oversee financial record-keeping

That’s a big job, but it’s not the biggest that the term “director of nursing” can reference. Sometimes, employers seeking a director of nursing want someone who can contribute to strategic business planning, risk assessment, training and research, and health informatics. These are tasks that require training beyond what is required of registered nurses, and such listings typically seek only nurse practitioners and other advanced practice nurses.

Does a director of nursing have to be a nurse?

Yes. Since the job involves supervising nurses, there is no way to do it effectively if you have not worked as a nurse; you simply won’t understand well enough the work your subordinates do. The minimum requirement for any job entitled “director of nursing” is a registered nursing license. Depending on the job description, further nursing credentials may be required.

How do you become a director of nursing?

The baseline qualification for a director of nursing is a registered nursing license. You can qualify for licensure with a nursing diploma (in select states) or an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), but we recommend the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). It better prepares you for the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which can help you land a director of nursing job (some employers will require it) and will be essential if you hope to progress in your career. Further, an increasing number of employers are requiring that RNs hold a BSN. Regardless of the degree you hold, you must pass the NCLEX-RN to earn your license. Although licensure requirements vary from state to state, all states require this test.

Next, you will need experience. You’ll probably need to put in some years earning your bona fides as a staff nurse. It may benefit you to pursue a specialization, such as neonatal nursing, dialysis nursing, or emergency room nursing. Eventually you should seek out a supervisory role as a charge nurse or nurse manager. Earning appropriate certifications, such as the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification, should impress potential employers.

Building your resume and making professional connections through work and networking are the best ways to position yourself for a director of nursing position.

How long does it take to get a masters in nursing?

Some, but not all, employers of directors of nursing require applicants to hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree. If you have your heart set on becoming a director of nursing, you should strongly consider pursuing a nursing administration specialization in your MSN program. Online programs offering this degree track include:

  • California University of Pennsylvania
  • Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs
  • Drexel University
  • Marshall University
  • Pennsylvania State University – World Campus
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • The University of Alabama
  • University of Central Florida
  • University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – Shadyside School of Nursing

How much does a director of nursing earn?

According to Payscale, a first-year director of nursing at a long-term care facility earns approximately $77,000 in salary, with opportunities for another $6,500 in incentive payments. In contrast, an experienced long-term care nursing director earns almost $89,000 per year, plus another potential $7,800 in incentives.

The data at Salary.com is more encouraging. According to the website, a nursing home director of nursing earns a median salary of $122,292, with salaries ranging from below $90,000 (tenth percentile) to above $153,216 (ninetieth percentile).

The figures above include jobs that do not require an MSN degree. As previously discussed, some positions listed under the title “director of nursing” do require an MSN, and these should, on average, pay higher salaries. According to Payscale, a nursing director with an MSN in nursing administration earns an average salary of $101,000.

Should I become a nursing director?

If you are just starting to think about a career in nursing, you have plenty of time to decide. You need to get your degrees and licensure, and then you’re going to need years of experience before anyone will even consider you for a nursing director position. Along the way, you should take on supervisory roles—like charge nurse—that should help you decide whether managing other nurses is something you love, or even want, to do.

If you’re further along in your career, the question remains the same: are you willing to take on more responsibility—and likely have less interaction with patients—in return for higher pay and greater impact on overall outcomes in your healthcare facility? If the answer is yes, then you should definitely go for it: this is a great job for the right nurse, and a growing healthcare industry suggests there should be plenty of opportunities for you in the future. If the answer is no but you still want to boost your income, consider becoming a nurse practitioner or some other type of well-paid advanced practice nurse, such as a nurse anesthetist, a nurse midwife, or a clinical nurse specialist.

(Updated on January 24, 2024)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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