How to Become a Charge Nurse
March 15, 2021
Born to lead? If you'd love your workdays to be filled with hands-on nursing care, mentorship, and supervising a team, consider a career as a charge nurse. You'll get to both paddle and steer the ship.
If you're a nurse who seeks the added responsibility (and income) of supervising others yet aren't ready to forgo entirely treating patients, the nursing world has the perfect job for you. As a charge nurse, you'll be both a doer and a leader, a caregiver and a supervisor.
With a combination of advanced education, honed leadership skills, and on-the-job managerial experience, you can ascend to nursing management. It is not uncommon for charge nurses to continue their career progress to the position of nurse manager, director of nursing, or chief nursing officer.
In this article, we'll cover:
- What does a charge nurse do?
- How to become a charge nurse
- Charge nurse salary and employment
- Kinds of charge nurse careers
- Resources for becoming a charge nurse
What does a charge nurse do?
A charge nurse plays a part in both hands-on patient care and management. Responsibilities include:
- Supervising other nurses
- Assessing the performance or nurses under your supervision
- Mentoring staff
- Overseeing administrative responsibilities
- Maintaining top-level patient treatment
The Ohio Nurses Association lists over 20 typical duties of a charge nurse. Here are a few:
- Collaborating and consulting with doctors, staff, and other nurses
- Demonstrating awareness of legal aspects of the job
- Enforcing hospital or facility policies and procedures for nursing care
- Prioritizing and staffing patient care management
- Solving problems and delegating duties to appropriate staff nurses based on each's education and skill set
How to become a charge nurse
Educational requirements for becoming a charge nurse
Most employers require charge nurse candidates to hold a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Occasionally an employer will consider candidates with a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). However, the industry trend is toward favoring higher degrees, so such opportunities—already uncommon—should grow increasingly rare.
Thus, it is possible to get a job as a charge nurse as an LPN. Most opportunities, however, will specify that candidates must be RNs.
To become a licensed practical nurse, you'll need to:
- Earn a diploma or certificate from an accredited LPN program at a community college or vocational school in one to two years
- Pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN)
To become licensed as a registered nurse (RN), you must:
- Earn a degree from an accredited nursing program
- Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
- Pass a criminal background check, depending on state requirements
Obtaining a two-year Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) may not be required, but it's worth considering all the same. The MSN opens many opportunities closed to ADNs and BSNs. It will certainly help if you're looking to advance to the next levels in leadership, such as director of nursing or chief nursing officer.
Online nursing degrees for associate's, bachelor's, and master's programs are available. There are accelerated BSN and accelerated MSN programs, which allow you to earn both degrees in five years. Candidates who have an associate's degree and are already RNs can get their BSN or MSN faster by enrolling in a RN to BSN or RN to MSN program.
What are some of the best nursing programs?
Top nursing programs are expensive, so you should carefully consider the cost and benefit of any nursing degree you pursue. If you aspire to a top leadership position or to a role in public policy, it may be worth your while to pursue a nursing degree at a highly ranked program like Johns Hopkins University or Duke University.
If, however, your goal is to work locally and ascend to lower- or mid-management roles, you will likely be just as well served by your local state university. You'll incur a lot less debt in the process. Most state universities have excellent medical schools that offer nursing programs.
Another option is to pursue your nursing degree online. Online study offers the benefit of flexibility; many people continue to work while studying online. Students also can remain where they currently reside, thereby avoiding the stress and expense of relocating.
Affordable online BSN programs include:
- Arizona State University - Downtown Phoenix
- Sacred Heart University
- University of Louisiana at Lafayette
- University of Oklahoma - Health Sciences Center
- University of South Alabama
- The University of Texas at Arlington
- The University of West Florida
Affordable online MSN programs include:
- George Washington University
- Gonzaga University
- Jacksonville University
- Marquette University
- Sacred Heart University
- Saint Joseph's College of Maine
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- University of St Francis
- University of San Francisco
- The University of Texas at Arlington
- Robert Morris University
How do you get hired as a charge nurse?
Hospitals administrators on the hunt for charge nurse candidates expect specific requirements and experience. The following are common qualifications you'll find in a charge nurse job description.
These should appear on your resume:
- Minimum education of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
- RN licensure
- Three to five years of experience in clinical nursing
- At least one year of management or supervisory experience in a nursing capacity
- The ability to provide supervision and support to team members and staff
- Physical strength to move, lift, and position patients
- Skills and relevant experience with medication management to deliver focused care
In addition to these experiential and academic qualifications, charge nurses also need a particular set of soft skills. Employers typically favor candidates who are:
- Considerate yet assertive
- Able to delegate
- Fair and flexible
- Capable of learning from mistakes
- In possession of critical thinking skills
- Able to maintain a sense of humor under challenging circumstances
How do you prepare for a charge nurse interview?
The first step in preparing for a charge nurse interview is getting your résumé ready. Career website Job Hero offers sample charge nurse resume templates to help you get started.
You can also begin prepping for interview questions. Glassdoor offers 90+ charge nurse interview questions that former candidates have been asked in charge nurse interviews. These include:
- What are your personal goals?
- How do you supervise staff?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What do you want from a prospective employer?
- What do you think will be expected of you?
- What makes you qualified for the job?
- What was your last job, and why did you leave?
- Do you have any questions for us (the employer)?
- What can you bring to the company?
- How do you handle conflict between coworkers?
- What would you do if you discovered a medication administration mistake has been made?
- Why do you want to work here (for our company)?
Charge nurse salary and employment
How much can you make as a charge nurse?
Compared to a typical RNs average hourly pay of $29.30, charge nurses earn an average $31.99 per hour. With 20+ years of experience, hourly pay can jump up to $36.10 per hour. Pay can vary by location and skillset as well, per PayScale data.
Here's where charge nurses can earn more:
- Chicago, Illinois: up to 16 percent more
- Houston, Texas: up to 15 percent more
- Denver, Colorado: up to 12 percent more
- Atlanta, Georgia: up to 10 percent more
- Dallas, Texas: up to 8 percent more
The top skills and experiences for charge nurse additional income:
- Recovery/post-anesthesia care unit: up to 12 percent more
- Oncology: up to 6 percent more
- Intensive care unit (ICU): up to 5 percent more
- Dialysis: up to 5 percent more
- Emergency room (ER): up to 1 percent more
Kinds of charge nurse careers
Most charge nurses work in hospitals or other healthcare settings, such as nursing homes or long-term care centers, according to PayScale. Since a charge nurse is essentially the acting manager of their specific department, your charge nurse career can vary based on the environment of your department. You may oversee areas such as:
- Admissions and discharges
- Nursing personnel and support roles
- Emergency room (ER)
What is the next step up from a charge nurse?
Nurses can advance from supervisory roles such as charge nurse, nurse manager, or nurse supervisor to higher-level nursing titles, such as director of nursing or chief nursing officer (CNO), both of which usually require a master's degrees. Directors of nursing earn an average salary of $90,568 annually, compared with CNOs, who earn $126,005 per year, according to Indeed.com.
Resources for becoming a charge nurse
Educational resources for becoming a charge nurse
- Understanding the Learning Needs of the Charge Nurse: Implications for Nursing Staff Development (Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, JNSD)
- Understanding the Charge Nurse Role in Staffing by the American Nurse Today (the journal of the ANA)
Financial resources for becoming a charge nurse
Here are some guides form our team here at Noodle.com on paying for your education:
- How Can I Pay for Nursing School?
- Private School Scholarships: Top Sources for Financial Aid
- How to Get Financial Aid for Private School
Think a leadership role as a charge nurse is your calling? If you believe you can gain the respect and trust of your colleagues, lead them through often stressful shifts, bring calm and clarity to anxious patients, and use your top-notch management skills effectively 24/7, becoming a charge nurse may the career path you're meant to walk (in comfortable shoes).
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