If you’ve been in nursing for 5 or 10 years, you’re probably beginning to explore your options for career advancement. Becoming a charge nurse is an ideal opportunity if you’re looking at bedside and non-bedside roles that build on your existing nursing skills.
Maybe you’re a recent graduate who doesn’t want to wait to pursue loftier goals. It’s never too early to start thinking about what it takes to become a charge nurse.
In this article, you’ll discover:
- What is a charge nurse?
- What do charge nurses do?
- Where do charge nurses work?
- What are closely related fields?
- How do you become a charge nurse in 3 steps?
- What are additional requirements of charge nurses?
- What are the salary and career outlooks for charge nurses?
What is a charge nurse?
Nursing professionals who want to take on leadership roles have a few options available to them. Becoming a charge nurse is one of them. Charge nurses extend their expertise beyond patient care. In addition to their bedside duties, they also coordinate schedules and assign duties and responsibilities for other nurses in their unit.
Charge nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who are responsible for overseeing a nursing unit. They work in shifts just like other nurses, with a charge nurse assigned to every nursing unit for a specific period each day.
Qualities of a successful charge nurse
As a charge nurse, you must have a solid foundation of clinical knowledge and skills. You’ll pull from that base to help you make important decisions about patient care and organize nursing tasks. Other qualities of a successful charge nurse include:
- Able to remain calm under pressure
- Excellent communication and organizational skills
- Conflict resolution capabilities
- Strong multitasking abilities
What do charge nurses do?
Charge nurses can work in several healthcare settings, including clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. Nursing units that require even a minimal amount of oversight can benefit from the expertise and skills of charge nurses.
When you accept a position as a charge nurse, you’ll become a caretaker, liaison, and supervisor all rolled into one. You must be a master at balancing the medical competencies of an RN with the responsibilities of a manager.
You’ll have a lot of flexibility in a career as a charge nurse. You can continue to provide bedside care to patients while overseeing admissions and discharges. If concerns arise, you’re the point person to address – and resolve – them with patients and family members.
A day in the life of a charge nurse
A typical day in the life of a charge nurse can be hectic if the patient load is high. You can expect to engage in some of these common job responsibilities:
- Delegating nurse assignments
- Developing educational and training programs for nurses
- Directing patient care
- Documenting and evaluating nurse performance
- Monitoring and ordering medications and medical supplies
- Providing bedside care to patients
You may have additional responsibilities depending on your employer. No matter where you work, be prepared to make split-second decisions regarding patient care.
Common conditions treated by charge nurses
Charge nurses can treat all the same conditions as RNs. They educate patients and their families about medical conditions and instructions for their ongoing care.
Charge nurses also administer medications and consult with other members of the healthcare team to create treatment plans for patients.
Where do charge nurses work?
Charge nurses work primarily in hospitals, where there is the greatest need for their services. If you choose to become a charge nurse and don’t want to work in a hospital setting, you have alternatives. Some other places you can use your skills include:
- Ambulatory specialty departments
- Dialysis centers
- Home health agencies
- Medical clinics
- Private physicians’ offices
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Specialized medical care facilities
- Urgent care clinics
What are closely related fields?
A nursing career that is closely related to charge nurse is nurse manager. Both are leaders who guide the level of care patients receive in a healthcare setting. However, there are differences in the level of responsibility.
Charge nurses can provide bedside care for patients in addition to their management responsibilities. Nurse managers focus on the administrative side of healthcare.
How do you become a charge nurse in 3 steps?
Step 1 – Become a registered nurse
The first step you’ll need to take to become a charge nurse is to become a licensed RN. You have several options for getting there. Some nursing students choose an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes 12-18 months to complete. Others decide to pursue a more advanced BSN, which takes 3-4 years to finish depending on whether you attend part-time or full-time.
Earn a BSN degree
Earning a BSN degree is a smart move if you want to become a charge nurse. Most healthcare employers require charge nurses to have their BSN, even though it’s not necessary for becoming an RN. If you want to start working as a nurse while continuing your education, you can get your ADN, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and enroll in a RN to BSN program.
If you already have you are already a licensed RN and want to earn a BSN, you can participate in the RN to BSN program.
If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field and want to switch to nursing, you can enroll in an accelerated BSN program.
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
Whether you start out with an ADN or a BSN, you must pass the NCLEX exam to become licensed. You must follow the rules for NCLEX-RN candidates to qualify for the test. Reviewing the rules, and taking some practice tests, can help you succeed on your first try.
If you don’t pass your NCLEX-RN on the first attempt, you can take it again. However, you must wait 45 days between tries.
Step 2 – Accumulate experience
Once you have your RN licensure, the next step toward becoming a charge nurse is to gain some valuable nursing experience. The recommended amount of experience is between 3 and 5 years in a hands-on clinical setting. Ideally, you want to work in a healthcare setting that exposes you to tasks like complex wound care, IV infusions, and tube feedings.
Helpful skills and experience
Nursing is a fast-paced healthcare career. When you decide to become a charge nurse, that already hectic pace can magnify. You’ll be the person in charge of deciding what care patients receive. It’s a lot of responsibility placed squarely on your shoulders.
Working in emergency care settings can help prepare you for the kind of quick-thinking you’ll need to do as a charge nurse. Seek out nurses in leadership positions as mentors so you can gain some valuable insight.
Changing specialty to a charge nurse
You can take your experience on the floor and turn it into strong leadership skills that not only improve patient outcomes, but also communication among the nursing team under your supervision.
Step 3 – Obtain certifications
You’re not required to earn certifications to work as a charge nurse. However, you may wish to earn a Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate (CNL) from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). Possessing this certification shows employers you are willing to go the extra mile to hone your leadership skills.
Earning your CNL makes you a more attractive candidate when competing against other charge nurse candidates without certification. In addition to being more employable, earning a CNL gives you greater confidence in your leadership abilities and increased autonomy in the workplace.
What are additional requirements of charge nurses?
Charge nurses do not have any specific continuing education requirements. Some states have continuing education requirements for RNs, so you’ll need to pay attention to those to ensure you’re meeting all state board of licensing mandates in the state where you plan to work.
If your charge nurse responsibilities are tied to a specialty, you may have separate requirements for continuing education to maintain your specialty certification.
What are the salary and career outlooks for charge nurses?
Like all RNs, the future looks bright for charge nurses. Projected growth is 9% between 2020 and 2030. Some states and healthcare employers pay charge nurses higher wages. Wages also depend on location, education, and experience. You can check out the average RN salary by state to see how yours compares.
The top-five highest-paying cities for nurses in 2022 are all located in California and include:
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara – $80,472
- San Francisco-Oakland – $79,639
- Vallejo-Fairfield – $77,878
- Santa Barbara – $77,156
- Norwalk – $76,870
Discover your true salary range
Receive a free salary estimate in minutes. Then get matched with nursing jobs to pay it.
It can be difficult to gauge whether becoming a charge nurse is the right nursing career move for you. Learning about the job satisfaction of other charge nurses can help you decide. You can talk with other nursing professionals who have held or currently hold a charge nurse position to get their advice.
Joining a professional nursing organization can help you with your next steps. You’ll gain the support – and perspective – you need from other nursing professionals. One such organization that may be valuable to charge nurses is the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).
Whether you’re an aspiring charge nurse or a seasoned professional, you can find many benefits in belonging to the AONL or any other professional nurse leadership organization.
Incredible Health can help you on your nursing career path. You can compare salaries for your specialization and search for the perfect nursing job to fit your skills in the location you desire.
Tired of applying for nursing jobs?
With Incredible Health, hospitals apply to YOU.
- AONL Nurse Leaders. aonl.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- Average Charge Nurse (RN) Hourly Pay. payscale.com. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- Charge nurses’ perceived experience in managing daily work and major incidents in emergency departments: A qualitative study. sciencedirect.com. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- CNL Certification. aacnnursing.org. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- NCLEX Candidate Rules. nclex.com. Accessed June 13, 2022.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook: Registered Nurses. bls.gov. Accessed June 13, 2022.