Definitive Guide: What Is a Nursing Organizational Chart?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 29, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

There are many different professional levels you can achieve as a professional nurse. If you're a nurse at a medical workplace such as a clinic or a hospital, there's likely a ranking system of the different varieties of nurses that your head nurses use for management purposes. If you're pursuing a career in nursing, it may be helpful for you to understand how organization charts function within the workplace and where in that chart you may fall based on your specific degree.

In this article, we define what a nursing organizational chart is, explain how this type of chart works in a health care facility and list reasons to consider pursuing advanced nursing degrees.

What is a nursing organizational chart?

A nursing organizational chart is a type of management chart that clearly defines the hierarchy of all nursing staff at a hospital, clinic or other health care facility. This type of chart helps to establish each nurse's authority as it relates to diagnosing and treating their patients. It also clearly displays who staff members can contact in the hierarchy if they have specific questions, comments or concerns.

A nursing organizational chart serves the following purposes:

Establishes nursing staff governance

One of the main purposes that a nursing organization chart serves is to clearly establish the chain of command within a nursing staff. This type of chart shows which nurses hold authority over others. It also establishes who reports to who and what they're required to do under each nurse's guidance.

Related: How To Become a Nurse

Bridges communication gap

Typically, a nursing organizational chart helps to establish a standardized way to communicate among a nursing staff. Because these types of charts establish each specific role that a nurse has and who they report to, it helps to show who they should contact under different circumstances. These types of charts usually include contact information for each nurse.

Related: 20 Top Nursing Specialties (With Career Descriptions and Salaries)

Details who can do what

Another purpose that a nursing organization chart serves is to clearly outline the specific responsibilities that each member of the nursing staff has. The chart typically details what type of care each nurse can provide to patients. It also includes information about what each nurse can legally do in their work.

Related: Nursing Leadership and Management: Role Definitions and Differences

How nurse ranking works

Nurse ranking is a common practice in any type of medical or health care facility. Typically, a facility ranks nurses based on the level of education they've received and the degree that they have. This ranking from most advanced to least advance, and correlating experience is as follows:

  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO): A CNO, sometimes called a chief nursing executive (CNE), is a nurse who ranks just under a hospital or medical facility's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as a supervisor and administrator of all nursing services within the facility. You usually need to have a master's degree or doctorate degree in nursing to hold this role.

  • Director of Nursing: A director of nursing, sometimes called a director of patient care services or director of nursing services, is a nurse who directs patient care and acts as a leadership figure for the entire nursing department through record-keeping, budgeting and managing patient care services. Nurses in this role are typically required to have a master's degree in nursing.

  • Nurse manager: A nurse manager, sometimes referred to as a nurse supervisor or head nurse, is a nurse who assumes management responsibility of coordinating care for patients, providing support to patients, hiring staff and creating staff schedules. Nurse managers have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in nursing but typically have a master's degree as well.

  • Nurse Practitioner (CRNP): A CRNP is a registered nurse, or RN, who practices according to the Nurse Practice Art in the state they live in and can treat and diagnose patients. These nurses undergo training in a specialized health care area, receive advanced nursing education and usually have some type of national certification in a specific health care area.

  • Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN): An APRN is a nurse who works side-by-side with doctors to diagnose and treat patients. As an APRN, nurses are required to have a master's degree, and in some locations, can practice independently to diagnose and treat patients as a primary health care provider.

  • Staff nurse: A bedside nurse, sometimes referred to as a staff nurse, provides patients with direct care, typically in a hospital or long-term health care facility. In this role, nurses monitor patients' health and observe any changes to it, answer questions, address concerns and usually have a minimum of an associate's degree.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): Both LPNs and LVNs are responsible for providing the most basic medical care to patients, including administering medication, changing bandages, dressing wounds and taking notes for patient charts. Nurses commonly undergo one year of training in an approved educational program to hold this role.

It's important to note that depending on the specific size of the medical facility that you work for and the number of nurses that you work with may affect this ranking system. The specific degree requirements as outlined by the state you live in, the college you receive accreditation from and certain employment criteria for you to meet may also affect where you rank on the organizational chart.

Related: What Are the Qualifications To Become a Nurse?

Reasons to consider pursuing advanced nursing degrees

There are a variety of different reasons you may consider pursuing an advanced nursing degree, including the following:

Having increased employment options

You may experience increased employment options if you have a less common, more desirable and advanced nursing degree. You may also find that there are more employment opportunities available to you because your skills and expertise may be more in demand. Hiring managers may reach out to you to see if you're interested in pursuing certain opportunities if they think you're a good fit for their facility.

Related: What Can You Do With a Nursing Degree? (Education and Careers)

Holding more high-level positions

Depending on what your specific nursing degree may be, you may have the opportunity to hold a high-ranking position. This position may be as a Doctor Of Nursing Practice (DNP), head nurse or Chief Nursing Officer (CNO).

It's important to note that the chance of being able to hold a high-level nursing position if you have an advanced nursing degree may depend on the specific medical facility that you work for, the amount of experience it requires and any specific criteria it sets for that position.

Related: How To Choose the Right Nursing Degree Program for You

Learning new skills and knowledge

By pursuing advanced education within the field of nursing, you have the opportunity to expand your nursing skill set. You can also learn more about the nursing field in general and gain knowledge about it and the different medical fields as a whole. Because of this, pursuing higher education can ensure that you're highly knowledgeable.

Related: How To Prepare for Nursing School (With Tips)

Increasing earning potential

The more education you earn, the higher your chances may be of earning more income. The more advanced your nursing degree is, the more hiring managers may desire to pay you for your expertise. You may also be able to ask for a higher salary if you have a more valuable nursing degree.

Working more desirable hours

Typically, lower-ranking nurses with non-advanced nursing degrees work longer shifts. These often include 12 hour-long shifts, including on weekends and holidays. If you hold an advanced nursing degree and therefore fill a more advanced position, you may have the opportunity to choose a work schedule that caters to your specific wants and needs. For instance, if you're a head nurse, you may be able to choose a typical 8 hour-long work shift every weekday.

Related: Nurse Schedules: Pros, Cons and Tips

Pursuing a nursing specialization

If you're interested in pursuing any type of nursing specialization, you're often required to hold an advanced nursing degree. For instance, if you hope to become a nurse practitioner, you're required to pursue an advanced nursing degree to hold that title and earn the knowledge needed to work in this role. It's important to note that this ability can vary by the exact type of specialization in addition to the state you live in and the specific legal requirements to practice certain types of nursing.

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