Careers

Learn About Being a Director of Nursing

What does a director of nursing do?

A director of nursing oversees and evaluates nurses within an organization to ensure a high standard of patient care. They create training programs and operating procedures for institutions to achieve targets and objectives. Generally, the director of nursing is responsible for the recruitment of nurses, their training, management, discipline, salaries and general budgeting and accounting. They have a direct effect on how well the organization manages patient health outcomes by making high-level decisions on patient care.

Further duties of the director of nursing could include:

  • Acting as a point of contact between the nursing staff and all other health consultants for optimal patient care

  • Creating a standard of care that complies with the law and must be adhered to by all nursing staff 

  • Establishing and monitoring infection control programs designed to provide a sanitary environment within the clinical setting

  • Monitoring expenses, finances and accounting

  • Participating in management team meetings to discuss the status of patients and nursing staff

  • Collaborating with all health staff members and outside agencies to improve the quality of services provided and to resolve any problems

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Average salary

Director of nursing salaries can vary considerably depending on if the employer is a large, multi-site hospital or a small, private clinic. Geographic location and experience will also affect salary levels.

Director of nursing requirements

A successful director of nursing will need to satisfy a range of requirements, including:

Education

The minimum education required for a director of nursing is a bachelor’s degree, usually a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A student in this program completes a nursing curriculum and additional general education courses. The BSN requires four years of study, and as part of the program, you will become a registered nurse (RN) with a nursing license. 

An alternative way to gain the necessary education to become a director of nursing is to complete an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), and you can then register to become an RN. 

A director of nursing may require a master’s degree, although some organizations will accept a candidate with a bachelor’s degree and considerable experience. You could study for a master’s degree in business administration (MBA), public health administration, health services management or health administration. 

Training

Depending on your previous experience and qualifications, you may be offered on-the-job training in your new role that involves shadowing the current director of nursing, a member of the management team, a member of the accounting team or another appropriate member of personnel. The introductory training period will allow you to understand how your new employer and institution function daily and the institution areas you will focus on. You may have a large number of nurses and procedures to familiarize yourself with, so this training period will vary depending on the size of the organization.

Certifications

In addition to the required nursing license, you can demonstrate your abilities to potential employers by securing professional certifications such as:

  • Director of Nursing Services Certification (DNS-CT): This is offered by the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services (AADNS). There are ten modules, each with an exam, required for this certification. It covers management topics, human resources, team building, laws and ethics and risk management. You must have an RN qualification and at least two years’ experience to earn this certification.

  • Certified Director of Nursing Exam (CDONA): This certification is offered by the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration. It can distinguish you as a recognized leader of nurses. There is an examination and three compulsory annual conferences. You will need letters of support that outline your suitability for this certification. Ongoing relevant work experience is also a requirement. 

Skills

Your role as director of nursing is to ensure patients receive appropriate and quality care. A director of nursing needs to have the following skills:

  • Interpersonal skills: A director of nursing must communicate with and lead the nurses they manage, which requires excellent interpersonal skills. They interact with patients and physicians and have to communicate on different levels with a range of individuals.

  • Leadership skills: As a leader and manager to all the nurses in the institution, the director of nursing needs to command respect and be approachable since they will be hiring and dismissing staff, training them to specific standards, ensuring high levels of motivation and fostering a supportive working environment. 

  • Organization: The director of nursing manages work schedules and rotas to meet patient needs, and they must ensure there is enough staff available at all times. They will create reports, statistics, budgets and manage patient records. They must be highly organized to meet patient needs and reach treatment goals.

  • Analytical skills: These skills can help ensure efficient nursing care is provided and that supply demands are met. These tasks involve the analysis of data to determine where efficiency can be improved and how to make these changes.

  • Technological skills: To manage modern healthcare systems, a director of nursing must understand the technology used for electronic health records and other computer management systems.

Director of nursing work environment

Depending on the workplace, the director of nursing could work in an office within the hospital or clinic or might also spend considerable time on the ward in a patient-facing setting. They will form part of the high-level management team, and so could have their own office. The majority of their time is spent interacting with nurses they manage and in meetings with the management team of the facility.

As with many associated healthcare roles, directors of nursing may work standard office hours or cover shifts on nights and weekends. Full-time hours are commonplace with a possible on-call rota in case of emergencies. 

The role involves sitting at a desk for most of the day, with some time standing and walking around the clinic or hospital.

How to become a director of nursing

Follow these steps to become a director of nursing:

  1. Earn a degree. The majority of employers require a BSN, and a master’s degree in a health or business-related field can also improve your employability. 

  2. Obtain your nursing license. Different states have varying requirements for a nursing license, but you must graduate from a program approved by your State Board of Nursing. You will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination to obtain your Registered Nurse License.

  3. Develop your hard and soft skills. Electronic health record systems are now commonplace when recording patient data. You must have a working knowledge of these programs and how to troubleshoot them. For your administrative work, you must also be competent in using office and financial programs. You will need to prove yourself as a leader and an excellent communicator. Try to gain relevant experience with these skills in lower-level nursing positions and during your education.

  4. Create a resume and cover letter. Include your work history, achievements and skills. Search for job listings and tailor your cover letter to each position by using keywords from the job description.

  5. Prepare for your interview. You can prepare for interviews to have the best chance of being successful. Review your work experience and think about the situations your interviewer may question you about. Focus particularly on your leadership qualities and situations you have proved yourself in this skill. List the details you would like to find out about the position and impress your interviewer with your passion for the role.

Director of nursing job description example

The director of nursing at Greenoaks Clinic will hold the responsibility for the delivery of all nursing services within the clinic. The candidate will collaborate with the doctors, office manager and chief deputy to provide the efficient allocation of resources to enable each patient to receive the highest level of care. Duties will include:

  • Developing and implementing patient care services, checking that these services are being carried out correctly
  • Performing administrative work that includes preparing reports, budgeting, scheduling and inventory
  • Representing the clinic as director of nursing and participating in meetings and conferences
  • Consulting with the chief nursing officer on any issues, concerns or possibilities for improvements

Skills:

  • Valid Registered Nurse licensure with five or more years of experience working in a multi-disciplinary team. BSN preferred
  • Excellent interpersonal, leadership and communication skills 
  • Experience with the electronic data capture systems in a healthcare setting
  • Demonstrated skills in medical practice management and human resources

Related careers

If you are interested in a director of nursing position, consider these related roles: