Become a Nurse Executive: What You Need to Know


Nurse executives are an important part of healthcare and are projected to remain so for the foreseeable future. They handle administrative and leadership roles in healthcare organizations while helping these organizations deliver the best healthcare services. They can be involved in hiring, budgeting, financial functions, resolving different issues, pushing for the introduction and use of new technology, and a lot more. To rise to the most senior level in nursing, here is what you need to know.

Responsibilities of Nurse Executives

The basic responsibility of nurse executives is to help the healthcare organizations they work for implement their mission while adhering to their values and maintaining the highest level of healthcare. Nurse executives also help formulate and implement healthcare policies and push nurses who may work under them to provide the best care to their patients.

The other duties of nurse executives can vary depending on the facilities they work for. In many facilities and organizations, they can help with: the design and management of the care provided to patients, educating junior nurses, managing budgets, developing health care procedures and processes and working with other professionals to ensure their organizations are successful.

Nurse executives, when working in administration and managerial roles, are also expected to identify any bottlenecks in the provision of patient care and to help resolve these bottlenecks. Their responsibilities can also include financial accountability, enhancing communication between different nursing teams, and acting as human resource managers.

Skills and Traits of Successful Nurse Executives

Nurse practitioners are expected to be competent leaders who possess stellar communication skills.  They must be able to communicate effectively, not only with the teams of nurses they manage and facilitate, but also with other professionals, both in and outside healthcare. They must also be able to create a conducive work environment for nurses by ensuring conflicts are resolved, discussions are productive and nurses trust those they work with. Their communication skills should extend to written communication because nurse executives are also responsible for written communications between teams, departments, and facilities.

Nurse executives must have an in-depth understanding of the healthcare environment including healthcare policy, healthcare economics, governance, clinical practice, and data analysis. Through their understanding of evidence-based practice and research, they should be able to come up with practices for the provision of the best care for their patients.

As for their leadership skills, nurse executives should be assertive with their nurses as well as upper management. Their leadership skills must also come to the fore when it comes to conducting community outreach, creating a collaborative work environment, and promoting their organization’s vision.

Another key trait of a successful nurse executive is professionalism. They must carry themselves in the highest regard and remain professional at all times. They must also be completely personally and professionally accountable for everything that happens in their organizations and set the highest professional standards for the nurses who work under them.

They must have a clear understanding of healthcare from a business standpoint. They might be tasked with finding and managing financial resources, training staff, conducting business analysis as well as introducing technological changes into healthcare.

There are other skills that nurse executives should possess including emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, flexibility, perspective, and integrity. They must also be critical thinkers who can make the right decisions under pressure.

Education Requirements

To become a successful nurse executive, nurses must have both business and healthcare knowledge. Additionally, they need to have several years of experience working in healthcare, preferably in administrative roles. Nurses who also have a business degree or other business certification have an added advantage in institutions and facilities that require the skills conferred by these degrees and certifications.

The list of educational requirements for nurse executives starts with a bachelor of science (BSN) degree. The entry requirements for a BSN will depend on the university, but there are some common prerequisites, such as mathematics and the sciences. To gain the necessary experience required to apply for a master’s degree, nurses must complete several years of nursing practice. For this, they need to complete the appropriate licensure examination and be registered as a nurse.

Registered licenses who have enough experience can then apply for a master’s degree in nursing, healthcare administration, or business administration. For nurses who want to obtain even higher education and become nurse leaders, there are DNP executive leadership programs available from several universities. The DNP executive leadership program offered by Baylor University, for example, is a doctorate-level degree designed for nurses who would like to become nurse leaders. It prepares nurses for leadership positions by teaching business strategy, management of human and other resources, influential leadership, strategic planning, and a lot more.

Once nurses complete their master’s or doctorate programs, they can apply for either nurse executive or executive leadership positions. Things do not have to end there because nurse executives and executive leaders can take additional courses as their careers progress to stay ahead of emerging trends, nursing and medical research as well as new technologies.

Where Do Nurse Executives Work?

Nurse executives can work in different healthcare settings depending on their focus. Nurse executives who want to work in clinical settings can work in traditional healthcare facilities including clinics, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and many others. Those who want to work as executive leaders will work in similar environments but will focus more on the business side of healthcare rather than the patient side.

Other places where nurse executives might work include universities where they could teach, insurance, and in other industries that are affiliated with healthcare.

If you want to climb to the highest rungs of the nursing ladder, the best way to do so is to become a nurse executive. Nurse executives can be involved in either the clinical side of nursing or the managerial side. There are distinct responsibilities for whichever path you choose but, regardless of the path, you get to influence and improve healthcare while ensuring the nurses who get to work under you are successful as well.


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