Nurse Administrator – Degrees, Licensure & Salary

A nurse administrator is a registered nurse who manages and coordinates the daily operations of nursing services within a healthcare facility. They are responsible for hiring staff, overseeing patient care, managing budgets, and developing policies related to nurses and patient care. Nurse administrators often have leadership roles in their organization and may be called upon to create new standards of practice or evaluate existing services.

Nurse administrators have a wide range of responsibilities. They typically include hiring and training staff, overseeing patient care, managing budgets, and developing policies related to nurses and patient care. They may also evaluate existing services, assess staffing needs, implement quality assurance measures, and ensure compliance with state regulations. In addition, they often serve as mentors or leaders. 

Becoming a nurse administrator requires education, experience, and licensing. To enter the field, an individual must have at least a master’s degree in nursing plus several years of clinical experience. In addition, most states require nurse administrators to hold a valid registered nurse (RN) or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license to work legally. As a result, medical and health services managers are one of the fastest-growing occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), this profession will experience a growth rate of 28 percent in the coming decade, creating 136,200 new positions between 2021 and 2031. 

After earning an advanced degree in nursing and obtaining licensure from state regulatory boards, the next step is to earn nurse administrator certification. Depending on experience and qualifications, there are several certifications to choose from which are explained in-depth in the sections below. 

Learn more about becoming a nurse administrator, including a step-by-step guide, educational requirements, salary, and professional certifications.

How to Become a Nurse Administrator

Step 1: Complete High School or GED (four years)

Completing a high school degree or GED is essential to pursue a career as a registered nurse. 

Step 2: Enroll in a BSN Program (one to four years)

A BSN degree is required for nurses who wish to pursue an advanced specialization or obtain managerial positions. These programs typically take one to four years to complete and can be found at many accredited colleges and universities. A BSN degree provides the knowledge and skills necessary to practice as a professional nurse and the opportunity to specialize in a particular field, such as nursing administration. 

Here are three of the most common BSN programs:

Accelerated BSN Programs: A one-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree completion option for those with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees. 

RN-to-BSN Programs: A two-year bachelor’s degree completion option for licensed RNs with two-year associate’s degrees in nursing (ADN).

Traditional BSN Programs: Four-year programs that begin from high school and result in a bachelor’s or nursing (BSN) 

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX Exam (timeline varies)

The NCLEX exam is a comprehensive examination given to registered nurses seeking licensure by state boards across the United States. It is designed to test the knowledge and skills of nurses so that they can safely practice in any healthcare setting. Passing the NCLEX is required for RNs to gain their license and work as a nurse in most states.

Step 4: Gain Nursing Experience (one or more years)

While a graduate degree in nursing may open the doors for more career opportunities, it is essential to remember that many graduate programs require applicants to have prior work experience before applying. Therefore, earning one to two (or more) years of nursing experience before applying for a graduate program will help an applicant stand apart from other candidates and give a competitive edge for admission.

Step 5: Enroll in an Advanced Nursing Degree or Certificate Program (one to five years)

Enrolling in an advanced nursing degree or certificate program is required to become a nurse administrator. Whether it’s through earning a graduate degree or continuing professional education certificate, taking the time to pursue higher education advances one’s knowledge in specialized fields of nursing. Master’s and doctoral programs emphasize the latest evidence-based practices in healthcare and lead to opportunities for advancement in nursing.

Here are some of the most common advanced nursing degree and certificate program options: 

Post-master’s certificate program: A one-year certificate program that can be earned independently after earning a BSN or as part of an MSN degree or specialization. 

Master of science in nursing (MSN): Two-year degree with a concentration in nurse administration.

Master of healthcare administration (MHA): A two-year degree in healthcare administration, ideal for nurses with a BSN degree. 

MSN/MHA dual degree: A two-year program that results in two degrees in the same amount of time it takes to complete one degree. 

Doctorate of nursing practice (DNP): A two- to five-year doctoral program in advanced practical nursing. 

Step 6: Earn Nurse Administrator Certification (timeline varies) 

With nurse administrator certification, nurses demonstrate their commitment to professional excellence, show expertise in leading committees, and earn the respect of colleagues. These benefits can increase pay and job opportunities.

Two of the most common certifications come from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which offers two certifications:  

  • Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC) 
  • Nurse Executive Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

Another credentialing organization is the American Organization for Nurse Leadership (AONL) which offers the following certifications: 

  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML)
  • Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP)

Please see the certification section below for more information about nurse administrator certification. 

Step 7: Maintain Nurse Administrator Certification 

To maintain nurse administrator certifications, it is necessary to renew credentials every three years for AONL certifications and every five years for ANCC certifications. Credential holders must complete renewal before the expiration date of their current certification to stay active and retain certification status.

What Does a Nurse Administrator Do?

Nurse administrators oversee and manage the nursing staff and implement policies and procedures. In addition, they ensure that medical laws and regulations carry out all patient care. The daily responsibilities of a nurse administrator may include managing budgets, supervising nursing staff, developing operational plans, directing organizational performance, evaluating patient outcomes, and coordinating patient care services.

Other daily responsibilities of a nurse administrators include: 

  • Managing budgets
  • Supervising nursing staff
  • Developing operational plans
  • Directing organizational performance
  • Evaluating patient outcomes
  • Coordinating patient care services

How Much Do Nurse Administrators Make?

Medical and health services managers, a similar occupational title to nurse administrators, earn a median salary of approximately $104,830 per year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022). In July 2023, Payscale.com estimated that nurse administrators could earn an average annual salary of around $90,577, ranging from $64,000 to $135,000 based on education level, certifications, and years of experience.

Here are the salary percentiles for medical and health services managers (BLS May 2022): 

  • 10th percentile: $64,100 
  • 25th percentile: $81,430 
  • 50th percentile (median): $104,830 
  • 75th percentile: $143,200 
  • 90th percentile: $209,990

Nurse Administrator Certifications

To become a nurse administrator, many employers prefer applicants to have national certification.  

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers certification programs for nurse administrators, including the Nurse Executive, Advanced – Board Certified (NE-BC) credential and the Nurse Executive, Certified (NE-C) credential. These certifications demonstrate a high level of competency in nursing administration and can open up a wide range of professional opportunities.

The American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) is an organization dedicated to advancing the practice of nurse leadership. It provides members with resources, networking opportunities, certification, and more. In addition, the AONL offers two certifications for nurse administrators: Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) and Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML). 

These certifications attest to a high level of competency in managing staff, ensuring quality patient care, and preparing individuals for executive nursing roles.

Read on for detailed information about nurse administration credentialing. 

American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) 

Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC) 

The ANCC Nurse Executive board certification examination is designed to provide a valid and reliable assessment of the essential knowledge and skills for nurses with managerial roles at the unit, team, service line, department, or program level. These nurses are accountable for leading a single group of nurses and non-nursing staff and are responsible for daily operations, staffing, staff development, and individual and group performance. In addition, they make tactical decisions regularly and act as a visible leader to their workforce.

The computer-based exam is available year-round, and once candidates have applied and been accepted, candidates can take the exam during a 90-day window at a convenient time and location. It allows the user to answer 150 questions for three hours, with 125 scored questions and 25 pretest questions that are not scored. 

  • Scope: One group of nurses or non-nursing personnel
  • Eligibility: RN license, bachelor’s degree, at least 2,000 hours of leadership experience, and 30 hours of continuing education
  • Duration: Five years
  • Fee: $395 (non-members); $295 (American Nurses Association members)

Nurse Executive Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

The ANCC Nurse Executive Advanced board certification examination is a competency-based assessment of nurses’ entry-level knowledge and skills with organization-wide influence. These nurses are accountable for multiple groups of nurses, non-nurse personnel, and operations. They focus on strategic tasks such as high-level finance, resource management, and system integration. Nurses applying for this certification must have a graduate degree; the advanced or bachelor’s degree must be in nursing. 

The NEA-BC exam must be taken at a Prometric testing center. 

  • Scope: Multiple groups of nurses and non-nursing personnel 
  • Eligibility: RN license, graduate degree, 2,000 hours of leadership experience, and 30 hours of continuing education 
  • Duration: Five years
  • Fee: $395 (non-members); $295 (American Nurses Association members)

American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL)

Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP)

The AONL Nurse Executive competencies of communication and relationship building; knowledge of the healthcare environment; professionalism; business skills, and leadership are the basis for the examination. AONL offers a candidate’s handbook and a practice exam to aid preparation. Testing sites can be found across the United States.

  • Eligibility: Nurse leaders who are actively working in executive nursing
  • Duration: Three years
  • Fee: $325 (AONL members); $450 (non-members)

Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML)

The certified nurse manager and leader (CNML) certification by the AONL is a prestigious certification intended for advanced nursing professionals who serve in critical management roles. With this certification, nurses demonstrate their commitment to excellence, professional growth, and leadership. Earning the CNML validates advanced knowledge of evidence-based management principles and proficiency in essential competencies such as financial skills, operations, collaboration, and communication. The AONL provides practice exams and a review course. Candidates can take the exam at one of many nationwide testing centers. 

  • Eligibility: Nurse leaders who are active in nurse management 
  • Duration: Three years
  • Fee: $300 (AONL members); $425 (non-members)
Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond

Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).