Master’s in Nursing Administration: A Path to Becoming a Nursing Administrator

Nursing administrators oversee everything from small departments or units to broad healthcare systems. They may oversee specialized departments or programs. Nursing administration is typically master’s level, but one will find nurses with degrees above or below. Charge nurse positions, for example, routinely go to BSNs. High level executive positions, on the other hand, may favor a candidate with a DNP or other doctoral degree.

Johnson & Johnson distinguishes between nurse managers and nurse executives on its nursing resource website. Nurse managers have a primary role in staffing, though they may have varied duties such as managing staff budgets ( Nurse executives have a broader set of duties which may include representing the organization to other organizations (and using this inter-organizational interaction to meet staff and patient needs).

Nursing administration is varied in part because the departments and organizations one manages are so broad. Duke University School of Nursing notes some nontraditional roles such as magnet coordination, quality and safety, and provider practice management. One nurse featured on the John Hopkins University website is nurse manager of the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit.

Roles and Duties

The following are among the possible duties:

• Hiring
• Mentoring
• Overseeing training
• Making staffing and scheduling decisions
• Creating budgets
• Approving spending
• Evaluating performance
• Creating programs

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Nursing administration is not about following a set of routines. It’s rising to situations as they come.

For examples of role diversity, one can look to the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL). 2020 and 2021 “Young Professionals” participants have had a wide variety of roles job roes including the following:

• Nurse Residency Program Manager
• Director of Nursing, Emergency Services
• Antepartum Manager
• Critical Care Assistant Nurse Manager
• Senior Director – Patient Care Resources

AONL maintains a page of job descriptions submitted to and accessible to its members (

Nursing Administration Education

Nurses can pursue master’s programs, graduate certificates, or Doctor of Nursing (DNP) program.

Graduate programs are typically accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). There are plenty of online program to accommodate working nurses.

Nursing administration programs include courses in subjects like fiscal and financial management, organizational leadership, human resources management, and healthcare quality and safety. Students can expect some core coursework in areas such as research and evidence-based practice or “nurse as scholar”. Programs include real-world experience; often this is termed practicum.

Nursing Administration Programs

Duke University is ranked #1 by US News and World Report out of all nursing administration programs in both the master’s and doctoral categories. The school has been recognized by the National League for Nursing as a Center of Excellence (COE) in three categories, including ‘advancing the science of nursing education’.

John Hopkins University is ranked #2 at both the master’s and doctoral level. John Hopkins is a Center of Excellence in the ‘enhancing student learning and professional development’ category. Students may opt for an MSN Healthcare Organizational Leadership/MBA dual degree.

The University of Alabama-Birmingham is ranked #3 among master’s level nursing administration programs. The UAB is a more budget-minded option. The Nursing Health Systems Administration track is delivered primarily online but includes on-campus intensives. UAB-Birmingham is also NLN-recognized for enhancing student learning and professional development.

Professional Certification

Experienced nursing administrators may seek professional administration through the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the American Organization for Nurse Leaders (formerly the American Organization of Nurse Executives). Certification is by examination, but nurses must meet eligibility requirements.

The ANCC Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC) is for nurses at the baccalaureate level or higher who have recent administration, management or leadership experience; they must have had primary responsibility for a unit or department. They must have had 30 hours of continuing education in the prior three years.

The ANCC Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC) requires organizational or system-level experience.

The AONL Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) credential may be achieved relatively soon after a nurse attains a qualifying role. CNMLs are RNs who hold college degrees at least at the bachelor’s level. The experience requirement may be as little as one year if the baccalaureate degree is in nursing.

The AONL Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) credential carries a higher experience requirement. The amount of executive depends on degree level: four years for a BSN, two for a graduate level nurse. (To qualify by the quicker pathway, the candidate will need at least one degree in nursing, but the graduate degree may be in a different discipline.)

Nursing Administrator Salaries

Moving into administration typically means a rise in salary, and moving further typically means an additional rise, though the number of positions also narrow as one moves further up the ranks. Only 10% of 2019 AONL salary survey respondents reported salaries below $90,000. 72% of managers reported salaries between $80,000 and $130,000. Positions classified as C-suite (a category that includes Chief Nursing Officer, Chief Nursing Executive and Vice President) usually had earnings above $150,000. Most respondents indicated they had been in nursing many years. (BLS Data – May, 2020)

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