Charge Nurse working at the computer in the hospital

A charge nurse is a registered nurse responsible for a ward or unit in a healthcare facility. These nurses handle duties that general nurses perform, but they also have supervisory responsibilities.

A charge nurse ensures smooth shifts by coordinating with hospital administrators, physicians, and staff nurses. They create schedules, manage patient discharges and admissions, and assign duties.

Charge nurses work in various healthcare settings such as urgent care clinics, nursing homes, hospitals, and other specialized facilities. This broad scope of practice ensures more job opportunities for you as a charge nurse.  

Here are the essential steps on your journey along this exciting career path.

What Are the Steps to Becoming a Qualified Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses often have satisfying and rewarding careers. They contribute to hands-on patient care while serving as vital members of the administration. 

The charge nurse ensures the unit operates harmoniously; it’s essential to excel at multi-tasking. In addition, advancing your career as a charge nurse exposes you to more opportunities and responsibilities involving patient care. 

You become an essential team leader who ensures shifts run smoothly and there are adequate supplies and staffing. 

1) Attend Nursing School

You can pursue various educational pathways to becoming a charge nurse in the US. Your choice will depend on your professional experience and educational background. 

As a charge nurse, you must earn an RN license after completing an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. 

Most people prefer earning a BSN because the coursework is more comprehensive and advanced. In addition, employers often prefer charge nurses with BSNs, and graduate-level nursing programs favor a BSN over an ADN.

You'll need a GED or high school diploma to join a degree program, preferably with a high GPA.

ADN and BSN programs cover theory in nursing skills, anatomy, and biology. You'll also gain practical skills in lab sessions and clinical rotations.

A BSN takes about four years to complete, while an ADN takes two years. You can join a BSN program and transfer the credits if you already have an ADN or bachelor's degree in another field.

By graduation, you’ll have the knowledge and skills to educate patients, communicate with their families, conduct health assessments, and handle various nursing tasks.

The decision to proceed from a BSN to an MSN depends on your career goals. If you plan to progress beyond being a charge nurse, it's best to advance to a master’s degree

The MSN program is more intensive and empowers you with the necessary leadership and management skills. The courses focus on quality improvement, navigating health systems, strategic management, and organizational leadership. In addition, you can specialize in particular areas such as nurse anesthetists and neonatal nursing.

Most MSN programs take two years, although some advanced programs take one calendar year.

2) Study and Pass The NCLEX-RN Exam

You must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to qualify for your license to practice as a registered nurse. The first step is submitting your exam registration to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). 

You’ll follow the procedures outlined by the State Boards of Nursing in your home state or the state you intend to practice. Some states allow you to combine the NCLEX-RN exam registration and your license application. 

Your license application with the State Board of Nursing comes first in other states. Once you submit your application, you'll get a Candidate Bulletin that allows you to register for the NCLEX-RN exam.

You'll answer between 75 and 145 questions in the exam and fifteen experimental questions. The testing questions are for evaluation purposes and don’t affect your score.

3) Obtain a State Registered Nurse License

Every state has individual requirements for an RN license. As you start your charge career, ensure you confirm the requirements for the state(s) you intend to practice.

Single state licenses allow you to be in that particular state, so you'll need multiple permits to practice in such states. Again, you must get the necessary licensing information from the State Board of Nursing and an application form. 

Endorsements allow RNs with a license in one state to acquire a permit in the second state without the usual processes.

The state board in the second state issues the license after verifying the validity of your initial permit. Of course, you'll also need to fulfill additional requirements in the second state.

Mutual recognition nurse licensing allows RN with a license in their home state to work in other states participating in the agreement. Twenty-four states are currently part of a mutual recognition model called the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC).

4) Gain Clinical Experience

Once you achieve your RN license, you can take professional steps to guide your charge nurse career. You’ll start by gaining at least five years’ experience as a charge nurse working in a clinical setting.

You have the freedom to choose your specialty in charge nursing, such as intensive care or labor and delivery, to get particular skills. It's also a great time to enhance your leadership skills and advance your formal education. 

There are no particular certifications that charge nurses must pursue. Most employers prefer charge nurses with the credentials such as:

Pursuing certifications and credentials in your specialty is best if you intend to specialize in a particular area.

As a charge nurse, credentials such as Nurse Executive Certification and Clinical Nurse Leader give you a competitive edge and access to more job opportunities.

Professional associations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing issue certifications.

You'll need to pass an exam and have previous professional experience to get a certification. Remember, you have to renew certificates every five years. 

5) Gain Leadership Skills

There are various ways to enhance your leadership skills as you gain practical nursing experience. It’s essential to commit to continuous learning throughout your charge nurse career. 

Ensure you plan to attain more certifications, take various courses and pursue an advanced degree to fortify your career. 

Charge nurses should be strong leaders, so you must find opportunities to portray your skills. It's essential to assess your strengths and weaknesses to identify the areas to work on. 

You can excel at leadership responsibilities if you:

Understand Task Delegation

Every nursing team member has unique skills and abilities they bring to the table. As a charge nurse, you should be able to discover everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to match them with the right tasks.

You must determine how to assign tasks, to whom, and at what time.

Ensure a Safe Work Environment

As a charge nurse, it's essential to maintain a safe work environment and nurture healthy relationships.

Morale promotes a sense of security and functional teamwork. As a result, your team will have higher patient satisfaction rates, low-stress levels, better collaboration, and confidence to perform duties.

Mentor your Nursing Staff

A charge nurse collaborates with the team and evaluates the employees to identify areas needing coaching. Ensure you challenge your team for better performance and appreciate talent, quality, and hard work.

As a nurse mentor, it’s essential to portray confidence, organizational skills, ethics, integrity, and other leadership qualities. In addition, you should be able to work under pressure, offer practical solutions, and encourage a creative learning environment.

Practice Effective Communication

Charge nurses must communicate effectively with all nursing staff to ensure quality patient care. As the leader, your communication should always be accurate, clear, and concise to ensure everyone remains updated on patient status changes, discharges, and admissions.

Apply Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is a skill you can develop and nurture continuously. It includes the ability to predict, evaluate, provide solutions and resolve conflicts.

Look out for signs of elevated anxiety or stress levels in your staff to prevent potential issues with patient care.

Can You Become a Charge Nurse Online?

Online nursing degrees are available for associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees. In addition, accelerated BSN and MSN programs allow you to pursue both degrees simultaneously and graduate in five years.

You can also enroll online in various RN-to-BSN, ADN-RN, and RN-to-MSN programs. The flexible online programs allow you to work as an RN while pursuing your degree.

The time it will take to complete your program depends on your educational background. For instance, an RN to BSN program can take about nine months without general education courses.

However, the courses include practical sessions and clinical rotations that may require your physical presence at the institution. 

What Is the Difference Between a Charge Nurse and a Registered Nurse?

A charge nurse is a registered nurse responsible for supervising other staff nurses. The role combines managerial, clinical, leadership, and guidance skills.

Recommended Reading - What is a Registered Nurse (RN)?

Charge nurses handle clinical tasks such as:

  • Evaluating and monitoring patients’ vital signs

  • Educating patients and their families about healthcare management plans

  • Consulting with other medical personnel regarding patient progress

Charge nurses also handle administrative responsibilities such as:

  • Ensuring smooth operations in various departments and processes

  • Assigning tasks to other nursing staff

  • Planning and coordinating team and supplies

  • Overseeing discharges and admissions

Recommended Reading - What is a Charge Nurse in The USA?

What Positions Can You Progress to From Being a Charge Nurse?

A charge nurse is a leader, supervisor, and caregiver. With adequate leadership skills, managerial experience, and advanced education, it's easy for a charge nurse to transition into nursing management.

You can advance to the role of a nursing manager, chief nursing officer (CNO), or director of nursing.

Recommended Reading - What Are The Different Levels Of Nursing In The USA?

Do your Charge Nurse Exam Qualifications Expire?

Charge nurse exam qualifications remain valid as long as your RN license is active. You don't have to retake the exam if you practice as an RN continuously.

However, if you take a break from practicing, you may have to retake the NCLEX-RN to activate your license. You’ll also have to fulfill the continuing education units (CEU) in your state or the state you intend to practice. 

You can confirm the exact CEU requirements with the appropriate State Board of Nursing.

How Much Do Charge Nurses Make?

Charge nurse salaries in the US depend on the geographic location, education level, industry or specialty, experience, and certifications the nurse has.

Charge nurses earn $73,298.27 annually or $35.24 per hour. 

Recommended Reading - How much do Charge Nurses make?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Charge Nurse?

The time it takes to become a charge depends on your chosen educational path. For example, you can earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) in two years, a BSN in four years, and an MSN in five years.

You’ll then gain practical experience in clinical patient care for about two to three years in your specialty. Generally, you need about five years’ professional experience to work as a registered nurse charge nurse.

Are There Continuing Education Requirements for Charge Nurses?

Charge nurses have no specific continuing education requirements. However, individual states have continuing education requirements for registered nurses.

Remember to maintain your active status if your duties as a charge nurse rely on certifications in your specialty.