Nurse Administrator working on a laptop on the hospital

A nurse administrator is an all-rounded person with operational, management, and clinical skills.

Nurse administrators are part of the high-level management in healthcare facilities and sometimes report to the CEO. They oversee and supervise nursing and implement clinical programs in the organization.

Nursing administrators handle tasks such as liaising with executives, data-driven decision-making, and policymaking. This position will also enable you to participate in budgeting and financial planning, quality control, development activities, training, and supervision.

You'll need extensive experience working as a nurse before transitioning to a nurse administrator. This fact should guide you when selecting the path to pursue to become a nurse administrator. 

Path 1 - Registered Nurse with ADN to Nurse Administrator

Advancing your career to a nurse administrator is an excellent decision financially and professionally. Working in hospitals gives you a higher chance to earn a better salary and access director-level or higher positions.

Attend Nursing School

With a GED or high school diploma, you can start your career path to a nurse administrator by becoming a registered nurse.

You can achieve this by pursuing an Associate's degree in Nursing (ADN). This 2-year program is the minimum education required to get a license to practice as a registered nurse.

There are various types of degrees you can pursue, including:

  • Associate of applied science in nursing (AASN)

  • Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)

  • Associate degree in nursing (ADN)

Once you graduate, you qualify to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination. 

Study and Pass The NCLEX-RN Exam 

Once you earn your ADN, you can register with the nursing regulatory body in your state to get an RN license. It qualifies you to take The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Obtain a State Registered Nurse License

You’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam, fulfill all license requirements, and pay the necessary license and exam fees to get a license to practice in your state.

Gain Clinical Experience 

The next step is gaining hands-on experience as an RN in a health care setting. Since your goal is to advance to a nurse administrator, you can focus more on administrative roles to gain specific experience.

It’s best to consider volunteering to help administrators complete some tasks as you find ways to show leadership and supervision skills. Then, as you gain experience, you can transition into administrative positions such as assistant director or head nurse.

Remember that most employers look for nurse administrators with five or more years of nursing experience and at least one year of handling nurse management duties.

The duration you practice as an RN before resuming studies or applying for nurse administration positions depends on you. 

Study and Pass a Nurse Administrator Certification

Pursuing a certification related to nursing management is best before you start working. Certifications are voluntary but allow you to advance your career and knowledge in the field. 

Ensure you fulfill the certification requirements in your state and pass the appropriate exam. Remember that there are continuing education requirements to renew your license.

As a nursing administrator, some essential certifications are:

You can move to a nursing administration role within your current workplace after gaining the proper knowledge, skills, and competence. Some employers consider on-the-job performance only, but others also require formal education.

Alternatively, you can look for a new job as a nursing administrator. As an ADN-RN, you can start by looking for nursing administrator support or assistant positions in the job market. It's easier than getting a direct job as a nursing administrator with an ADN.

Path 2: LPN or LVN to Nurse Administrator

The path from LPN to nurse administrator is mainly similar to the ADN-RN approach, but there are some key differences. 

Graduating from an accredited LPN/LVN Program

LPN/LVN programs are the easiest, most cost-effective, and affordable programs for aspiring practicing nurses.

These programs prepare future LVN/LPNs for their roles through practical skills. Once you graduate from the program, which takes six to eighteen months, you will get a certificate from your school.

Sitting for an Exam to Get an LPN/LVN License

This step is similar to the first path, but you’ll sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). This exam allows you to get a Practical Nurse/Vocational Nurse license. 

Gaining Practical Experience

Once you get your LPN/LVN license, you'll need practical experience in health care. Like in the first path, your goal is a nurse administrator position, so ensure your expertise focuses on administrative responsibilities.

Becoming an RN

Although an MSN is not a requirement to work as a nurse administrator, it gives you a competitive edge. 

It's essential to note that direct LPN-to-MSN bridge programs are currently unavailable. Therefore, you'll need to advance from an LVN/LPN to an RN to allow you to pursue nursing administration. 

This process takes between one to three years in programs such as:

LPN-to-ADN-RN

LPN to RN programs take about twelve to eighteen months, allowing you to become an RN faster than ADN-RN programs.

As an LPN/LVN, you have enough practical skills gained through training and work. However, these programs offer additional training to give you the critical thinking skills you need for your RN position.

Once you finish the LPN-to-ADN-RN bridge program, you’ll leave with an AASN, ASN, or ADN degree.

LPN-to-BSN-RN

Some nurse administration positions require a BSN. As an LPN/LVN, you can enroll in an LPN-to-BSN bridge program to get formal training.

These programs are also faster than BSN programs since they take about three years.

It’s possible to skip this step by gaining adequate practical experience in nursing administration, eliminating the need for formal education.

However, it’s essential to note that some employers prefer nurse administrators with a bachelor’s degree or a higher education level.

As an ADN-RN, you can get formal nursing education through programs such as:

  • RN-to-BSN

  • RN-to-BSN-to-MSN

  • RN-to-MSN programs

If you'd like to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, you can enroll in bridge programs such as:

1) RN to BSN Bridge Programs

RN-to-BSN programs best suit ADN-RNs who need a bachelor’s degree to get employment. It’s a great way to broaden employment opportunities and advance your formal training in nursing within a year or two.

2) RN-to-BSN-to-MSN Bridge Programs 

Master’s level training is highly beneficial in nursing and takes two to three years. RN-to-BSN-to-MSN programs accelerate the learning duration by allowing you to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s degree simultaneously.

3) RN-to-MSN Bridge Programs

RN-to-MSN programs best suit ADN-RNs who don’t need a BSN to get employment. You can pursue master’s level training in nursing administration directly.

Path 3 - BSN Nurse to Nurse Administrator

The pathway from BSN-RN to nurse administrator has similarities to the ADN-RN path. 

Graduating from an Accredited BSN Program

 Any motivated nurse can acquire leadership skills without formal education. However, one main advantage of starting your nurse administration path with a BSN is developing proper research, management, and leadership skills.

BSN programs require more time to complete than ADN or LPN programs. However, the extended duration of up to four years equips you with better critical thinking and nursing skills.

Sitting for an Exam to Get an RN License

After graduating with a BSN, you can take The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to get your RN license. 

Gaining Practical Experience

This step is similar to paths 1 and 2 above, where you gain hands-on experience for one year or more.

Graduating with a Master’s of Science in Nursing Administration 

You can skip this step and choose to pursue practical experience in nursing administration. However, remember that an MSN gives you a competitive edge and a better chance to get a job and earn more. 

Can You Become a Nurse Administrator Online?

Most MSN programs you'll need to become a nurse administrator are available online but include clinical hours.

Such programs take two to three years and focus on administrative practices and advanced nursing techniques. Some allow you to concentrate on nursing administration while you can major in nursing administration in other programs. 

You can also choose a combined MSN/MBA (Master of Business Administration) program. It gives you access to executive and upper-level management positions and advanced healthcare, financial, and management systems training. 

What Is the Difference Between a Nurse Administrator and a Regular Nurse?

Regular nurses and nurse administrators are both registered nurses with similar degrees. The main difference is the areas of specialization.

Nurses diagnose patients and prescribe treatments or medication focusing on the patients' health. 

Nurse administrators focus on managing medical facilities and improving quality. They rarely offer direct patient care and often collaborate with other nurses to achieve common goals. 

The two roles also require different professional certifications.

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

Nurse Administrators are highly valuable in health facilities to manage hiring processes and develop policies and protocols to enhance internal processes. 

As a nurse administrator, you have the freedom to choose your career goals and how you want to advance your career. For example, you can transition into a Registered Nurse Supervisor and then progress to a Registered Nurse Case Manager. 

If you focus and work hard, you can achieve the Assistant Director of Nursing role within a few years. 

Do Your Nurse Administrator Exam Qualifications Expire?

Most board certifications remain valid for three to five years. You'll have to renew your certification every three or five years to maintain your license to practice.

Standard credentials that remain valid for five years are such as:

  • Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC)

  • Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

  • Informatics Nursing Certification (RN-BC)

Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) and Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) have a validity of three years. You can renew your certification by passing an exam, completing 45 contact hours of continuing education, and paying the recertification fee.

How Much Do Nurse Administrators Make?

On average, nurse administrators in the US earn about $76,104.25 annually. The specific amount depends on various factors such as location, workplace setting, experience, and education level.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse Administrator?

It takes about six to eight years of nursing education and training to become a nurse administrator in the US.

Whether you're starting your education or already have a nursing degree, you'll need a Master’s degree in nursing administration. 

You'll also gain hands-on experience as an RN before advancing to the next level.

Are There Continuing Education Requirements for Nurse Administrators? 

Each state has requirements for nursing professionals to maintain their licenses. These requirements, including continuing education (CE) credits, vary by state.

You can earn CE credits by participating in various activities accredited by nursing organizations. You can also attend classes and conferences to remain updated on any developments in the nursing field.

As a nurse administrator, ensure you select classes that involve specific responsibilities for your role. Remember to confirm the CE requirements in your state to help you plan accordingly.