Charge nurses working together in the hospital

Charge Nurses are also Operating Room or Theater Nurses. They often have supervisory roles and can perform most tasks assigned to general nurses. They ensure the shift runs smoothly and coordinate with the hospital administrators, physicians, and staff nurses.

Let’s explore the Charge Nurse profession, the qualifications you need, responsibilities, and how much you can expect to earn.

What Is the Difference Between a Charge Nurse and a Registered Nurse (RN)?

A registered nurse (RN) is any nurse who passes the NCLEX-RN exam and meets all the requirements of becoming a nurse based on the guidelines of their state’s licensing body.

Registered nurses hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). They have various roles such as

  • Offering direct patient care

  • Collaborating with other medical teams to develop patient or nursing care plans

  • Directing complex nursing care systems

  • Educating patients on disease prevention and maintaining health 

  • Teaching in nursing programs

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

Charge Nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with additional administrative or supervisory duties. They coordinate with hospital administrators and nursing staff to ensure that all operations run smoothly in a nursing unit or department.

The administrative duties of a Charge Nurse include:

  • Assigning tasks to other nursing staff

  • Overseeing patient admissions and discharge

  • Preparing schedules

  • Leading and guiding other nurses who work directly with the patients. 

The nursing responsibilities of a Charge Nurse include:

  • Educating patients and their families about health care plans

  • Monitoring and assessing vital signs in critical patients 

  • Updating other medical professionals on patients’ progress

Typically, a registered nurse reports to a Charge Nurse in their unit or the physician in charge of the patient’s care.

What Qualifications Does a Charge Nurse Need?

A Charge Nurse must be a registered nurse and hold an RN degree. Most healthcare facilities opt for RNs with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, but you can also work with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).

Charge Nurses require extensive experience to understand how specific units or departments operate. They should communicate effectively with patients, families, and physicians. 

A Charge Nurse is the risk management person and management’s representative during the shift. In case of any issue, the nurse must understand the chain of command to take the necessary course of action. 

They assist with preventing patient injury, supervising other staff members, and coordinating patient care.

Licensing and Related Qualifications

A Charge Nurse requires a current registered nurse (RN) license to practice. Most healthcare facilities also require active or current cardiopulmonary resuscitation qualifications.

Charge Nurses also need experience in certain specialties, such as obstetrics. 

Clinical Expertise

A Charge Nurse must be a clinical expert because they care for patients while performing management tasks.

Less experienced staff members go to a Charge Nurse for guidance and intervention where patient care gets compromised. The nurse should regularly monitor patient conditions to ensure timely action in case the conditions deteriorate. 

As a Charge Nurse, you should be able to anticipate issues and address them before they occur.

Emergency Department Charge Nurses

Emergency room, operating room, or theatre Charge Nurses ensure the department runs efficiently. These nurses request additional staff, guide less experienced nurses and assign tasks. They also handle patient complaints and liaise with other hospital staff and doctors. 

Handling all these duties and responsibilities requires skills such as

  • Strong leadership skills

  • Flexibility, planning, and coordination

  • The ability to remain calm and assertive even under pressure

  • The ability to make critical decisions

What Work Does a Charge Nurse Do Day to Day?

The responsibilities of a Charge Nurse depend on the specific workplace. Some facilities have a nurse manager and a Charge Nurse, but some only have a Charge Nurse to handle tasks like

  • Patient education

  • Supervising and offering support to other staff and nurses in the unit 

  • Evaluating patient care and staff members' successes and failures with the management

  • Creating schedules 

  • Assigning patients or tasks to nurses based on their strengths, weaknesses, and talents

  • Training new staff members and implementing new programs 

  • Ensuring compliance with safety standards and organizational regulations

  • Overseeing patient admissions and discharges 

  • Monitoring and placing orders for supplies 

  • Monitoring patient medication and intervening where necessary

  • Guiding and advising other nurses

  • Assessing nurses' performance 

  • De-escalating volatile situations involving staff members, patients, or their families 

  • Developing, approving, and adjusting patient care plans 

  • Ensuring medical equipment remains functional and in good condition

Where Do Charge Nurses Work?

Charge Nurses can work in various medical settings, such as

  • Various departments in hospitals

  • Nursing units

  • Intensive care units

  • Emergency departments

  • Surgical departments

  • Labor and delivery

  • Neonatal units

  • Medical or physician offices

  • Nursing homes

  • Rehabilitation facilities

  • Dialysis centers

  • Ambulatory specialty departments

  • Home health care agencies

Charge Nurses sometimes travel to handle managerial tasks such as offsite meetings.

What Is It Like to Be a Charge Nurse?

Charge Nurses are vital in any medical facility or place where nurses provide their services. They coordinate and oversee hospital processes and staff to ensure smooth operations.

Charge nursing is more than a job position. It's an intellectual process that calls for social and emotional intelligence and critical thinking to handle people daily.

As a Charge Nurse, you’ll have several roles that require various skill sets. You’ll need to set an excellent example of how nurses work and use this example to educate the other nurses.

However, your duties as a Charge Nurse become easier with the proper knowledge and skills. 

Most of these skills are easy to learn and perfect, such as remaining calm under pressure, multi-tasking, and effective communication.

How Much Do Charge Nurses Make? 

Charge Nurses often have five or more years' clinical experience and other experience as nursing instructors or advanced practice nurses. Therefore, Charge Nurses often earn more than registered nurses in the same facility.

On average, Charge Nurses earn an annual salary of $73,298.27 in the US. The specific amount depends on factors such as your experience level, the particular industry, and your location.

Recommended Reading - How much do Charge Nurses make?

Are There Different Specialties of Charge Nurses?

As a Charge Nurse, you have the freedom to choose the specific area of interest you want to pursue. 

If your passion is working with small babies, you can work in the neonatal unit to gain experience for a NICU Charge Nurse position. If you prefer the ER, you can work in the emergency department to prepare for your ER Charge Nurse role.

Most Charge Nurses select the area to specialize in based on the type of healthcare facility where they work. Since there are numerous specialties to choose from, it's best to follow your passion for getting the motivation to handle the extra responsibilities.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Career as a Charge Nurse

The Charge Nurse position provides a fantastic opportunity to take on more responsibilities and start a leadership path.

Advantages of Choosing a Career as a Charge Nurse 

Variety of Job Opportunities

The Charge Nurse position is a dynamic role. Exposure to various tasks equips you with different leadership skill sets and competencies. 

These skills are essential as they prepare you for leadership positions in various industries.

Enhanced Care Delivery

You'll become exposed to various care delivery aspects as a Charge Nurse. You'll participate in planning, forecasting, staffing, and calculating acuity and patient ratios. You’ll also represent and advocate for your team and interact with management.

These areas have different challenges, equipping you with a desirable skill set in the job market. 

Better Bedside Skills

Working as a Charge Nurse enhances your bedside nurse skills. It gives you a unique understanding of the decisions and their determining factors. You'll better understand patient care assignments and reconciling admits and discharges.

Other outstanding benefits of working as a Charge Nurse are

  • Greater opportunity to earn a higher salary

  • The ability to enhance effectiveness and efficiency, and make a difference in your workplace

Disadvantages of Choosing a Career as a Charge Nurse

  • More administrative tasks mean more paperwork

  • Increased responsibility can be stressful to handle, especially in a crisis

  • Charge Nurses have to make more challenging decisions under pressure

  • Exposure to lawsuits and high-stress situations

How to Become a Charge Nurse

There's no special training for a Charge Nurse, so your starting point is becoming a registered nurse. You’ll need an RN license, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).

You'll have to take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to get the RN license. 

Recommended Reading - How to Become a Charge Nurse in The USA?

Gaining Experience

Once you have the RN license and academic qualifications, you'll need to acquire at least three years of experience in clinical patient care. It’s best to work in the unit or specialty to intend to pursue as a Charge Nurse to enhance your skills.

You can further your education with an advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. It helps you stand out to employers and increases your chances of getting a higher salary.

You can also attain additional credentials or certifications such as pediatric life support, essential life support, and CPR.

Nurturing Leadership Skills

The Charge Nurse role requires you to distinguish yourself by demonstrating exceptional leadership skills. It would be best if you showed the ability to remain calm in stressful situations, multi-tasking, and problem-solving. 

Thriving in a Charge Nurse role requires dedication to continuous learning. Ensure you acquire various certifications and courses that benefit your career.

As you gain further experience, ensure you identify your weaknesses and develop tangible ways to improve them. You should also get a membership for professional organizations and communities. 

With a positive attitude and determination, you can take on any challenges the Charge Nurse role throws.

Recommended Reading - How to Become a Charge Nurse in The USA?

Frequently Asked Questions about Charge Nurses

How Long Does It Take to Become a Charge Nurse?

You need to become a registered nurse before becoming a Charge Nurse; earning a bachelor's or associate's degree in nursing takes two to four years.

Once you get your degree, you’ll sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses to get your license. You’ll then work for at least three years in clinical patient care as you prepare for the Charge Nurse position. 

Do Charge Nurses Earn More or Less Than Registered Nurses?

Charge Nurses often have more years' experience and earn more than other staff nurses. The amount depends on how the health facility defines this role.

Who is higher than a Charge Nurse?

A Charge Nurse typically reports to the Director of Nursing, who is responsible for several Charge Nurses. 

Directors of Nursing are in charge of the whole service line, not only one unit. They help with higher-level decisions and represent all nurses in the boardroom.

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

Does a Charge Nurse Have Patients?

Charge Nurses have leadership duties for their shift, unit, or department but also care for patients. The role combines management and clinical responsibilities.

Does a Charge Nurse Have More Power Than a Doctor?

Generally, the roles of doctors and nurses are different, but doctors often have more authority than nurses in the same facility. The specific functions of each profession depend on how the facility's health care system works.