Head Nurse Job Description and Salary

If you are planning to enroll in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, you’ll be glad to know this degree can open the door to a wide variety of nursing management positions. An MSN in Leadership and Healthcare Systems can equip you with important leadership and administration skills that are needed to succeed in a managerial role. If you have a talent for leading others and are committed to ensuring that patients receive excellent care, you may be well suited to a head of nursing position.

What Does a Head of Nursing Do?

The head of nursing is responsible for the direction, organization and strategic planning of the nursing unit within a hospital or other healthcare facility. This executive is involved in assessing, evaluating and setting nursing care standards and objectives for the organization. In addition to overseeing the operations of the nursing unit, heads of nursing provide leadership and supervision to their direct reports, including nurse managers and the nursing staff. Among other responsibilities, individuals in this role will typically:

  • Plan the staffing budget and recruitment
  • Ensure that nursing care meets regulatory standards
  • Review and approve nursing policies and procedures
  • Evaluate nursing staff performance
  • Collaborate with nursing staff, upper management and external agencies in the coordination of patient care
  • Train nursing management staff and coordinate educational programs for patients and their families
  • Facilitate meetings with medical staff from other departments
  • Ensure that nursing care medical services are meeting patient needs
  • Implement quality assurance systems
  • Develop new patient care programs

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities Needed for This Job

One of the key knowledge areas required for heads of nursing is governmental healthcare regulations pertaining to nursing care. Understanding best practices in nursing procedures and staying current on healthcare administration industry developments are also important. This position requires good supervisory and delegation skills in order to lead and direct nursing staff. The head of nursing needs to be familiar with human resources procedures related to hiring, retaining and promoting nursing personnel. In addition, individuals in this role should possess:

  • Proven ability to manage and evaluate nursing staff
  • Strong written, verbal and interpersonal communication skills
  • Proficiency in multi-tasking and handling stressful situations
  • Talent for negotiation and collaboration

How to Prepare for a Career as a Head of Nursing

Individuals in this position usually began their careers as bedside registered nurses (RNs) and achieved promotions as they gained experience, education and training. Employers usually give preference to candidates who hold or are pursuing an MSN degree. An MSN in Leadership and Healthcare Systems  is a great way to prepare for this career, as it provides training in management, leadership and community health.

What Can You Expect to Earn as a Head of Nursing?

Nursing professionals in this role hold a variety of titles, including head of nursing and director of nursing. According to national salary data on, nursing directors earned a median annual salary of $101,486 as of Sept. 30, 2016. Salaries across the U.S. ranged from $92,360 to $111,667.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of medical and health services managers – including heads of nursing – is expected to grow by 17% between 2014 and 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Nurses with previous work experience and strong healthcare management skills will have the best job opportunities. An MSN in Nursing Administration can prepare RNs for supervisory roles of increasing responsibility, ultimately leading to a rewarding, high-profile position as a head of nursing.

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