What Does it REALLY Take to Become a Director of Nursing?

Director Of Nursing

There’s a lot you like about being a nurse. You have a meaningful job where you directly help people maintain their health. You have solid earning potential. You (for the most part) enjoy the people you work with. That said, you’re not quite sure if your current role is where you want to stay on your career ladder. You’re looking for the next rung up—new challenges and more responsibility—which is why you’re curious about becoming a director of nursing (DoN).

You’ve mastered the day-to-day duties of a nurse, and you’re ready to put your experience and leadership skills to the test. You may have an idea of some of the potential next steps to get you there, but before you make any sudden moves, you want to be sure you know what it really takes to become a director of nursing.

Keep reading to gain valuable insight from the experts so you can determine if this could be the next step in your nursing career.

What does a director of nursing do?

The responsibilities of a director of nursing will vary greatly by the type and size of facility they’re employed at. That said, they’re generally tasked with the leadership and oversight of a facility’s nursing staff. The requires conflict management skills, the ability to adhere to regulatory demands, overseeing infection control efforts and guiding communication within and between departments. They may also play a direct role in the interviewing and hiring of staff.

Other common tasks include:

  • Overseeing staff operations, business planning and budget development
  • Ensuring the facility follows professionally set standards, including state and federal regulatory requirements
  • Planning and directing the nursing program
  • Maintaining relationships with patients and families
  • Overseeing inventory, order processing and distribution of products and services

What are some important qualities of a director of nursing?

As you consider becoming a director of nursing, you want to be sure you have the qualities employers are looking for and the acumen to excel in your career. Take a moment to look through some of the qualities important for the role.

Professionalism: Above all else, you must be able to do your job professionally, and not let the frustrations or complaints of team members or patients cause you to falter and lead to further issues.

Farber says a good director of nursing needs the ability to leave themselves at the door and focus 100 percent on the task at hand—ensuring quality care for patients and their families. Leaders cannot let petty personal issues or lapses of accountability get in the way of their teams’ work.

Compassion: Having compassion for your patients and their families is a part of any nursing position. But as a director of nursing, you’ll need to have compassion for your team of RNs as well. A good director of nursing can empathize with teammates and keeps in mind the pressures and challenges they face in their daily work.

Organization: “Organization is crucial for teamwork,” says Molly Rindt, RN and talent advocate at Incredible Health. She adds that strong organizational abilities are an important part of leadership, since staff RNs can really get behind a director of nursing who keeps things working smoothly.

Problem solving: A director of nursing needs to be adept at problem solving to come up with solutions to critical issues nurses face in the hospital, according to Rindt. Anything from nursing shortages, pandemic adjustments, safety training, budget problems or nursing burnout could appear on a nursing director’s agenda.

What skills does a director of nursing need?

Just like many other overseeing positions, directors of nursing need critical thinking skills, the ability to communicate and delegate tasks or projects. Farber adds that they also need knowledge across the lifespan and diversity management.

Directors of nursing also need to stay current in their technical skills. They need to “maintain bedside mentality to ensure a standard of care is being upheld and have a base of technology skills to ensure electronic charting standards are met,” Rindt says.

Another way to survey the skills needed to become a director of nursing is to take a look at what skills employers are commonly seeking in job postings. To do that, we used job posting analysis software to examine over 38,000 director of nursing job postings from the past year. Below are some of the most commonly sought-after skills:1

  • Patient care
  • Budgeting
  • Long-term care
  • Staff management
  • Scheduling
  • Supervisory skills
  • Quality assurance and control
  • Care planning
  • Legal compliance

What education and experience are needed to become a director of nursing?

While requirements will vary depending on the employer, director of nursing positions are typically seeking registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In fact, of all the director of nursing job postings we analyzed, 85 percent were seeking candidates with a Bachelor’s degree or higher at a minimum.1 Farber states that some settings, like hospitals, will likely prefer or even require a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). But education isn’t the only thing that matters.

As you might expect, experience is also an important factor for would-be nursing directors. Ideally, this includes leadership experience as a unit lead or supervisor. Experienced RNs are often excellent candidates for director of nursing roles for obvious reasons—they've walked the walk and know how to handle the daily challenges a nursing unit faces. Of course, there’s still a learning curve involved as RNs branch out into more of the administrative functions of this role

When you’ve gained some of that on-the-floor perspective, it will help to look for leadership roles to further enhance your abilities and make sure you like the responsibility of directing others.

If you’re looking to round out your leadership and administrative skills, the Rasmussen University Master of Science in Nursing program offers specialized coursework that will help develop key competencies that might be outside the scope of your daily work duties.

How to prepare for your nursing career advancement

No matter where you are in your nursing career currently, know that a director of nursing role will require both education and experience. A Master of Science in Nursing program that incorporates leadership and administration-focused courses can be a great way for you to develop senior leadership skill and demonstrate your dedication to growing in your career. Even better? You can earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree from Rasmussen University for under $15,000!2

If you’d like to learn more about the Rasmussen University Master of Science in Nursing program, check out “10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Rasmussen University Master of Science in Nursing Program.”

1Burning-Glass.com (Analysis of 38,720 director of nursing job postings from Jul. 01, 2020 - Jun. 30, 2021).
2Tuition for MSN program is $260 per credit; excludes MSN Nurse Practitioner specializations. Students in all programs must maintain continuous enrollment to remain eligible for the tuition pricing of $260 per credit. A student who withdraws and re-enrolls will be required to pay the tuition price offered at the time of their re-enrollment. MSN students who receive the tuition price of $260 per credit may be eligible to use additional discounts, grants and/or scholarships. If a student needs to retake one or more courses in the degree program, the total cost of the program will exceed $15,000. MSN (excluding Nurse Practitioner specializations) Program cost breakdown: $12,480 in tuition + $2,460 in fees = $14,940 in program cost. Program availability varies by campus and state; please see the Rasmussen University Catalog for details.

About the author

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a senior content manager who writes student-focused articles for Rasmussen University. She holds an MFA in poetry and worked as an English Professor before diving into the world of online content. 

Related Content

Related Content

This piece of ad content was created by Rasmussen University to support its educational programs. Rasmussen University may not prepare students for all positions featured within this content. Please visit www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of programs offered. External links provided on rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen University does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced. Rasmussen University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

logo-accreditation-acen logo-accreditation-ccne chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors-masters 0 Credits 90 Credits 180 Credits 48 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE Start Here MASTER'S DEGREE PURSUERS End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE End Here MASTER'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-associates-bachelors 0 Credits Start Here HIGH SCHOOL GRADS Start Here TRANSFER STUDENTS 90 Credits Start Here SECOND DEGREE PURSUERS End Here ASSOCIATE'S DEGREE 180 Credits End Here BACHELOR'S DEGREE chart-credential-laddering-msn chart-credential-laddering-nursing-programs chart-credential-laddering-post-grad-np chart-credential-laddering-nursing DNP MSN RN to BSN LPN to RN Bridge Accelerated BSN Professional Nursing ADN Practical Nursing Diploma Pre-Licensure Post-Licensure icon-colored-outline-bank icon-colored-outline-certificate icon-colored-outline-circle-dollar-sign icon-colored-outline-folder-search icon-colored-outline-hand-heart icon-colored-outline-head-blocks icon-colored-outline-head-cog icon-colored-outline-head-heart icon-colored-outline-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-outline-hospital icon-colored-outline-lifelong-learning icon-colored-outline-light-bulb-analytics icon-colored-outline-location-pin icon-colored-outline-magnifying-glass icon-colored-outline-monitor-healthcare icon-colored-outline-monitor-paper-search icon-colored-outline-nurse-rays icon-colored-outline-padlock-shield icon-colored-outline-person-presenter-screen icon-colored-outline-scales ras-logo-flame ras-logo-horizontal ras-logo-stacked icon-colored-advance icon-colored-arrows-cross-curve icon-colored-briefcase-star icon-colored-build icon-colored-bulb-analytics icon-colored-certificate icon-colored-continual-development icon-colored-duo-chatbox icon-colored-folder-mortarboard icon-colored-forward-ribbon icon-colored-gears-clock icon-colored-globe-pen icon-colored-growth icon-colored-hand-bubble icon-colored-hand-stars icon-colored-hands-gear icon-colored-head-blocks icon-colored-head-cog icon-colored-health-plus-leaves icon-colored-hospital-building icon-colored-laptop-cbe-skyscraper icon-colored-laptop-checkmark icon-colored-laptop-webpage icon-colored-location-map icon-colored-location-pin icon-colored-monitor-paper-scan icon-colored-mortarboard-dollar icon-colored-national icon-colored-people-chat-bubbles icon-colored-person-cheer-star icon-colored-person-laptop-checkboxes icon-colored-person-screen-instructor icon-colored-person-whiteboard icon-colored-phone-chatbox icon-colored-police-light icon-colored-prep icon-colored-presenter icon-colored-regional icon-colored-save-time icon-colored-shirt-hat icon-colored-skyscraper icon-colored-state icon-colored-student-centered icon-colored-support icon-colored-world-experience icon-triangle-arrow-up-plant icon-triangle-calendar-pencil icon-triangle-clock-rotating-arrows icon-triangle-display-gears icon-triangle-hand-right-speech-bubble icon-triangle-laptop-coding-brackets icon-triangle-mortarboard icon-triangle-paper-ribbon icon-triangle-person-cheer-star icon-triangle-person-juggle icon-triangle-triple-people-chat-bubble icon-modality-campus icon-modality-field icon-modality-online icon-modality-residential icon-arrow icon-bank icon-camera icon-filter icon-general-chart icon-general-connect icon-general-degree icon-general-discuss icon-general-email icon-general-find icon-general-hat icon-general-heart icon-general-laptop-building icon-general-laptop icon-general-leader icon-general-map icon-general-money icon-general-paperwork icon-general-people icon-general-phone icon-general-speak-out icon-head-heart icon-info-circle icon-mail-forward icon-mglass icon-play-solid icon-quote-mark-left icon-quote-mark-right icon-scales icon-share-square-o icon-simple-chat icon-simple-desktop icon-simple-find icon-simple-hamburger icon-simple-phone icon-spinner icon-tag icon-testimonial-quotes icon-util-checkbox-white icon-util-checkbox icon-util-checked-white icon-util-checked icon-util-chevron-down icon-util-chevron-left icon-util-chevron-right icon-util-chevron-up icon-util-circle-arrow-down icon-util-circle-dot icon-util-language-switch icon-util-loading icon-util-open-window-link icon-util-pdf-link icon-util-refresh icon-util-x rebrand-arrows icon-social-facebook-colored icon-social-facebook-square-colored icon-social-facebook-square icon-social-facebook icon-social-google-plus-square icon-social-google-plus icon-social-instagram-colored icon-social-instagram icon-social-linkedin-square-colored icon-social-linkedin-square icon-social-linkedin icon-social-pinterest-p-colored icon-social-pinterest-p icon-social-twitter-colored icon-social-twitter-square icon-social-twitter icon-social-youtube-play-colored icon-social-youtube-play graduate-cap-star-coin hand-coin hand-heart nurse-stethoscope-rays card-send-smile person-yoga-pose suitcase-star