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 $10,000!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 MBA, MHRM, MHA and MSN programs is $155 per credit ($125 per credit for MPH). Students in all programs must maintain continuous enrollment to remain eligible for the tuition pricing of $155/$125 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. Students who receive the tuition price of $155/$125 per credit cannot use any 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 $10,000. Program cost breakdown: $7,440 in tuition + $2,460 in fees = $9,900 in program cost ($7,000 in tuition + $2,870 in fees = $9,870 in program cost for MPH). Program availability varies by campus and state; please see the Rasmussen University Catalog for details.

Brianna Flavin

Brianna is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She earned her MFA in poetry and teaches as an adjunct English instructor. She loves to write, teach and talk about the power of effective communication.

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