Charge Nurse Role: What You Need To Know
April 10, 2020
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Hospitals and other medical institutions depend on great leadership to work effectively – and with nearly 4 million working nurses in the United States, having a great charge nurse in no exception.

The functionality of the nursing unit depends on having a charge nurse with the skills to lead, ensure that the unit is meeting its goals, giving excellent patient care, and ensuring that staff gets their work done. Great charge nurses are known for keeping the department organized and running efficiently while encouraging great teamwork and inspiring a team of nurses to perform at their best.

“The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.”
-John Maxwell

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What is a charge nurse?

A charge nurse is a nurse who oversees an entire team of nurses in a particular hospital unit or department. They serve as a liaison between staff nurses, upper administration, nurse educator, and other hospital clinicians.

Charge nurses are needed to manage hospitals, residential care facilities, nursing homes, surgery centers, and outpatient units. Although they can give direct patient care- and often do if the unit is short-staffed – they mostly work peripherally to bedside nurses and within a more administrative role.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities usually have several charge nurses who are responsible for different departments and specialty units.

Charge nurse duties and responsibilities

Charge nurse duties include:

  • Managing nurses
  • Supervising and assisting nursing staff when needed
  • Providing administrative support
  • Assigning nurses to patients
  • Creating nurse schedules
  • Managing the in and outflow of patients to a unit
  • Being flexible and responsive to nurses needs on the unit
  • Prioritize patient care needs, especially during urgent or emergent situations
  • Document nurse performance
  • Work with upper administration to address any hospital issues or issues with staff

Other ancillary charge nurse roles might include:

  • Checking the crash carts daily in the unit
  • Counting medications in the Pyxis or other automated drug dispenser once a shift
  • Work with the facility’s patient placement
  • Attend a daily staff meeting with social work, physical therapy, nurse practitioners, doctors to make sure patients get what they need for discharge and ensure a timely discharge

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” – Ronald Reagan

How to become a charge nurse?

To become a charge nurse, you must already have several years of nursing experience and deep understanding of the workflow and patient population where you work. You need to master your nursing skills, and if possible, become as involved as possible with team building activities in your workplace.

It is also imperative that you express your desire to be promoted to management and ask them precisely what you need to do to earn the position.  Each facility is different.

Note:  It is more challenging to start a charge nurse role on a unit where a nurse has never worked before, even if they have many years of practice under their belt. It helps to know many of the nurses already personally, as it helps to build trust as a leader. Knowing other ancillary staff, such as respiratory therapists, social workers, case managers, nurse practitioners, and doctors on the unit, will also help you get started on the right foot.

Other tips to prepare yourself for a charge nurse role:

  • Become certified in your nursing specialty
  • Master your workflow as a nurse
  • Become an expert on nursing skills needed on your unit
  • Offer help to other nurses whenever you can
  • Become a preceptor for new nurse graduates on the unit
  • Express your desire to be promoted into a charge nurse role to administration
  • Take leadership classes, either online or through your facility if they have them
  • Join the Unit Practice Counsel UPC – if your unit has one
  • Offer to help in all team building projects on your unit

The difference between a charge nurse and a unit manager

A unit manager is sometimes referred to as a unit director. And while both charge nurses and unit managers are leadership positions, they are still very different positions and require different levels of education.

A unit manager oversees the entire nursing unit, including all of the charge nurses. Unit managers also handle more of the business management of the unit than charge nurses do. Also, unit managers work more closely with the upper hospital administration to keep the unit aligned with the goals of the entire organization.

Charge nurses must have an ADN or BSN to hold the position.  A unit manager often holds a master’s degree (MSN) or higher, usually with an emphasis on leadership and hospital management.

What is a charge nurse’s salary?

Charge nurses often make a few dollars an hour more than floor nurses.  However, it varies depending on your location and facility.

According to the U.S. Beurua of Labor Statistics, the median pay for nurses in the United States is $71,730 per year or $34.48 per hour. It is essential to keep in mind that many states pay much higher, or much lower, depending on local nursing rates and cost of living.

For example, nurses in California or New York make a higher hourly wage, while other states, such as Illinois or Iowa might make less than the median U.S. pay.

Excellent qualities of a charge nurse

“The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.”  -John Maxwell

There is no question that a charge nurse role is extremely challenging at times. But a great charge nurse needs to be able to see through the stress and inspire nurses to rise above and perform at their best. Here are three qualities of a great charge nurse.

Resilience – When the work gets tough, great charge nurses get even tougher and push through.  Some days will seem impossible, but resilient leaders persevere.

Emotional Intelligence – The dictionary describes emotional intelligence as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and sympathetically.” Many great leaders say emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success.

Decision-making capabilities: Charge nurses need to be able to make quick decisions. The hospital setting moves quickly, and patient safety depends on taking action fast, especially in an emergency.

Certifications to be a charge nurse

To become a charge nurse, you must first be a registered nurse who has graduated from an accredited program. There are several ways to do this – including achieving an associate degree  (ADN), a 2-year degree) or Bachelors’s Degree In Nursing (BSN), which takes four years to complete.

While many of the same topics taught at the ADN level are covered in a BSN, a four-year program will provide a deeper set of skills and education. The field of nursing is becoming more competitive and more employers require newly appointed R.N.s to hold a BSN.

There are no national or state certifications to become a charge nurse. However, many charge nurses are certified in the specialty floor where they work. In most cases, the charge nurse worked as an R.N. on the floor for several years and has a clear understanding of how the unit functions.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Beurua of Labor Statistics, the nursing profession is expected to grow by 12% from 2018-2028, which is much faster than average. That means that there will also be plenty of opportunities for nurses to take on charge nurse roles.

Conclusion

Taking on higher leadership positions, such as charge nurse, can help you create a satisfying and long term healthcare career, earn a higher salary, and open up more opportunities away from the bedside. If you have any additional questions, please leave a comment below.

Additional recommended reading:

Check out this video to learn more about nurses in leadership positions:

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