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
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Nurses often want to know the pros and cons of travel nursing before making a colossal life-altering career decision. If you have been considering travel nursing as a potential career trajectory, this article is for you.
Travel nursing offers an opportunity for career growth.
For anyone who dreams of entering the healthcare field to help others but doesn’t want to be tied down to working in a single facility, becoming a travel nurse is an appealing option. As a travel nurse, you can spend your days working in different facilities in your immediate area, taking care of patients in their homes, or providing skilled nursing services as needed in different parts of the country—or even the world.
In a lot of ways, travel nursing is amazing. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t any potential drawbacks. If you are considering a career in travel nursing, keep reading to learn a bit more about the pros and cons, and how to get started.
Let’s start with the good stuff. As a travel nurse, you will have the opportunity to live in various towns and cities throughout the nation. In some instances, you may even get to travel to exotic locations in other parts of the world. You’ll get to meet new people and immerse yourself in unfamiliar cultures.
When you work as a travel nurse, you quickly gain valuable work experience. You can gain knowledge that would likely take you years to learn in a single location in a matter of months. And if you don’t love your current nursing job, accepting a travel position can provide you with an easy way to escape.
As a travel nurse, you’ll be able to take more time off throughout the year as you choose. You have a higher degree of flexibility and control over your schedule than you do when working at a single facility. Because travel nurses work through staffing agencies, you will have the opportunity to try out potential employers before committing to a full-time position.
Travel nursing is always in high demand.
Travel nurses have a high level of control over where and when they work, so they often have the freedom to go where they want to go, when they want to go. You may even be able to find work in a specific city when you know there is an upcoming event that you would like to attend. Or you could accept an assignment near a friend or family member’s home if you would like to visit them for a few days (or longer).
Travel nurses are in high demand, too, so there are often attractive sign-on bonuses and other incentives that tend to make this career path look pretty appealing.
Travel Nursing Cons
The pros of working as a travel nurse are numerous, but there are also some drawbacks that you should be aware of when you are trying to decide whether it’s the right career for you. For starters, it doesn’t offer the same sort of stability as you would expect in other nursing positions. As a travel nurse, you are classified as a temporary employee, which makes it much easier for your employer to terminate your working relationship. Being classified as a temporary employee can also make it more challenging to collect unemployment benefits if you are terminated.
While you may have more flexibility in terms of taking time off, you shouldn’t expect that time to be paid. Paid time off is rare for travel nurses and, even when it is available, it’s usually tough to qualify for.
When you take on a new assignment, there will usually be onboarding requirements that can be quite time-consuming, and in many instances, they’re unpaid. Travel nurses also tend to move around a lot, which can make it challenging to build and maintain personal relationships.
Last, if you have what the IRS considers a “tax home,” many of the reimbursements and stipends you receive as a travel nurse are non-taxable. This may seem like a good thing because it means more money on your paycheck. However, it also means a lower gross income on paper. This could be problematic in the eyes of loan officers or when you reach retirement age.
You can meet nurses from all over the world as a travel nurse.
Getting Started as a Travel Nurse
For many people, the pros of being a travel nurse outweigh the cons. If it still sounds like a career that you would be interested in, you will need to have the appropriate qualifications to get started. Most travel nurses are RNs, so you will need to have completed nursing school and become one before you are qualified for the job. Some agencies also work with LPNs, but you will have a much easier time being placed if you are an RN.
Keep in mind that you will need to be licensed to work in states other than your own. If you do not have the proper licensing to work in a state where you would like to be assigned, however, your staffing agency should be able to help you obtain it.
You usually need to have some experience working in a traditional nursing position, too. Before you can start traveling across the country as a nurse, you’ll need to spend a year or two (at minimum) working in a hospital or another facility. If you plan on working in a specialized field, such as ICU or labor and delivery nursing, additional bedside experience may be required.
Of course, you’ll also need the general supplies that are required for nurses. Do some research to discover the best shoes for nurses, find scrubs that are appropriate for the climate in which you will be working, etc.
The Bottom Line
Life as a travel nurse can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. If you think this career path is right for you, now is a great time to start preparing for your future. Whether you prefer to keep your travel distance relatively small or you dream of helping patients throughout the entire country, when you look and feel your best in your favorite scrubs and are committed to reaching your goals, anything is possible!
Adela Ellis, RN
Adela Ellis is a full-time nurse and part-time ambassador for Infinity Scrubs. Adela attended the University of Arizona and has been a travel nurse for the last six years. She enjoys working with different doctors, nurses, and patients from all over the country and blogging about her experiences. In her free time, she loves true-crime podcasts and cooking for friends and family.
You did it! You finally graduated from nursing school.
Now it is time to put all of your clinical and critical thinking skills to work so you can start helping patients. But first, you need to land your first nursing job.
Unfortunately, though, even when you have all of the skills needed to be a great nurse, finding your first RN position doesn’t always come easily. This may come as a shock to many new nurse graduates, especially since the US Bureau Of Labor Statistics states job openings in healthcare are supposed to increase by 14% from 2018-2028.
The good news is that once you get your feet wet as a novice nurse, subsequent nurse jobs won’t be as challenging to find because you will already have the experience on your resume.
In the meantime, here are a few things you can do to land your first nursing job successfully. Good luck!
Research the different types of nursing specialties
Pediatric nursing is one of the many specialties that nurses can go into.
Do you want to be involved in a fast-paced hospital setting? Or, would you prefer working with older individuals in a senior center? Perhaps you have your heart set on working in pediatrics or on a postpartum unit?
Alternatively, you may want to consider working in the ICU, emergency room, operating room, or on a med-surg floor unit. There are so many directions that your nursing career can take.
Some specialties require that you have additional certifications. For example, you must have your PALS, ACLS, and EKG training to work in most emergency rooms. It may be worth your time to invest in getting them before you interview for the position. Achieving certifications beforehand show that the interviewer that you are both qualified for and serious about getting the job.
Do an internship through your nursing program (and consider it an interview for a job!)
All of your clinical experiences in the hospital as a student nurse are potential job opportunities after you graduate.
One of the best places to get more information on how to gain experience is through your school or nursing program. Often, they’ll have internships with area hospitals or clinics, where you can get hands-on experience working around other nurses.
Some schools even have programs that allow their nursing students to work there during nursing school. It can give you a leg up if an opening for a new graduate becomes available.
Apply to the nurse graduate or nurse residency programs in your area
If you’re fresh out of nursing school, you might find it frustrating when every job post you see suggests that they require experience. After all, how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will hire you?
Many hospitals have nurse graduate programs or nurse residency programs that will hire a handful of new nurses once or twice a year. These programs are tailored to the novice nurse who needs training about and beyond what a more experienced nurse would need. These programs are anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months and are an excellent way for new nurses to get better experience and training then they would otherwise.
Brush up on your interviewing skills
Brush up on your interview skills so and impress the employer with what you have to say!
You need to shine during your interviews. Having a successful series of interviews is key to getting your first nursing job.
The University of Southern California suggests that employers need to use more psychological tools in their hiring process. They focus on things like revealing strengths, encouraging self-awareness, and cognitive ability tests. It is essential to have a clear understanding of what employers are looking for in the interview process so you can show your strengths and skills with more clarity.
Most importantly, practice as many interview questions as you possibly can before your interviews. There are many books online that are full of potential interview questions for nurses. Grab a nursing school friend and interview each other. Practice answering the questions out loud.
Let everyone know you are looking for a nursing job
Put yourself out there and let everyone know you are looking for a new nursing job
Nowadays, it’s not always enough to apply for a job online or in-person and expect a phone call in return the next day. Over 165,000 people graduate from nursing school each year, and they are all trying to land their first job that same way you are.
Sometimes, it’s not what you do but who you know. Reach out to family and friends for any job leads. Contact your nursing school or alumni association to see if they know of any positions to hospitals that are hiring. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there wherever and whenever you can to talk about potential leads for your career. You never know who might have the right connections that can help you to get your foot in the door.
Write a professional thank you note the day of your interview and then follow up with them a week later
After you crush your interview, don’t forget to follow up.
You must write a thank you note to the people you interviewed with after the interview. Thank them for taking the time to speak with you and write a sentence or two reminding them about why you are the right person for the job.
It may take them a while to get back to you. The hiring process at many institutions can take several weeks or even months. Many institutions interview hundreds or thousands of nurses every year, and the process can take a lot of time.
One thing you can do to be more proactive is to write a follow-up email about a week after your interview. Be professional, tell your interviewer that you are still really excited about the position, and ask when you might receive any follow up about the next steps in the hiring process.
Take pride in your career choice, and understand that the job hunt is not going to be easy. But if you can successfully make it through nursing school, then you can do just about anything! No matter where you end up working, you will find a unique opportunity to help people who need your help.
The right nursing job for you is out there. Stay motivated and keep working hard. Good luck!
Two weeks ago I was writing about how I wanted focus on trying to relax a little more and work a little less.
But life is so unpredictable. Just when you think things are going to be a certain way, a new opportunity spontaneously presents itself.
For the past year my RN title has been Resource Nurse, Float Pool. Essentially this means that I am a resource nurse for short-staffed units and I can float to any Med/Surg or Telemetry unit in the hospital. Soon my skill set is going to get an upgrade.
Soon I will be training to be an Emergency Room Nurse.
Emergency Room nursing is a whole new challenge for me.
In a few months I will be an Emergency Room Nurse at a Level 1 Trauma Hospital! Yay! Wait, wasn’t I just talking about not working so hard? Yup. Isn’t this program going to be stressful, exhausting and require a lot more work? Yeah, pretty much.
But opportunity is knocking and I’m going to go ahead and open the door. This is the first time this kind of cross training opportunity has ever been available at my hospital and I would be remiss to pass it up. In return, I get to expand my nursing prowess and make myself more marketable in my field.
I’m a nerd. I admit it.
If I’m not constantly learning or doing something new I get board pretty easily.
That partially explains why I left a lucrative career to go back to college for a second bachelors degree in nursing at the age of 32. I talk a little more about that here.
Back in my nursing school days I wanted to go directly to working in the ER or ICU after graduation. I had the desire to challenge myself right off the bat by caring for the most critical and vulnerable patient populations. But first I needed a job.
Nurse Residency programs are the place to be for a new grad.
As graduation approached I was frequently reminded that most new grad RN’s had a slim chance of getting excepted into a nurse graduate residency program. In fact, I knew of many RN grads who had been out of school for over a year and were still waiting to get their first job. This was due to the fact that there was a large surplus of graduate BSN’s coupled with a very limited number of nurse graduate residency programs available. From what I hear from new grads today, the problem still exists.
Patients never forget how their nurses made them feel.
To not have employment after 3 years in nursing school was definitely not OK for a gal graduating with 35k in student loan debt!
Since there are more Telemetry and Med/Surg Floors in most hospitals I thought I would have a better chance of just getting my foot in the door if I started there. So to maximize my chances for employment I asked to interview for ANY Telemetry unit position that was available in the entire hospital.
Fortunately my gamble paid off. Shortly after I applied to the nurse residency program at UCLA I started my nursing career on a Neuroscience and Stroke Telemetry Unit. I stayed on this unit for about 4 years and became certified in the specialty.
I still love Neuroscience and I’m so glad I started my nursing career there. Even though I have moved on to other things, I still feel like it is my home.
I’m back in school again. Sort of.
I’m back in student mode. I’m quickly finding out that becoming an Emergency Room Nurse requires an extraordinary amount of study and training. Just this week I completed Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certification (PALS) and Adult Certified Life Support Certification (ACLS).
Last week I shadowed two RN’s in the Liver Transplant ICU and Pediatric Unit to briefly introduce me to the specialties. This is because in the ER I will be working with Pediatrics as well as doing Trauma and Critical Care. Both are new specialties for me.
Next week I start orientation and will meet the preceptors who will help train me for the next 3 months. Then I start the 50+ hours of additional classroom training. I guess I will be doing a lot of studying after I put my daughter down to bed in the evenings.
(*Updated 3/9/20. This post about 12-hour shifts and health may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure policy here).
Preparing for 12-hour shifts as a registered nurse requires some prearranged groundwork and organization at home to ensure my day starts off on the right foot. As a working mom, I know I will be gone for a large chunk of time so I do my best to make sure things are properly set up at home the day before.
Additionally, as a nurse, I know how important it is that I take good care of myself so I can continue to give the best possible care to my family and patients. After all, I can’t expect others to listen to my health education if I don’t take my own advice and stay healthy too. No excuses!
My top 3 priorities for 12 hour-shifts and staying healthy:
#1. Grocery shop and prepare all meals in advance
I grocery shop every three days so I am able to prepare meals for my toddlers and for each of my 12-hour shifts at the hospital in advance. To avoid scrambling at the last minute I always make sure everything is ready and packaged to go the night before.
I prepare several options for the kids’ breakfasts, lunch, and dinner such including:
Avocado or almond toast
Bananas, apples, kiwis, various berries
Black bean or chickpea pasta
Veggies straws with hummus
In addition, one day per week I make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and keep it handy in the fridge for quick meal preparation. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. This is so convenient because I can whip something up quickly for my work lunches and I also have it on days I’m home with the kids.
In fact, I use it at least once or twice a day! I make everything from veggie smoothies, to salad dressings, to soups and blended coffee drinks. It makes my life so much easier, especially now that we have kids and time is limited.
In the mornings, I make a vegetable and berry smoothie with 1 tablespoon of Maca powder, flaxseed and/or hemp seeds for protein, and acai powder. I alternate my veggies between broccoli, spinach, and kale. For the berry part: strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries although sometimes ill add half a banana or mango. (The Nutribullet is one of the best inventions of the 21st century, I tell you).
I also make several mason jars of overnight oats on Sundays with a variety of flavors:
Peanut butter and maple
Banana and walnut
Almond and raisin
I either add ground flax seeds or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. And I’ll top with a dash of cinnamon. These make such an easy breakfast to go!
#2 Sleep as much as possible before a 12-hour shift
Let’s be honest – 12-hour shifts usually end up being closer to 14+ at the end of the day. And, many studies show that working 12-hour shifts are damaging to nurse health due to the length of time that nurses end up working. In fact, an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even some cancers have all been researched and publicized.
Since the shifts are not getting shorter anytime soon, the best thing that nurses can due to take care of themselves is rest as much as possible before shifts. Therefore, I make it a huge priority to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep before shifts. (This was so much easier before we had kids!)
I few things I use to help me sleep better at night:
Eye mask and earplugs. After having kids I realized that I am an incredibly light sleeper. In fact, even the slightest noises wake me up in the middle of the night. And sometimes I have difficulty falling back asleep again which is so frustrating when I work a 12-hour shift in the morning.
Restorative yoga poses. I keep a yoga pillow and a yoga mat right next to the bed that I use for restorative yoga poses about 20 minutes before I try to go to sleep. It helps decompress me from my day, check-in with myself and put me into a snugly and sleepy mood.
I always feel so much better when I get my heart rate up on my days off. The benefits of exercise have been well documented and are essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood and decreases stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also helps nurses have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
For me personally, yoga has been a total game-changer for my stress levels. But its also great to change up the routine a bit, and I enjoy escaping with my headphones for a run and listening to music. Whatever you do is great, as long as you actually do it!
Those who know me, know I’m a stickler for compression socks. Wearing compression stockings helped me work all the way through two pregnancies and I continue to wear them to this day. They help keep your legs energized, prevent varicose veins, and keep your ankles and feet from getting so swollen after being on your feet all day. Plus, they come is the cutest styles now.