Nurse Leader Role: Career Options at Home and Abroad

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A smiling nurse practitioner in a medical facility wearing scrubs and a stethoscope.Nurse leaders take on critical managerial responsibilities in hospital and medical facility settings. These leaders guide nurses and caregivers to achieve organizational goals and provide excellent patient care.

Although supervisory skills are important, nurse leader roles, such as chief nursing officer and nurse educator, require far more than routine management experience. Successful nurse leaders should be trained in health care best practices, problem-solving techniques, and mentoring styles. As leaders in the field, they bring a wealth of nursing knowledge, clinical experience, and leadership strategies to the workplace.

Nursing students who are interested in pursuing the role of nurse leader can begin the journey by following key steps. These include completing an undergraduate nursing degree, gaining clinical work experience, attaining proper state licenses and certifications, and earning a Master of Science in Nursing.

Leadership in the Nursing Profession

As the dynamic field of nursing continues to evolve, there is a growing need for nurse leaders with the skills and experience to take on directorial and mentorship roles in health care organizations. This is increasingly important, especially in light of the expanding nursing shortage affecting the overall health care system. As new nurses are educated and placed into the rotation, it will fall on the shoulders of experienced nurse leaders to bring them up to speed.

In the work setting, nurse leaders are responsible for managing teams of nurses, implementing hospital policies, designing and updating new policies, meeting budgetary requirements, and providing continuing education opportunities for nurses and caregivers.

Nurse leaders shape the future generation of nurses and directly impact public health policies at the local and state levels and beyond. For these reasons, hospitals and medical offices are seeking highly qualified candidates to fill important nurse leader roles.

Nursing Careers That Require Leadership Skills

There are a variety of career advancement opportunities both at home and abroad for nurse leaders. Qualified candidates with the requisite graduate degrees, field experience, managerial skills, and leadership characteristics can choose among the following typical career paths.

1. Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers (CNOs) oversee nursing department operations to ensure nursing staff members are following hospital protocol and procedures. Communication skills are crucial, as CNOs must lead with authority, explain goals and processes clearly, and motivate their teams to achieve organizational objectives. CNOs take charge to analyze and improve patient care methods. They are also responsible for financial management, including balancing the nursing budget and creating reports for stakeholders.

To qualify for this role of nurse leader, nurses must fulfill state licensing requirements and earn a master’s degree in nursing. Nurses with previous managerial work experience often have a distinct advantage with employers. Additional certifications help establish a candidate as an active and engaged leader in the nursing field. For instance, many CNOs are certified with either the Certification in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) or the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification (CNML). Either one may be attained through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).

Chief nursing officers earn a median annual salary of around $135,200, according to the compensation website PayScale (2021).

2. Nurse Educator

Nurse educators work alongside hospital administrators to create continuing education opportunities for nurses and caregivers. While the primary task of nurse educators is to teach and manage educational programs, they also develop health care policies that directly impact patient care.

In this leadership role, nurse educators identify gaps and areas of opportunity in a hospital’s current training system. They then create new educational materials to meet those needs. Educators collaborate with hospital administrators and colleagues to address the issues and identify accurate information. The training materials that nurse educators develop may include presentations, manuals, training guides, and other procedural documents for nurses and staff members.

To be eligible for the nurse educator role, registered nurses must earn a graduate degree, pass state licensing tests, and have years of hands-on clinical experience.

Nurse educators earn a median annual salary of about $77,600, according to PayScale (2021).

3. Nurse Manager

Nurse managers assume supervisory roles in specific nursing specialty fields. Common leadership positions include clinical nurse manager, nurse case manager, and clinical nurse leader.

A clinical nurse manager typically works in a hospital environment and is responsible for managing a team of nurses, including such elements as scheduling and addressing personnel issues. According to PayScale, clinical nurse managers earn a median annual salary of about $84,700 (2021).

Nurse case manager is an administrative role in a medical clinic or nursing home facility. Case managers oversee individual patient care requirements. They work closely with the health care teams assigned to each patient. According to PayScale, they earn a median annual salary of approximately $74,100 (2021).

The clinical nurse leader role involves managing patient care needs and delivery strategies. As leaders in a clinical setting, these nurse managers collaborate with social workers, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists. A master’s degree can be a requirement for clinical nurse leader positions. According to PayScale, they earn a median annual salary of around $84,200 (2021).

4. Overseas Nurse

Taking a position as an overseas nurse can be life-transforming. Nurses can expect to embrace different situations they wouldn’t necessarily see at home and gain skills in intercultural communication. Their ability to learn quickly and adapt to another culture will also impress future employers.

Several U.S. agencies directly hire nurses to work abroad. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) often arranges nursing jobs with private companies worldwide, as well as fellowships and internships. Recent nursing graduates may be able to find overseas training programs. Additionally, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps hires nurses and other medical professionals.

The U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a uniformed nonmilitary service. Its pay, benefits, and retirement offerings to staff reflect those earned by uniformed personnel. Nurses are among the 11 disciplines included in the program.

The Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, offers a Global Health Nursing Fellowship for nursing professionals who want to gain experience in international medicine. Fellows, all of whom are volunteers, work in a clinical setting and have the opportunity to implement a public health campaign in countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines, or Uganda.

Working as an overseas nurse requires a variety of legal documentation, beginning with a valid passport. A visa and a nursing license are also basic necessities. Overseas boards and councils often have separate requirements which an overseas nurse will need to satisfy to be eligible for the position.

Nursing Abroad

Working a nurse leader role in another country can bolster a nurse’s career in a variety of ways.

  • A more-rounded résumé: A résumé that includes overseas experience often impresses prospective employers, especially when combined with an MSN degree. Nursing abroad shows an individual is curious, culturally aware, resourceful, and able to see things from more than one perspective.
  • Language skills: Learning another language “will allow you to engage with patients from the country you’re working in on a much more personal level,” according to Work the World, an organization focusing on volunteer health care internships in developing countries. “It’ll also earn you the respect of local health care professionals and enhance your experience.”

Foreign language skills may be useful back home as well when dealing with patients who are not proficient in English.

  • Resourcefulness: Nurses working in what Work the World calls a “low-resource setting” learn from local staff how to be creative about providing care. For example, supplies that American or European nurses consider standard may be scarce at some hospitals. Ashleigh Buncombe Paul, who worked in Iloilo, Philippines, through Work the World, writes on the site about how she learned to make hand splints from cardboard boxes.

The world awaits nurses who want to expand their horizons and help others. Earning an online MSN can improve the ability to qualify for nursing abroad positions ― which, in turn, can lead to enhanced job prospects and greater career satisfaction for nurses when they return home.

Pursue an Advanced Nursing Degree

Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is a comprehensive program. It is designed for active registered nurses (RNs) who have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing and want to advance their education through online coursework that is both flexible and convenient.

The MSN program features a robust core curriculum that integrates advanced nursing theory and evidence-based nursing practice through case-driven studies. With 100% online coursework and four specializations to choose from, students can obtain an education that is both convenient and specific to their interests.

There are many rewarding nurse leader roles — both domestic and abroad — for those who have the proper education and training. Take the first step toward pursuing your professional goals today with Ohio University.

Recommended Readings

Bedside Nursing: Key Roles and Responsibilities for Nurses

Choosing the Right Online Masters in Nursing Program

The Importance of Nursing Theory in Nursing Education


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CUSP Toolkit, The Role of the Nurse Manager, Facilitator Notes

American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL)

American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification (CNML)

American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), Certification in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Global Health Jobs and Opportunities

Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children, Global Health Volunteer Program

Halo Health, “CNOs, Role-Based Communication Critical for Clinical Teamwork”

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Leader Hourly Pay

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Case Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary

Sage Journals, “Competency of Academic Nurse Educators”

Scrubs Magazine, “Nursing Abroad: Becoming an International Nurse”

StatPearls, “Nursing Shortage”

U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Nurse

Work of the World, “Nursing Abroad: 7 Reasons to Take the Plunge”