Shaping the Future of Health Care: The Role of Nurse Leader

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A female nurse smiling in a hospital room

Nurse leaders take on critical managerial responsibilities in hospital and medical facility settings. These leaders guide nurses and caregivers in the right direction to achieve organizational goals and, ultimately, to 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 and leadership strategy to the workplace.

Nursing students who are interested in pursuing the role of nurse leader can begin the journey by completing an undergraduate nursing degree, working in the clinical field, 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 roles in health care organizations.

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. For these reasons, hospitals and medical offices are seeking highly qualified candidates to fill the important role of nurse leader.

Nursing Careers That Require Leadership Skills

There are a variety of career advancement opportunities for nurse leaders. Qualified candidates with the requisite graduate degrees, field experience, managerial skills, and leadership character can choose to follow one of three primary career paths: chief nursing officer (CNO), nurse educator, or nurse manager.

Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers 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 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 to establish a candidate as an active and engaged leader in the nursing field.

Chief nursing officers earn $126,278 per year on average, according to PayScale.

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 can also develop health care policies that directly impact patient care.

In this leadership role, nurse educators identify gaps in a hospital’s current training system and then create new educational materials to meet those needs. Educators collaborate with hospital administrators and colleagues to address the issues and identify the accurate information. The training materials that nurse educators develop 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 $73,265 per year on average, according to PayScale.

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 the nurses’ schedules and personnel issues.

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.

A clinical nurse leader manages 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.

Master’s Degree in Nursing: Paving the Way for Nursing Leadership Careers

For registered nurses to become eligible for leadership roles, they must earn the required degrees, certifications, and licenses. The respected nurse leader position is reserved for nursing professionals with the mandated education, clinical and administrative experience, and training in a health care setting.

Registered nurses pursuing career advancement in a nurse leader role can greatly benefit from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Building upon nurses’ clinical experience, the MSN curriculum spans comprehensive theoretical discussions and integrated nursing practice, teaching nurses the skills necessary for taking on greater responsibility in the field. This graduate degree has the potential to open doors to new opportunities for aspiring nurse leaders and health services managers.

While a bachelor’s degree in nursing is the current minimum requirement for a career as a medical or health services manager, most health care employers prefer registered nurses with master’s degrees for these positions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor of Statistics (BLS).

The health care leadership industry is on the rise. The BLS estimates that the employment of medical and health services managers, including the role of nurse leader, will grow by 20 percent from 2016 to 2026. It expects an estimated 72,100 new health services manager jobs to become available during that period.

Learn More:

For students who aspire to an advanced career in nursing, Ohio University’s online MSN program helps them gain the skills and experience necessary to take their nursing careers to the next level. Learn more about Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing.


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American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing

American Nurse Today 

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nursing Times

Ohio University

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Manager Salary

PayScale, Average Nurse Educator Salary