Get advice on hiring, finding your dream job,

employee engagement, and workplace training

How to Become a Head Nurse: A Step-by-Step Guide

  • Article by:Health Career Center

Heads of nursing oversee teams of nurses while organizing, evaluating and planning strategies to help hospitals set and maintain care standards. It’s a difficult job, but is compensated accordingly: as a head nurse in the U.S., you can expect to earn anywhere from $92,360 to $111,667, on average.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Step 1: Decide if it’s right for you

Before starting down the path to becoming a head nurse, you have to ask yourself: do you have what it takes? (We’re betting that you do.)

But just so you’re aware, you’ll need above-average interpersonal skills and the ability to compassionately relate to others—which, if you’ve considered a nursing career at all, you probably already have. Beyond that, you’ll also need analytical and organizational skills, along with a talent for negotiation and conflict resolution. But most importantly, you have to be able to organize, inspire and lead others to be the best they can be.

Step 2: Level up your education

An associates’ degree is enough to become a registered nurse, but management-level nursing positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. In many cases, you’ll also need to complete a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to be considered for high-profile jobs.

Altogether that adds up to 6 years of schooling. But during that time, you’ll learn invaluable skills such as advanced research techniques, health care finance proficiency, organizational management principles and much more.

Step 3: Earn the necessary experience and licenses

Most nursing directors start their career as an RN and spend at least two years gaining experience at hospitals, nursing homes or primary care offices. From there, many work their way up the ladder to management positions like head nurse or assistant unit manager.

Once you have a similar level of experience, you’ll need to earn any additional licenses or certifications, starting with the National Council Licensure Examination – Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) if you haven’t already. Check with your state’s nursing board to see which additional licenses, if any, are required for nurse advancement to a head leadership role.

Step 4: Land a position

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t keep specific employment stats on heads of nursing. But “medical and health services managers,” the category to which head nurses belong, is forecasted for 17 percent growth by 2024. That’s a faster average growth than any other position in the country.

Still, the level of competition is high for head nurse positions, so landing one won’t be easy. Nurses with more experience in the field will naturally have an advantage, as well as those who demonstrate strong healthcare management skills. To learn more, visit—we’ll help you discover the leading opportunities for head nurses in the field, and give you the best shot at landing the job of your dreams.