How to Become a Nurse Administrator

Experienced nurses looking to advance their careers may want to consider becoming nurse administrators. The occupation encompasses mid to high-level executives responsible for overseeing many high-level executive nursing tasks. There is little to no direct interaction with patients, yet their position heavily affects patient experience and outcomes. They may interview patients to evaluate their experience and care.

A nurse administrator may oversee one or multiple nursing units, handle personnel matters, develop policies and procedures, and make department decisions while streamlining operational budgets. Successful administrators are excellent communicators who thrive in an ever-changing work environment and are passionate about improving healthcare.

Hospitals are nurse administrators’ most prominent employers, and they report to the hospital’s CEO. Some manage multiple sites and may even work for consulting firms. With such a high level of responsibility, business skills and leadership experience must be accompanied by extensive medical training. RNs looking to move away from a clinical setting into one of leadership should consider this rewarding career path.

What is Required to Work as a Nurse Administrator

Overall it can take a minimum of six years to become a nurse administrator. The most common way to become a nurse administrator is to become a registered nurse first. For those already working as an RN, the path is much shorter, but for high school students and those already working in healthcare, there are other paths that you can take.

Associates Degree in Nursing

The quickest route to entering the field is getting an ADN. This takes approximately two years and may be offered through colleges and universities. Requirements will differ, but students must have completed high school or have their GED. They should have taken chemistry, biology and math with at least a C average in each and have an overall minimum 2.75 GPA. Students may be expected to submit a personal essay and letters of recommendation.

Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing

This is the most common path to becoming a registered nurse and will take approximately four years. Programs are offered through local and state universities. Requirements will differ between institutions, but students must have finished high school or have a GED. They should have taken chemistry, biology and math and held a minimum C average and at least a 3.0 GPA overall. Many schools require a letter of recommendation and a personal essay. Volunteer experience in a healthcare setting can give a boost to an application.

Candidates already working in healthcare may take advantage of several existing bridge programs. These programs make use of existing industry experience for a quicker transition.


Licensed practical nurses can become registered nurses in two to four years, depending on how much time they can commit to the program. Programs are typically offered through Universities and some four-year colleges. Requirements will differ for every school, but candidates must have a current LPN license, high school diploma or GED, at least six months of LPN and passing scores on the entrance exam.

Paramedic to RN

Paramedics can become registered nurses in two to three years, depending on their schedule. The program can be accessed through universities and some colleges. Requirements will differ, but typically candidates should have their high school diploma or GED and a cumulative 3.0 GPA in college-level courses. A lower GPA results in the student needing to sit for the Test of Essential Academics Skills (TEAS).

Licensure through Examination

Healthcare workers can obtain their RN license by taking the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). It is an adaptive exam that takes six hours to complete and costs $200. Once a student has completed enough questions to pass or fail, the exam is over. NCLEX must receive confirmation of eligibility from your nursing regularity board within 365 days of your application to proceed with the examination. Exams are taken through Pearson VUE centers located across the U.S. Make sure you receive your authorization to test ATT before registering for a test date.

It’s worth noting that all registered nurses will need to sit and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain their license and legally practice in the U.S.

Graduate School

Once you’ve obtained your registered nursing license, the next step is to gain some working experience and apply to a nursing administrator program. Many RNs choose to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing Administration or Health Administration or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). These options take approximately two to three years to complete. Admissions require candidates to have at least one year of working experience, a cumulative 3.0 GPA from undergraduate studies, several letters of recommendation, and to attend an entrance interview. Some programs offer flexible self-paced study and the option to complete your degree online or in person depending on your schedule and preference.

Advanced Credentialing

Many nurse administrators choose to enhance their degrees with advanced credentialing. At the executive level, many employers will require advanced credentials. Obtaining these signals to employers that you are genuinely passionate about improving the industry. The most common choices are,

  • Certified in Executive Nursing Practice

The CENP certification is widely recognized by nurse administrators who are leaders in their field. These individuals are known for their executive management knowledge and support of their organization’s goals.

  • Nurse Executive Certification

The NE-BC certification requires the candidate to demonstrate experience in nursing leadership and administration. Individuals possess skills in structures and processes, professional practice, leadership, and knowledge management.

  • Nurse Executive Advanced Certification

The NEA-BC certification signals an even higher level of executive training. They oversee multiple nursing units and sometimes operations and non-nursing personnel. They are responsible for high-level finance, resource management and system integration.

  • Informatics Nursing Certification

The RN-BC certification recognizes highly skilled administrators in integrating information technology and healthcare. These admins are skilled in leadership, project management, patient rights and privacy, clinical analytics and information technology processes and procedures.

  • Certified Nurse Manager and Leader

The CNML certification is only available to nurse administrators at the managerial level. These individuals are considered management experts. They have developed skills in financial management, human resources management, technology and performance improvement skills and strategic management.

Credentials are commonly earned through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).

All of these credentials require continual learning to maintain. Renewal processes will vary depending on the credential, as will the costs and requirements.

Top Ranking Nurse Administrator Programs

Aspiring nurse administrators have many quality nursing schools to choose from when considering their education. College Factual lists the following schools as the top five out of 167 in the U.S.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League research university located in Philadelphia. The institution was established in 1740, making it the fourth oldest institution of higher learning in the U.S.

Students have multiple study options at Penn State. Both MSN and DNP programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

The Master of Science offers a concentration as either a nurse administrator or nurse educator. The administrator option prepares students for leadership and administration in several healthcare settings through developing skills in evidence-based healthcare delivery, health policy and organizational leadership. The educator option prepares students for educator roles in various healthcare and academic settings by teaching curriculum development, evaluative techniques and evidence-based teaching and learning principles.

Successful admission depends on a cumulative 3.3 GPA in their bachelor studies with at least a B average in all science and nursing courses. Students must provide two letters of reference, a statement of purpose and official transcripts from all post-secondary studies.

Duke University

Methodists and Quakers founded this private research institution in what is presently the town of Trinity in 1838. The university is presently located in the city of Durham. Students can choose to complete their Master’s or Doctorate level degree.

The Master of Science program offers multiple concentrations, including Nursing and Healthcare Leadership and Nursing Education. Majors require between 42 to 49 credit hours to complete the degree. Eleven of those hours must be core clinical hours. Students finish the program by completing a clinical residency under an experienced clinician. Students may complete the program through distance learning but must visit the campus for some activities.

Students must submit all post-secondary transcripts, three professional letters of recommendation, three comprehensive essays, and have at least a 3.0 GPA and a C average or better in introductory or general statistics.

John Hopkins University

Located in the seaport of Baltimore in central Maryland, the institution was founded in 1876 and is the first research university in America.

John Hopkins offers students a Master of Science with a concentration in Healthcare Organizational Leadership. Students may also choose to combine this degree with an MBA. The university also offers several DNP degrees for those looking to further their education.

The MSN program is grounded in evidence-based practice. It can be adapted to focus on information technology, health policy, management and administration or case management/population management. Students leave prepared for positions in program development, consultation, health education and administration with expertise in legal and ethical issues, fiscal management, strategic planning and organizational structures.

Students must have at least a 3.0 GPA, an active RN license, submit all official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a goal statement, and sit for an interview with faculty.

The University of Texas – Health Science Center

Located in the expansive city of Houston, the institution is a public, academic health science center that was established in 1972. The University is located in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center.

The University offers students a Master of Science in Nursing with a track in Nursing Leadership. Graduates will leave prepared to accomplish high-quality clinical outcomes in complex and ever-changing healthcare environments. Students study through a dynamic blended format of both online and in-person teaching. Students develop skills in business concepts, finance, leadership theory, evidence-based management and advanced knowledge of nursing and healthcare management.

The program offers self-paced study and may be completed in as little as five semesters, or up to nine semesters if needed. To successfully enroll, students must submit all post-secondary transcripts, three professional/academic references, and a resume. They must have at least a 3.0 GPA and have completed an introductory statistics course.

The University of Texas Medical Branch

Located in the island city of Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico, the University of Texas was established in 1891 and is the nation’s first public medical school and hospital.

The university offers students a Master’s of Science in Nursing with tracks in Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL), Executive Nurse Leader (ENL) and Nurse Educator (NE). Nurse educators will leave with the skills to provide professional development to staff to assist with nursing research and evaluate evidence for practice. Executive nurse leaders develop critical thinking to identify improvement opportunities and conduct change to improve safety and patient care delivery. Clinical nurse leaders develop skills in cost-effective problem solving, risk assessment and process improvement.

Tracks run from six to seven semesters to complete. Students must meet the following to be admitted: submit all post-secondary transcripts, a minimum 3.0 GPA, a resume, personal statement, three references and proof of at least one year’s work as an RN.

Working as a Nurse Administrator

All healthcare fields are seeing an uptick in employment, which includes nursing administration. As the population ages, those working in healthcare management will remain in demand. Nurse administrators are needed more than ever to manage healthcare units in providing care to this aging population. Medical and health service managers, which includes nurse administrators, will see their occupations grow by as much as 32% from 2020-2030, which is much faster than the national average of 7% for other occupations. This translates to an increase of 139,600 job openings.

New graduates have multiple choices when it comes to employment. Most choose to work in hospitals, but they can also be found in long-term care homes, doctors’ offices, rehabilitation and mental health facilities or work as consultants for government agencies and insurance companies. The states with the highest employment rate are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Massachusetts.

Administrators can expect to make a median salary of $101,340 per year, or $48.72 per hour. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists New York, The District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Washington and New Jersey as the highest paying states for this occupation. 

Nurse administrators can be found working as charge nurses, shift leaders, nurse shift supervisors, nurse managers, directors of nursing and chief nursing officers. Employment numbers in cities will be higher but rural areas will need administrators as well, meaning that those employed in the occupation can take their pick of living and working environments.

In short, the road to becoming a nurse administrator is not a quick one. Still, the career is stable, has a bright outlook and offers the flexibility to work almost anywhere while working in an incredibly rewarding field.