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What Is the Role of a Nurse Executive?

nurse executive working with other nurses

If you see yourself taking on a leadership role in healthcare, consider studying to become a nurse executive. It’s a great way to make a positive impact on your organization’s success and the quality of patient care. Nurse executives are the brains of an organization, creating new policies, inspiring collaboration, and ensuring that it achieves its mission.

Job titles for nurse executives include clinical nurse leader, manager, and chief nursing officer, among others. This post explores the nurse executive role and what it takes to become a leader.

What Is a Nurse Executive?

A nurse executive holds the most senior administrative role in a nursing organization. They lead the nursing team, oversee the management side of patient care services, and make administrative decisions that support the organization’s goals.

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What Are the Responsibilities of a Nurse Executive?

The day-to-day activities of a nurse executive vary, depending on the size of the healthcare organization and the professionals whom they manage. However, we have outlined their typical responsibilities below.

Manage Teams

Nurse executives may be responsible for managing nurses and other interprofessional team members in their area. They typically handle a variety of managerial duties, including employee hiring, training, performance reviews, and shift scheduling. They mentor new team members, facilitate communication and collaboration, and design strategies that support the professional development of their staff.

Handle Finances

Nurse executives may oversee the finances of their healthcare organization. They may be responsible for creating a budget that includes everything from employee salaries to patient care equipment and IT improvements. They’re often in charge of monitoring insurance reimbursements and proposing and implementing cost reduction methods.

Create New Policies

Nurse executives have the opportunity to shape, improve, and even create new policies within their organization. These policies may relate to recordkeeping, patient care workflows, communication procedures, and many more organizational processes.

Represent the Healthcare Organization

Nurse executives are responsible for representing their organization at professional conferences and on committees. They may advocate on behalf of patients and staff on matters of public health policy.

Where Do Nurse Executives Work?

Nurse executives work in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Healthcare clinics
  • Home health agencies
  • Nursing schools
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Consulting firms

How Do I Become a Nurse Executive?

Nurse executives need clinical care experience as well as skills in leadership and management. In order to become a nurse executive, candidates must first receive advanced education and certification. Consider if being a nurse executive is the correct level of nursing for you.

Education Requirements

The following educational path is ideal, but other paths are possible.

Competencies and Qualities

The American Organization of Student Nurses (AONE) has identified five core competencies that successful nurse executives must develop.

  • Communication and relationship management: Effective communication in nursing is critical. Nurse executives facilitate group discussions, consensus building, and conflict resolution sessions. They manage relationships among members of their in-house team, as well as with external stakeholders and community members. They should establish an environment that values diversity and that engages staff in decision making.
  • Knowledge of healthcare and environment: Nurse executives must be educated in the principles of evidence-based practice, quality improvement, risk management, and patient safety. They must also possess a broad knowledge of patient care delivery systems, as well as healthcare economics, policy, and governance.
  • Leadership: Nurse executives mentor current and future nurse leaders. They should identify their own management style and be able to adapt it to the situation at hand. As leaders, they must make decisions that support the healthcare organization as a whole.
  • Professionalism: As role models for the entire healthcare organization, nurse executives should maintain a level of professionalism that others can emulate. They must hold themselves and others accountable for complying with standards of ethics and corporate compliance. They should serve as advocates for optimal healthcare in the community.
  • Business skills and principles: Nurse executives must possess a thorough understanding of the business side of healthcare. Alongside financial management, nurse executives must also be versed in human resources management, marketing strategy, and information technology.

There are several qualities that nurse executives should consciously cultivate. These include personal traits like integrity, flexibility, emotional intelligence, and perspective, as well as soft skills like communication, critical thinking, and the ability to make good decisions under pressure.

The path to becoming a nurse executive will offer you many opportunities to develop as a professional, a leader—and human being. If this could be your path, consider how to best take the next step.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Post-Graduate Nursing Certificates designed for working nurses. Our degrees are offered online, with optional on-campus immersions* and an annual interprofessional trip abroad. Role specialties include Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Nurse Educator, and Nurse Executive. The MSN has several options to accelerate your time to degree completion. Complete coursework when and where you want—and earn your advanced nursing degree while keeping your work and life in balance.

*The FNP track includes two required hands-on clinical intensives as part of the curriculum.

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