Charge Nurse

A smooth-running healthcare facility needs strong leadership at every level, including nursing. Charge nurses are registered nurses who oversee a department of nurses. They have both managerial and clinical skills to efficiently lead their team and provide the highest level of patient care. 

Charge nurses are typically assigned to one specific unit and are subsequently responsible for all aspects of it, including staffing, overseeing patient care, and day-to-day operations. They are the ones who will assign daily responsibilities to other nurses. This role differs from that of a nurse manager in that charge nurses are also involved in daily patient care. Nurse managers are often strictly involved in administrative work.


Registered nurses can become charge nurses after completing the sufficient work experience and demonstrating strong leadership skills. While it is possible to enter this career with an associate’s degree in nursing, most charge nurses hold at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing. It is not uncommon for aspiring charge nurses to complete additional education such as a master’s of science in nursing in clinical nurse leadership. After completing this advanced degree, nurses can sit for the Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification through the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC). 

Demand for all nurses is currently high, with an estimated 6 percent growth in jobs in this field between 2021 and 2031. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), this translates into 195,400 new jobs. PayScale (2022) reports that charge nurses earn an average of $76,036 annually. 

To learn more about how to become a charge nurse, keep reading.

Charge Nurse Specializations & Degree Types

All charge nurses must complete a general Nursing education program. This can be an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s of science in nursing. While it is possible to become a charge nurse with just an associate’s degree, most employers require at least a bachelor’s. 

 To obtain a clinical nurse leadership certification, charge nurses must complete graduate-level education. Typically this is a master’s of science in nursing in clinical nurse leadership.

Charge nurses can work in any specialization, including pediatrics, gerontology, oncology, obstetrics, and hospice. Charge nurses can choose to specialize by either completing an additional education or simply gaining on-the-job work experience in their chosen field.

Admissions Requirements for Charge Nurse Programs

Nursing program admission requirements for undergraduate programs will vary based on the level of degree pursued and previous education completed. The most common requirements include prerequisite coursework in biology, anatomy, physiology, and math. Some programs may also have a minimum GPA requirement. The most competitive programs may require letters of recommendation, previous work experience, and a compelling statement of purpose.

Master’s of science in nursing with an emphasis in clinical nursing leadership programs will have additional requirements. Most programs require that candidates already be licensed registered nurses. Other requirements can include a minimum number of years of work experience and demonstrated leadership skills.

Charge Nurse Program Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary set the programs can undergo to demonstrate quality in faculty, facilities, curriculum, and student outcomes. Nursing students must be sure that the program that they are attending is accredited because this is required by many licensing and certification boards. Nursing education programs are accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). 

Charge nurses who wish to earn a Certified Nurse Leader  (CNL) certification must ensure that their program is an eligible CNL program as determined by the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC).

On-Campus Charge Nurse Degree Programs

Moravian University

The master’s of science in nursing at Moravian University offers several concentration options, including one in clinical nurse leadership. This degree combines generalist nursing education with leadership classes to help students step into charge nurse or other senior hospital roles. This is a 35-credit program that consists of 21 general core classes and 14 credits of specialty courses. In addition to classroom work, students will complete 400 clinical hours in a clinical nurse leader role.  

There are several paths to admission to this program. All applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Those who have completed their BSN at Moravian may apply for direct admission so long as they have at least a 3.0 GPA and a recommendation from a faculty member. Candidates who have graduated from other institutions must complete the competitive admission process that includes a statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and a minimum GPA. 

  • Location: Bethlehem, PA 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $999 per credit 

Oakland University – School of Nursing

In just 18 months of full-time study, nurses can complete a master’s of science in nursing clinical nurse leadership at Oakland University School of Nursing. Students in this program will not only learn how to provide quality advanced patient care but also about care coordination, measuring outcomes, and interpersonal communication. Graduates of this program work in all types of facilities, including hospitals, outpatient centers, private clinics, hospices, and even long-term care. 

In total, students must complete 36 credits of classes to earn this degree. Required classes include advanced pathophysiology for health and illness across the lifespan, pharmacology, the clinical nurse leader role, and population-focused nursing care. 

  • Location: Rochester, MI 
  • Duration: 18 months 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,027 per credit 

Columbia University – School of Nursing

Columbia University School of Nursing offers a master’s of science in advanced clinical management and leadership. This school has a long history of graduating outstanding nurses, and this program is no exception. Students in this program are prepared to step into various nurse leadership roles, including that of a charge nurse. 

Topics covered include patient care based on the latest scientific investigations, how to lead care teams, strategies for quality patient care, and how to use new technologies to care for patients. This is an interdisciplinary program that must be completed over five semesters of part-time study.

To be eligible for admission to this program, candidates must be currently employed at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing, and hold an unencumbered New York State RN license.

  • Location: Portland, OR 
  • Duration: Five semesters of part-time study
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $17,924 for the entire program

Dominican University – Elizabeth T. MacNeil School of Nursing

Hi-tech simulation labs, experienced faculty, and rigorous curriculum are just some of the highlights of the bachelor’s of science in nursing program at Dominican University Elizabeth T McNeil School of Nursing. This is a traditional four-year program, although they do accept transfer students to begin their studies during their junior year. This program emphasizes accountability, close collaboration between faculty and students, and clinical experiences to gain hands-on experience. 

The first two years of this program are general education coursework, while the last two years include the general nursing core and a senior seminar. For nurses looking to get into leadership, there is a nursing leadership dimensions class during the senior year of this program.

  • Location: River Forest, IL 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,195 per credit 

Duke University – School of Nursing

Students who have already completed an undergraduate degree and the required prerequisites can apply for the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) at Duke University School of Nursing. This 16-month program consists of 58 credit hours and 800 hours of clinical experience to prepare aspiring nurses to deliver high-quality care to patients and families. Ambitious students can also earn up to nine credits toward a future master’s of science in nursing degree.

One of the highlights of this program is the ability to work with diverse populations in Durham County, North Carolina, or through two-week abroad emergent experiences. Students will be able to work with refugees, immigrants, Latinos, and various vulnerable populations such as the unhoused or the elderly.

  • Location: Durham, NC 
  • Duration: 16 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $24,147 per semester

Online or Hybrid Charge Nurse  Degree Programs

Drexel University

Drexel University offers an online Masters of Science in nursing in clinical nurse leadership program for working nurses who are looking to expand their career. This is an interdisciplinary program that includes business, health promotion, biostatistics, and quality assurance. It adds to the clinical skills that nurses have already gained in an undergraduate program and teaches skills such as ethical decision-making, working in teams, and customizing care to individual patients.

Drexel University classes are taught in quarter credits versus traditional semester credits. Students of this program are eligible to sit for the commission on Nurse certification clinical nurse leadership exam. Currently, graduates have an outstanding 100 percent pass rate on the CNL exam. The online format of this degree allows for a high degree of flexibility both in didactic coursework and clinical practicum experiences. There is a required today on-campus residency at the beginning of the program. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1037 per credit 

The Ohio State University – College of Nursing 

The clinical nurse leader track for the online master’s of science in nursing at the Ohio State University College of Nursing prepares graduates for work as advanced generalists overseeing care coordination and putting evidence-based practice into action. 

Most students complete this in a full-time format that takes two years, but there is a part-time option that can be completed in three years. Key skills taught in this program include how to evaluate patients, work collaboratively, communicate effectively, and interface with interdisciplinary teams.

Required classes include an introduction to professional nursing, health assessment, nursing care for adults, and pathophysiology of altered health states. This program offers both a traditional master of science for students who already have a bachelor’s degree and a graduate-entry master’s of science for students who have not completed a bachelor’s of nursing degree but have a bachelor’s in another field. 

  • Location: Columbus, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $409 per credit 

Western Governors University

In as little as two years, students can complete their online master’s of science in nursing leadership and management at Western Governors University. Graduates of this program are prepared to take on managerial roles in nursing And be effective leaders to bring about change to provide the highest level of patient care. 

To help students stand out in this field, all students will have the opportunity to earn the National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) HQ Principles certificate as part of their degree program. They will also earn the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality Certification. These resume boosters are included in the cost of tuition.

Western Governors University is a competency-based model emphasizing skills and mastery over time and testing. Students will complete coursework and assessments until Mastery is demonstrated, and then they can move on to an additional course. Depending on a student’s ability, this can mean the courses can be completed relatively quickly. 

Tuition is charged on a six-month basis for however many courses can be completed during that time. This can translate into significant savings for students who can complete a significant amount of coursework in a short period of time. 

  • Location: Millcreek, UT
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $4,385 per six-month term 

Wright State University – School of Nursing, Kinesiology, and Health Sciences 

The master’s of science in nursing, administration of nursing, and healthcare systems concentration at Wright State University School of Nursing, Kinesiology, and Health Sciences is an online program that prepares nursing professionals to step into leadership roles. This interdisciplinary degree combines human resources, finances, management, healthcare informatics, statistics, and data analytics to provide a well-rounded curriculum. 

In total, students must earn 39 credits to complete this degree. If a student already holds a master’s degree, then only 22 credits are required. There are three start times each year in the spring, summer, and fall which allows for a great degree of flexibility. To apply, students must complete a graduate school application and submit official transcripts along with a current resume, statement of professional goals, and two letters of recommendation.

  • Location: Dayton, OH
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,125 per credit 

Central Methodist University

Nurses to complete the Masters of Science in nursing at Central Methodist University are prepared to step into a professional leadership role in various clinical settings. Through this program, students will gain the skills and knowledge needed to provide ethical leadership and quality patient care. Students will gain both advanced nursing and clinical leadership skills To help them become well-rounded professionals who can step into a clinical nurse leader role.

To be considered for admission to this program, students must complete a bachelor’s of science in nursing from an accredited program, have an unencumbered RN license, have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA, and complete prerequisite coursework. Students must submit a resume and cover letter along with two letters of recommendation and a written paper demonstrating a high level of grammar, spelling, and composition right now I am.

  • Location: Fayette, MO
  • Duration: 18 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $380 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Charge Nurse?

Aspiring charge nurses must first complete a nursing education program which can take between two to four years. After completing the nursing program, it is then necessary to gain sufficient work experience to enter this career. Typically this is anywhere between two to five years of full-time work before candidates are ready to apply for a charge nurse position.

How To Become a Charge Nurse  – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

The first step to becoming a charge nurse is to graduate from high school or earn a GED. This step is required by most nursing programs and demonstrates a dedication to completing an educational program. Aspiring nurses should focus on classes such as psychology, math, biology, and chemistry

Step 2: Complete a Nursing Program (Eighteen Months to Four Years)

Completing the nursing program is essential to becoming a charge nurse. These programs can vary in length depending on the level of degree pursued. Students can complete an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). These programs include general education nursing classes as well as hands-on clinical experiences.

Step 3: Pass NCLEX-RN (Timelines Vary)

The National Council licensure examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN) Is a nationwide exam that is required for licensure in the United States. This test is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and demonstrates a candidate’s competence in nursing and determines if it is safe for the candidate to practice in this field.. 

Step 4: Apply for State Licensure (Timelines Varies)

All charge nurses must be licensed registered nurses in the state where they practice. Licensing requirements vary by state, so candidates should check with their local licensing board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. More information is found in the certification and licensure section below.

Step 5: Complete Additional Education and Gain Work Experience (Three to Five Years)

Charge nurses typically have at least two to five years of work experience as registered nurses before they are ready to step into this leadership role. While additional education is not required, a master’s of science in nursing with an emphasis on clinical nursing leadership is highly recommended and sought after by many employers. 

Aspiring charge nurses should volunteer for leadership opportunities in their current job to demonstrate that they have the skills to assume a future charge nurse role.

Step 6: Apply for Work as a Charge Nurse (Timelines Vary)

Once the required education and work experience have been completed, registered nurses are ready to apply for a charge nurse job. Requirements for the job will vary based on the employer. Often charge nurses will move into their first leadership role at their current place of employment.

What Do Charge Nurses Do?

Charge nurses are found everywhere that nurses work. This can include hospitals, private practices, outpatient centers, government agencies, and community clinics. While the day-to-day responsibilities will vary based on the place of employment, typical duties will include:

  • Overseeing patient care
  • Monitoring and assessing individual patients
  • Coordinating staffing and assigning tasks
  • Delegating tasks to other nurses
  • Reporting on patient’s condition to other medical professionals
  • Supervising admissions and discharges to ensure they happen smoothly
  • Communicating care plans to patients and families

Charge Nurse Certifications & Licensure

To practice as a charge nurse, candidates must secure licensing from their state’s nursing regulatory body. Licensing requirements will vary by state but typically include: 

  • Passing that NCLEX-RN exam 
  • Completing a nurse education program
  • Passing a background check
  • Having a clean drug screening

Charge nurses can work in various fields, and each specialty has its own voluntary certification process that they can complete. In fact, there are over 180 Specialties that can include everything from gerontology to pediatrics, obstetrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and more.

In addition to specialization certification, charge nurses can earn a Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) certification through the Commission on Nurse Certification (CNC). This certification demonstrates a nurse’s leadership qualifications based on the standards set forth by the CNC. To be able to take this exam, candidates must have completed an eligible CNL program. Topics covered include:

  • Nursing leadership
  • Clinical outcomes management
  • Care environment management
  • Nursing leadership 
  • Healthcare advocacy
  • Implementation of the CNL role
  • Patient assessment
  • Ethics
  • Illness and disease management
  • Health promotion and disease prevention
  • Healthcare policy
  • Interprofessional communication
  • Team coordination
  • Quality improvement and safety
  • Evidence-based practices
  • Healthcare finance and economics
  • Healthcare informatics

How Much Do Charge Nurses Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate nurse salaries based on specialization. The 3,047,530 nurses in the US earn $82,750 per year on average (BLS May 2021). The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $59,450
  • 25th percentile: $61,790
  • 50th  percentile (median): $77,600
  • 75th percentile: $97,580
  • 90th percentile: $120,250

Charge Nurse Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a charge nurse: 

Become a Nurse Case Manager

Nurse case managers help patients with complex medical needs navigate the healthcare system. These registered nurses have excellent interpersonal skills and advocate for their clients’ needs, including helping schedule appointments, ensuring follow-up care is completed, and educating patients and families about conditions and treatments.

  • Typical Education: Associate’s or Bachelor’s
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Case Management Association (ACMA), and the Commission for Case Manager Certification (CCMC)

Become an Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainers help professional athletes with training to help identify, prevent, and rehabilitate athletic injuries. They have completed some education in athletic training and often work for professional sports teams, high school or college athletics, hospitals, or physical therapy clinics.

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC)

Become a Health Unit Coordinator

Hospital stays require a significant amount of coordination. Health unit coordinators work in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient centers to ensure that a patient has a seamless day. They can be responsible for everything from preparing a hospital room, to ordering supplies and coordinating medical procedures. 

  • Typical Education: Certificate or diploma
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Association of Health Unit Coordinators
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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