How to Become a Charge Nurse

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Morganne Skinner, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Charge nurse interacting with patient

A charge nurse is like the axle of a wheel. They maintain the shape of a moving organization and make sure the unit is running smoothly. All floor nurses are impacted by the charge nurse in some way. This leadership position may be tough at times, but it’s gratifying to know how much of an impact you have ensuring people are cared for safely. You may be wondering about how to become a charge nurse. Read on to learn more about charge nurse duties, paths, responsibilities, and job outlook.

What Is a Charge Nurse and What Does a Charge Nurse Do?

Charge nurses are unit leaders who support and organize staff nurses in various healthcare facilities. Charge nurse responsibilities include:

  • Creating nurse-patient assignment schedules
  • Mediating conflicts
  • Helping staff nurses with certain patient care tasks when needed
  • Supplying orders
  • Evaluating staff nurses

Charge Nurse vs. Nurse Manager

Charge nurses and nurse managers may have a lot in common, but there are key differences between these roles. Nurse managers are primarily administrative. They may provide input about organizing the unit but are more focused on the business and legal aspects of the facility, such as creating the budget and ensuring the workplace meets state requirements. They don’t routinely offer hands-on help, but rather make decisions that have long-term impacts on the workplace.

Unlike nurse managers, charge nurses can assist floor staff with patient assignments or have their own patient load. They also keep track of admissions and discharges. Whoever takes on the charge nurse role and responsibilities can vary each day, so their concerns are specific to the shift.

Nurse managers usually must obtain an advanced degree such as an MSN, while depending on the facility, charge nurses can have their BSN, ADN, or LPN.

Charge Nurse Education Requirements

Although facilities prefer charge nurses to have their BSNs, it’s not always necessary. With enough experience, or if there are no nurses with their BSNs present, LPNs and ADNs may step into this position.

Charge Nurse Certifications

Certification is not a requirement to become a charge nurse, but obtaining a clinical nurse leader (CNL) certification can make you more attractive to prospective employers. It may also result in a salary bump and can better prepare you for this role.

What Are Some Good Charge Nurse Skills to Develop?

As with other nursing specialties, nurses in this role must cultivate unique traits so they can perform their charge nurse duties. Some charge nurse leadership skills include:

  • Conflict resolution: As someone who has broader knowledge of staffing and workflow, you can provide unique and unbiased insights when mediating conflicts between coworkers.
  • Assertiveness: You must be willing to speak up on behalf of staff nurses to nurse managers and patients when their expectations are not realistic. You must also speak up for yourself to defend an unpopular decision you may have to make.
  • Calm under pressure: Being the center of a busy unit can be stressful, so you must learn effective coping mechanisms to make sound decisions.
  • Ability to accept criticism: Not everyone will agree with all of your decisions, such as the patient assignments or which supply orders to prioritize. Your coworkers may make valuable points that affect your choice, or you may have to stand firm. Either way, it’s important to accept that you can’t please everyone and be willing to respond professionally if a coworker makes a complaint about how you run the unit.
  • Empathy: Being understanding of your coworkers’ perspectives facilitates a healthier company culture and can help you handle frustrating behaviors from some staff nurses.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Charge Nurse?

After completing nursing school, nurses ideally need at least one year of nursing experience before considering a charge nurse role. More than one year of experience is preferred, but some newer nurses may have to act as charge nurses when staffing is low.

Where Can a Charge Nurse Work?

For the most part, charge nurses are needed wherever there are staff nurses. A variety of facilities utilize their skill set. Examples include:

  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Dialysis centers
  • Home health
  • Ambulatory care

Charge Nurse Salary

The average salary for charge nurses in the U.S. is $95,000 per year, but the range can be between $88,603 and $106,060. If you want to a compare charge nurse salary vs. RN salary, the latter earns an average of $89,010 per year.

Are You Ready to Be in Charge of Your Own Schedule?

Now that you’ve learned how to become a charge nurse, maybe you’re ready to be the nurse in charge of your own schedule. When you apply to IntelyCare today, you’ll take the first step toward working where you want, when you want.