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Charge Nurse vs Nurse Manager: Leadership Roles in Healthcare

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There are nearly 4 million nurses in the United States alone, working in hospitals, nursing homes, residential care facilities, and other healthcare-related environments, such as surgical centers and outpatient offices. To manage all these nurses and ensure healthcare centers run smoothly, some nurses with advanced training and experience rise into leadership positions. They take on additional responsibilities and oversight, sometimes stepping out of a clinical role and into an administrative one.


Nurse managers and charge nurses are two positions for registered nurses (RNs) that emphasize administrative skills. Both require plenty of real-world job experience, and in some cases an advanced degree, to take the step into leadership and management. Those nurses who do decide to pursue the extra responsibility can find themselves in rewarding positions that allow them to make an impact on their patients and coworkers alike. Discover the differences between nurse managers and charge nurses, including the responsibilities, skills, and education required to thrive in either position.

Nurse Manager Overview

Nurse managers are the linchpins of a healthcare unit, serving as liaisons between upper management and the nurses on the floor while helping to run the operations of entire units. Nurse managers coordinate with nurses as well as others in their unit, including doctors, social workers, therapists, pharmacists, and support staff. They make sure their area of the facility performs up to standards, communicate any necessary improvements from higher management, and provide a voice for their nurses in those discussions. Nurse managers often don’t see patients, instead focusing on managerial roles and internal communications across various departments.

Nurse Manager Salaries and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical and health services managers, the category under which nurse managers fall, earn a median annual salary of $99,730 per year. This field expects to see an impressive amount of growth as a result of increasing healthcare needs. As of 2016, there were 352,200 medical and health services managers in the United States, and the BLS projects that number will grow 20% by 2026, with an additional 72,000 jobs entering the market.

Charge Nurse Overview

When considering a charge nurse vs. a nurse manager career, it is important to consider the level of responsibility and leadership you’re most interested in. Charge nurses typically manage a shift of nurses in a particular area of a facility or hospital. They are often either RNs or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) with plenty of clinical experience. Charge nurses help maintain the quality of care in their units, providing the first level of feedback for nurses under their watch who aren’t performing up to standards, creating work schedules, helping oversee admissions and discharges, and assisting with more typical nursing tasks, such as checking on patients and administering medicine.

Charge Nurse Salaries and Job Outlook

PayScale reports the average hourly salary for charge nurses is $31.68 per hour, or about $65,800 annually, if employed full time. The BLS projects the job market for all nurses to grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, adding 438,100 jobs during that span. As a large percentage of the U.S. population continues to age, the need for healthcare professionals will only continue to rise.

Similarities Between Nurse Managers and Charge Nurses

Both nurse managers and charge nurses are healthcare professionals who put their training and expertise to use in a managerial role, with some responsibility for other nurses and support staff and for keeping order and maintaining care levels in healthcare facilities. These positions demand strong leaders and communicators who can stay on top of issues and resolve conflicts between staff members and units. They also must understand the needs of their employees and coworkers and serve as motivators who can help a group reach a collective goal or level of care.

Nurse Manager vs. Charge Nurse: Leadership Roles in Healthcare

When it comes to a nurse manager vs. a charge nurse, although they are both nurses in leadership positions, there’s quite a lot that separates the roles. Education, leadership focus, and time spent doing hands-on nursing practice are three key areas of difference between the two professions.

Education Level

Charge nurses are most commonly RNs who may have gone on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. In addition, they have likely spent several years (typically at least three to five) working as RNs in a clinical setting. Nurse managers, on the other hand, tend to have more advanced education. They usually hold at least a BSN or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or are RNs who’ve earned an advanced degree in management. They have also spent ample time working in a clinical setting.

Leadership Areas

While both nurse managers and charge nurses are leaders, they have different levels of responsibility. Charge nurses focus only on nurses who work in their unit during their shift. Nurse managers go beyond this to also manage support staff, such as social workers, therapists, and other nonnurses who work in their units. While charge nurses are mostly focused on nursing-related tasks, nurse managers also oversee budgets, staffing, dealing with management, and more.

Nursing Practice

Another difference between the two careers revolves around the amount of time they practice in a clinical setting. Charge nurses still often handle patient care, assist other nurses with various tasks, and perform the duties of an RN or LPN. Nurse managers, who have more administrative duties and a wider range of employees that they manage, may still interact with patients or provide one-on-one care, but far less frequently.

Nurse Manager vs. Charge Nurse: Which Is Right for You?

If you are an LPN or RN and want to advance in your field, becoming a nurse manager or charge nurse could be a perfect next step. Check out Maryville University’s online nursing degrees, designed to meet you exactly where you are in your nursing career. Programs such as the MSN degree online can set you up to provide the best care possible while advancing your professional goals and stepping into a leadership role.


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