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How to Become a Director of Nursing:Training, Salary & Career Outlook

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As a generation of physicians and nurses is set to retire and the need for quality patient care continues to grow, a host of new career opportunities have arisen in healthcare. One of the key areas of opportunity is in nurse leadership, including as a director of nursing. These directors are poised to prepare the next generation of nurses to address the industry’s unique challenges so that care delivery remains optimal. Those who invest in the education and training to become a director of nursing may find exciting opportunities to further their careers and become leaders in healthcare.


Those interested in how to become a director of nursing should know it involves a number of steps. Beyond the steps required for attaining the director of nursing position at a hospital, assisted living facility, or other healthcare organization, there may be additional training, education, certification, or experience required that is dependent upon the employer, organization, or nature of the position. Earning an advanced nursing degree such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can provide the expertise and leadership skills needed for roles like director of nursing.

Why Directors of Nursing Are So Important

The registered nursing profession is projected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). One of the many factors contributing to this growth is the projected increase in older patients due to an aging population. Studies indicate there are more people over the age of 65 than at any time in U.S. history. Those in this age bracket tend to have more chronic illnesses to manage compared with those in younger age brackets, which could create a greater need for healthcare services.


Another major factor is the increase in nurses set to retire. It is estimated that roughly 1 million nurses will retire by 2030, the year that the youngest members of the baby boomer generation will turn 65. This will not only lead to a large number of projected job openings, it will also leave the healthcare industry with a need to train new nurses well to ensure they qualify to replace these experienced nurses.


High-level nursing professionals, such as directors of nursing, are poised to play a crucial role in the healthcare landscape. They can use their knowledge and skills to help instruct the next generation of healthcare professionals on how to deliver high-quality care, even as technology and legal policies change and evolve. This instruction can ultimately help healthcare facilities deliver care that improves patient outcomes.

Director of Nursing Job Description

The director of nursing is in charge of managing a nursing staff to ensure its optimal performance and maintain the highest level of care for its patients. In supervising a team made up of nurses, office personnel, and other healthcare professionals, the director of nursing must train new nurses and continue to educate them on policy and regulation changes, as well as any changes to organizational procedures or directives. Part of the director of nursing job description is to clearly communicate the standards of care for the facility and evaluate the performance of the nursing staff so the facility continues to meet those standards.


When necessary, directors of nursing also collaborate with physicians, community agencies, and other institutions to resolve departmental problems and improve the efficiency and quality of overall care. As representatives of their departments, they may be required to request and acquire new equipment and to address other staff concerns. Directors of nursing meet with patients, residents, and families, as well as with business associates, vendors, department heads, and government representatives.


The director of nursing often reports to the chief nursing officer, or CNO. When working in a larger setting, such as a hospital, the director of nursing is usually in charge of a specific department and responsible for managing its personnel. In smaller organizations, such as nursing home facilities, the director of nursing may be in charge of the entire nursing staff. This position also entails some business-related tasks, such as budgetary planning and oversight, record-keeping, creating work schedules for staff members, monitoring complaints, and completing other administrative duties.

How to Become a Director of Nursing: Training and Education

To attain the advanced position of director of nursing, healthcare professionals must gain experience in the field and earn an advanced degree.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring nursing directors need to have a bachelor’s degree. For this role, the degree should be in a field such as nursing, healthcare management, or business administration. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a common bachelor’s degree earned by nurses in leadership positions.

Earn an Advanced Nursing Degree

Many employers also require directors of nursing to hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree or another field that combines healthcare and business courses. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may or may not be required to become a director of nursing, depending on the position or organization, but this advanced degree does provide many benefits for nursing professionals looking to take on leadership roles in healthcare.


The standard DNP curriculum can help working nurses develop the leadership competencies necessary for making decisions, handling conflict, and managing teams of skilled nurses at an administrative level. DNP students may also choose to hone their expertise in a particular healthcare specialty, such as family and pediatric care, adult-gerontology primary or acute care, or psychiatric mental health care.


Regardless of the concentration, the curriculum will typically have coursework that enables students to gain training in a controlled real-world environment. This opportunity allows them to build skills that are essential for a role as a nurse leader, such as leadership, analytical, technical, and communication competencies.

Gain Professional Experience

The director of nursing role also requires that professionals have relevant experience working in a healthcare setting as either a registered nurse (RN) or a nurse practitioner (NP). Aspiring directors of nursing can gain this experience at a hospital, mental health facility, nursing home, or other clinical organization. This work experience provides candidates with a firsthand understanding of how healthcare systems function, what daily activities one might expect to perform when working in a clinical environment, and what nurses and other professionals need to provide quality care.

Director of Nursing Salary

Those pursuing high-level nurse leadership positions will naturally have some questions about the typical director of nursing salary. The median director of nursing salary is around $96,000, as of March 2023, according to Payscale. Several factors can affect an individual’s salary, including their years of experience, the size of the healthcare organization, and their level of education.

Director of Nursing Curriculum

The right classroom training can be invaluable for achieving success in a DNP career.


At Maryville University, students who enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to DNP program can choose from a number of nursing concentrations, including family nurse practitioner (FNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). In addition to the robust clinical focus, the Maryville University curriculum also teaches the leadership and administrative skills needed to achieve executive-level success in a hospital or healthcare organization.


All BSN to DNP students take a well-rounded series of core courses, from Theoretical Foundations of Nursing Practice to Health Promotion/Disease Prevention to classes focused on epidemiology, research, nursing ethics, and statistics. Maryville’s curriculum is also designed to empower students to advocate for their patients, lead clinical research efforts, and even play an active role in shaping hospital procedures and public health policies.

Learn More About Becoming a Director of Nursing

Nursing professionals have a wide range of exciting and challenging opportunities to get ahead in their field, including by advancing to the role of director of nursing. Working in this position can give nurse leaders opportunities to take on critical supervisory roles and gain indispensable experience in providing a high level of care to patients and residents. Nurses can also learn to educate other nursing professionals in the delivery of healthcare services and continue to advance their own careers to achieve other top positions in healthcare.


Learn more about how Maryville University’s accelerated online BSN to DNP program can help working nurses develop the technical, administrative, and leadership skills they need to become a director of nursing.


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