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What is a Charge Nurse?

What is a Charge Nurse?

Do you have good communication skills as well as clinical experience? Are you a take-charge person? If so, you may want to think about being a specialized RN called a charge nurse. Let’s learn more.

Part 1: What is a charge nurse?

Charge nurses run the show. These RNs typically run a hospital ward or perhaps an entire healthcare facility. Charge nurses perform many general nursing tasks, but also have additional management, supervisory or administrative duties.

Charge nurses keep operations running smoothly and often coordinate between the hospital administrators and the general nursing staff. Their typical duties involve managing patient admissions and discharges and preparing nursing schedules, so clinical experience and good management and communication skills are a must.

What does a charge nurse do?

Charge nurses work in many different types of healthcare facilities, including hospitals, medical or urgent care clinics, physician offices, nursing homes and more. They will supervise staff nurses within a certain unit and coordinate patient care and treatment. It’s not uncommon for them to take care of patients as well. Charge nurses are extra familiar with the employer’s policies and procedures and will ensure that staff nurses follow them.

Charge nurses are operational in focus, ensuring that a particular ward or nursing unit operates accordingly during a certain shift. These nurses must have clinical knowledge but also great organizational and interpersonal skills.

Charge nurses will plan out the patient care that is needed and ensures the nursing and staff resources are available for the safe carry out of the work. They will also coordinate the use of said resources for patient care. Healthcare environments move quickly, so charge nurses often find themselves providing ongoing coordination and replanning for changing requirements and situations.

Charge nurses also evaluate patient care outcomes and delivery to ensure they are meeting the acceptable standards. A charge nurse might adjust assignments to better utilize resources. They are constantly comparing patient care with acceptable standards to see what resource or personnel adjustments might be needed, then they must effectively communicate those changes to the health care staff and hospital administrator.

Quite often, charge nurses are asked to contribute to individual employee evaluations, though they typically do not make employment decisions. They also advise and educate fellow staff, as well as train new hires. Charge nurses also ensure that their nursing unit is safety compliant and that the ward is following all policies and procedures. They will often meet with hospital administrators to discuss personnel and patient care as well as participate in patient care meetings and oversee patient admissions and discharges. If there is ever an emergency in the ward, the charge nurse assumes primary responsibility during that time.

Why is a charge nurse so important?

Charge nurses are important because they coordinate all the necessary activities for a hospital ward. They decide staff assignments and often coordinate with physicians and nurses in other departments. These nurses identify the priorities for patient care.

Charge nurses often find themselves playing many roles and pulling on many of their skill sets. They set a prime example of how effectively a nurse should work and takes the opportunity to educate the nurses around them if necessary. They need decision-making skills and must understand the scientific method in order to solve patient care issues.

Charge nurses are often on the front lines of communication and will discuss and even negotiate with patients and their families to create the best nursing care plan for the patient. A charge nurse will routinely check the accuracy and completeness of a patient care plan and revise the plans as the patient’s condition changes. If inadequacies are found, it is the charge nurse’s job to fix them. They also provide crucial patient monitoring, determining whether the patient is behaving in line with the goals stated in the nursing care plan. The charge nurse is in charge of the patient’s overall care, including checking equipment for proper function and the environment to ensure patient safety.

Part 2: How to become a charge nurse

Education Requirements and Training

Charge nurses typically have at least a BSN degree and an RN license. While many employers prefer a BSN degree, some employers are fine with an RN who doesn’t necessarily hold a BSN but may have experience filling in as a charge nurse. Most charge nurses have three to five years of clinical setting experience before they are hired. These nurses can work in any hospital department, or any specialty such as ICU, labor and delivery, and so on. Many charge nurses seek advanced degrees like the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree.

Even though job requirements vary depending on what state or type of healthcare facility you’re in, these are typical charge nurse skills:

  • Provide direct patient care
  • Move and lift patients
  • Supervise nursing staff and other team members
  • Monitor patient care
  • Chart information
  • Provide daily guidance to staff
  • Effectively communicate patient care goals
  • Assess medical situations that arise
  • Take charge in an emergency situation

A charge nurse can obtain additional certifications or credentials, some of which may be required by the facility they work in. Examples of extra credentials include certifications in CPR, basic life support or pediatric life support.

Part 3: Career Outlook & Helpful Resources

Charge nurses can expect to earn between $50,000 and $90,000 per year. Your location and employer, as well as your education level and years of experience will determine your actual salary, but the median national salary is about $68,000.

Registered nurses are in demand, and charge nurses are even more so due to their clinical and leadership experience. These days, medical centers are increasingly complex, with more and more policies and procedures. A skilled charge nurse who has a great combination of clinical and management experience are high in demand. Nearly one-third of all registered nurses are of retirement age, so the need for up-and-coming RNs is definitely being felt in the healthcare industry.

Being a charge nurse is a difficult and demanding job, and as such, are in high demand. Most nurses can expect a salary that is much higher than the national average and job package benefits like health insurance, paid time off and the ability to contribute to a 401k plan.

Charge Nurse Specialties

Charge nurses tend to specialize according to the type of healthcare facility they work in, such as a nursing unit or emergency department. Many will specialize by working in areas such as the intensive care unit (ICU) or labor and delivery.

Many find rewarding work outside of the traditional hospital environment, in places like ambulatory surgical centers or medical offices, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, or home health.

Once a charge nurse has some experience in this role, many choose to pursue an advanced degree like an MSN to advance to the position of a nurse manager, which is a more administrative role. A nurse manager’s role is to not only guide department nurses but nurses throughout the entire organization. A nurse manager will develop new ideas across the entire organization and often serve as a facilitator between nursing staffs and upper management.

Charge Nurse FAQs

What are my career options as a charge nurse?As a nurse leader, charge nurses can work in any department of a hospital or other medical facility.

What is the difference between a charge nurse and nurse manager? Many charge nurses eventually become nurse managers. While a charge nurse is more involved in direct patient care, a nurse manager has a more administrative position. Nurse managers typically recruit and supervise nursing staff and are responsible for working with doctors to improve patient care and even managing the department finances.

Can I evaluate other nurses’ job performance?While nurse managers do tend to supervise staff nurses on a daily basis and provide input regarding performance, job appraisals are typically left to the nurse manager or other administrator.

Can I hold a management position as a charge nurse?Absolutely. Many charge nurses do become nurse managers or nurse leaders. A nurse leader may obtain extra education in leadership skills and usually leads an effort to improve patient care outcomes for a specific patient population.

Helpful Organizations, Societies & Agencies

Charge Nurse Scholarship

We know adequate school and training can be pricey at times. Apply today for our scholarship that’s open to all potential nurses.

List of Nursing Programs

If you want to become a charge nurse, get started on your nursing degree ASAP. But don’t worry! We’ve done a lot of the work for you. Take a look at our list of the best BSN degree programs.

What Now?

If you have a few years of clinical experience and you’ve been wanting to move your RN career to the next level, consider becoming a charge nurse. You will be a leader on the front lines of nursing and will provide the best possible patient care. If you are a natural leader who wants to develop your leadership skill set, the role of charge nurse may be a great choice for you. Becoming a skilled charge nurse with both clinical and managerial skills will give you job satisfaction for years to come.

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