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Director of Nursing: Salary and How to Become One

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 17, 2024
A Director of Nursing Meets With Another Medical Professional in a Medical Facility.

Director of Nursing: Salary and How to Become One

The top-ranking administration role in the nursing field is director of nursing. Professionals seeking this leadership role move from daily patient care to upper-level management and policy-level planning to promote effective health care facility operations. Experienced nurses and professionals looking to move into the field can review the director of nursing salary, responsibilities, and educational requirements to learn more about this dynamic career opportunity.

The Role of Director of Nursing

Directors of nursing in hospitals or health care facilities are responsible for overseeing the entire nursing department of their organization. This high-level management position focuses on department wide goals, hiring responsibilities, and budgetary planning rather than day-to-day patient care. Directors are also expected to work closely with senior administrators of other departments to report on the level of care and the operation of their department.

The work environment for nurse directors varies based on the facility or organization. However, many spend much of their time doing administrative and leadership tasks in an office environment and monitoring care throughout a hospital or health care facility.

Core Responsibilities of a Director of Nursing

The responsibilities of a nursing director can vary depending on the size of the hospital or other health care organization. For many directors, however, their daily and weekly schedules include the following responsibilities:

  • Maintaining guidelines for standard of care
  • Developing and executing long-term strategies for the department
  • Tracking goals and working with nursing staff to reach those goals
  • Overseeing hiring, training, and retention of nursing staff
  • Managing budget and monitoring expenses
  • Reviewing compliance with federal, state, and local regulations
  • Evaluating the performance of nurses and other health care professionals

Some organizations allow directors of nursing to focus on a few key responsibilities while working with a larger team of health care professionals. Smaller organizations may require additional responsibilities as directors of nursing work alongside managers to guide and oversee nurses.

Director of Nursing Salary Expectations

As an experienced, top-level leader of a department or facility, a nursing director earns a competitive salary. According to PayScale, the median director of nursing salary is approximately $97,890 as of December 2023. However, the exact salary is based on years of experience, location, and size of the department. 

Steps to Become a Director of Nursing

Directors of nursing often have more than 10 years of combined education and work experience in the field. The steps below highlight a typical timeline for nursing directors, but every career path is slightly different. Anyone interested in becoming a director of nursing should identify the type of facility they wish to work in and explore the job requirements to learn more.

Educational Requirements

For many directors of nursing, the first step is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This four-year degree not only lays the foundation for the medical knowledge needed as a director of nursing but also prepares graduates to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Some nursing director candidates can qualify with a BSN, but many positions require at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which can help prospective candidates build their high-level leadership skills. Graduates of an MSN degree program can also consider enrolling in a doctorate program to further their nursing education.

Required Certifications

Candidates should also consider earning a certification to improve their application. Two leading certification programs for directors of nursing are the Director of Nursing Services-Certified (DNS-CT) credential, offered by the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing (AAPACN), and the Certified Director of Nursing Exam (CDONA), offered by the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration in Long-Term Care (NADONA-LTC).

Health care organizations may have different certification requirements, so prospective directors of nursing should review job requirements for more information. 

Relevant Work Experience

For most director of nursing positions, candidates must have at least two to three years of experience in a relevant position. Nurse directors should have experience working not only as nurses but also in managerial roles. Some prospective directors of nursing choose to become an advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to gain crucial experience as they move toward their career goals.

Essential Skills

Leaders in a nursing setting need to demonstrate several interpersonal, technical, and managerial skills. Here are a few examples of essential skills for professionals to succeed as directors of nursing:

  • Strong oral and written communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Organization skills and attention to detail
  • Leadership skills
  • Ability to encourage and inspire nurses and other health care professionals
  • Strong command of medical and technical knowledge

Explore The University of Tulsa’s MSN Program Today

After reviewing the director of nursing salary expectations, responsibilities, and required education, you can start your career pathway. Explore The University of Tulsa’s online MSN program with four specializations: Leadership and Innovation, Education and Elevation, Public Health Global Vision, and Information and Analytics. 

Learn more about TU’s program and how it can help you reach your goals as a nurse leader. 

Recommended Readings:

The Most Important Leadership Skills for Nurses

MSN vs. DNP: Differences Between the Degrees

A Nurse Educator’s Role in the Future of Nursing


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Workforce Fact Sheet

American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, Director of Nursing Services-Certified

American Nurses Association, How to Become a Director of Nursing

Indeed, Director of Nursing Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration for Long-Term Care, CDONA Certified Director of Nursing Exam

Payscale, Average Director, Nursing Salary

ZipRecruiter, What Is a Director of Nursing and How to Become One

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