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What Does a Charge Nurse Do?

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Jan 22, 2024
A charge nurse talking to a health care professional in a medical facility.

What Does a Charge Nurse Do?

After becoming a registered nurse (RN), there are several leadership roles to pursue for the next step in a nurse’s career. An RN with clinical experience, an advanced education, and a passion for leadership may qualify for a position as a charge nurse. The role comes with greater leadership opportunities and typically a higher salary. Those interested in this career path should explore what a charge nurse does, including the daily tasks, work environment, salary expectations, and required qualifications for this nursing leadership role.

What’s a Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses supervise a unit or department within a health care facility while delivering quality care to patients alongside other RNs. They’re also responsible for assigning duties to other nurses in a unit. They oversee other nursing staff and ensure that care is effectively and collaboratively delivered across the nursing unit. This can include coordinating schedules and delegating tasks.

Unlike a unit manager, however, a charge nurse is typically assigned to specific shifts within a nursing unit. This means that charge nurses won’t likely handle other administrative and leadership duties that nursing unit managers are responsible for.

What Does a Charge Nurse Do? Daily Responsibilities

What a charge nurse does daily can include a wide variety of tasks, which take patience and strong multitasking skills. Here are just a few examples of responsibilities handled by charge nurses:

  • Working closely with physicians
  • Maintaining schedules of RNs in the nursing unit
  • Identifying patient injuries, difficulties, and requests
  • Monitoring supply levels
  • Overseeing admissions and discharges
  • Reviewing safety and procedure compliance in the nursing unit

The exact duties that a charge nurse performs depend on the facility, nursing unit, and daily needs. Many charge nurses continue to work directly with patients to provide bedside care. In some situations, however, charge nurses may spend more of their time overseeing nurses, communicating with physicians, and reporting to other leadership roles.

Work Environment

An experienced RN will easily recognize the work environment of a charge nurse. These professionals often work side by side with RNs but have supervisory responsibilities on top of their typical daily duties. Many charge nurses work in hospitals, but they can also work in the following medical settings:

  • Urgent care clinics
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Medical clinics
  • Nursing homes

Charge nurses divide their time between supervisory, administrative, and clinical duties. While many tasks are performed on the clinic or hospital floor, some require extended periods in an office setting.

Charge Nurse Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

As a nursing leadership role, charge nurses can expect a competitive salary compared with that of RNs. According to Payscale, charge nurses earn an average annual salary of about $80,640 as of October 2023. RNs, however, earn an average annual salary of about $72,870 as of October 2023, according to Payscale.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track the career outlook of charge nurses specifically but expects the number of RNs to increase by 6% between 2022 and 2032, a growth rate that’s faster than the national average.

How to Become a Charge Nurse

After learning what a charge nurse does, a nursing professional needs to take time to explore the steps required to advance to this leadership role. The steps are as follows:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree in nursing. Charge nurses usually have either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or another nursing degree, such as an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). A BSN is usually the preferred option. 
  2. Gain clinical experience. The required years of clinical experience can vary from 3 to 10 years, so nurses should review specific positions to see if they have the necessary experience to become a charge nurse.
  3. Pursue an advanced nursing degree. While not always required, a graduate nursing education can help nurses advance into leadership roles. RNs with BSNs should consider enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program to improve their chances of moving into this leadership role.

Skills Needed to Become a Charge Nurse

Stepping into a leadership position requires a specific set of skills. To succeed as a charge nurse, reflecting on ways to improve these skills through hands-on experience or a degree program is important:

  • Soft skills. Charge nurses need to continue to communicate empathetically, work as team players, and network to be successful in their roles.
  • Decision-making skills. Scheduling a nursing unit and supervising patient care require fast and effective decision-making skills.
  • Clinical skills. There may be some additional administrative tasks, but charge nurses need to continue to deliver exceptional patient care.
  • Leadership skills. Charge nurses must perform all their daily tasks with a commitment to leading by example to provide mentorship and guidance to other nurses in the unit.

Explore the MSN Program at The University of Tulsa

Becoming a charge nurse is a significant step in your leadership journey. Whether you’re working to become a unit manager, a director of nursing, or a charge nurse, preparing with the right degree program is important. Through The University of Tulsa’s online MSN program, you can earn your MSN in a flexible environment. Learn more about this degree option to see how you can gain the qualifications and leadership skills you need to pursue a career as a nurse leader.

Recommended Readings:

The Most Important Leadership Skills for Nurses

MSN vs. DNP: Differences Between the Degrees

The Benefits of Nurse Mentoring


American Nurses Association, Charge Nurse vs. Nurse Manager: What’s the Difference?

Incredible Health, “Become a Charge Nurse in 3 Steps”

Indeed, Learn About Being a Charge Nurse

Payscale, Average Charge Nurse (RN) Annual Pay

Payscale, Average Registered Nurse (RN) Annual Pay

Trusted Health, “What Is a Charge Nurse?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses

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