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What It Takes to Become a Nurse Executive

November 7, 2013

Continued education is raising the profile of the nurse. Professionals with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are swiftly becoming the new leaders in health care by taking on management positions such as a nurse executive. Through online MSN programs like those at King University, nurses are gaining exposure to broader health care concepts, including valuable business training that gives these nurses traction in a complex field. Nurses enrolled in King University’s MSN program can choose the nurse administration concentration for curriculum tailored to meet the education needs of the nursing field. Read on to learn more.

Two nurse executives looking over paperwork on a computer

Nurses on Computer

Nurse executives work with co-workers to ensure patients receive quality care.

What is a Nurse Executive?

These professionals concentrate on high-level nursing practices to help promote health care systems within a given facility or patient care provider group. These professionals oversee nursing units and coordinate medical teams to establish and manage effective patient care plans. Nursing executives must also maintain a watchful eye on operating budgets, including:

  • Potential expenditures,
  • Incoming revenue and
  • Staffing levels from year to year.

They are often involved in the development of organizational policies in an effort to effectively streamline operating processes, reduce costs and boost the success rate of overall patient outcomes.

Education and Credentials

Holding a master’s degree can position you for high-level career opportunities in health care, including executive nursing roles. MSN program outcomes are often focused on building upon foundational skills garnered during BSN studies and on-the-job experience while developing:

  • Critical thinking,
  • Decision making and
  • Leadership skills.

MSN programs are focused on developing nursing professionals as business leaders, educators, advocates and facilitators. Degree specializations such as nursing administration or nursing business can focus your studies toward a specific career path through advanced curriculum. However, while a MSN puts you on track for advanced career paths in health care, some roles require additional education and certificates.

The role of nursing executive is a high-level health care career requiring advanced education credits and credentials for job placement. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Nurse Executive-Board Certified (NE-BC) credential for candidates with an active RN license and a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Additionally, candidates for the certification must have completed 30 hours of advanced nursing education in nursing administration; however, this requirement is waived for MSN-prepared nurses with a specialization in nursing administration. NE-BC certifications are valid for up to five years.

The American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) also offers credentialing exams for this high-level nursing career. The Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) and the Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) certificates are both offered through AONE. CENP candidates must have a RN license and an MSN in addition to two years of experience in executive nursing. The CENP is valid for three years. Nurses with an RN license and a BSN plus two years of experience in a nurse manager role are eligible to sit for the CNML exam. The CNML is valid for three years.

Career Outcomes

Executive nurses are considered members of a health care facility’s senior leadership and, as such, are called on to assist in overall facility operations, including:

  • Management,
  • Budgeting,
  • Staffing,
  • Policy development and more.

These professionals must maintain open lines of communication with other team members as well as their own staff and must be willing to collaborate with other medical professionals to offer the best possible care to patients and their families. Nursing executives also act as mentors to their staff by facilitating professional and personal development through continued education, credential programs and on-the-job training opportunities. As a mentor, these professionals often provide their units with training in new technologies, procedures and patient care systems. These encouraging efforts help to support quality assurance levels and employee satisfaction.

According to, the average annual salary for nursing executives is $57,000. Salaries can vary for professionals based on their region of employment, type of health care employer, experience, credentials and more.

The nurse is a valued position in the health care field. Many health care facilities continue to face shortages of qualified and experienced applicants to fill gaps created by a mix of an expanding industry and an aging workforce on the verge of retirement. Current nurses who are looking to compete for vacant senior-level positions should consider continuing their education now with an MSN and subsequent field-specific credentials. Professionals interested in executive nursing careers should consider specialized MSN programs that deliver more job-related skills to support future job requirements such as nursing administration or nursing business. These specialized degrees prepare you for credentialing exams and help you to secure senior-level health care positions.