How to Be a Director of Nursing


Earn your RN license. You can start your educational journey in a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN) program at an accredited college or university. Upon successful completion of your BSN, you'll need to pass a standardized national exam known as the NCLEX to earn state-specific licensure as an RN.


Get some experience under your belt. According to NSNA, nursing directors generally need five to seven years of practice. You can start as a staff nurse, delivering care to patients to get a solid foundation of clinical knowledge and technical skills. While you're at it, take some continuing education courses with a leadership focus.


Move up through the ranks. The assistant nurse manager role is a good starting point. When you're ready and the time is right, move up to a nurse manager role. Take advantage of any educational programs and mentoring your employer offers.


Align yourself with the organization's mission. Every health-care organization has missions, values and strategic goals. When you're selected for a DON role, you'll be expected to implement effective strategies for the clinical areas you oversee. Focus on how your clinical areas contribute to the overall organization, and collaborate with colleagues to ensure your strategies are successful.


Go to graduate school. A director of nursing needs extensive knowledge of an increasingly complex health-care environment. According to NSNA, a master of science in nursing (MSN), master of health science (MHS) or graduate degree in a business-related field (such as an MBA) will give you the education you need for your DON role.


Network with colleagues. There's no need to reinvent the wheel everytime you face a new challenge. Keep up to date with health-care journals focused on management, play an active role in local organizations for nurse leaders, and attend professional conferences regularly.

Tips and Warnings

  • There is a marked trend toward a shared governance model for nurses today. This model encourages staff nurses to have a true voice in decisions affecting their day-to-day practice. As a nursing director in a hospital with shared governance, you'll need outstanding skills in communication, collaboration, negotiation and time management to facilitate grassroots involvement.
  • According to the National Student Nurses' Association (NSNA), the director of nursing (DON) role is the entry-level position into executive leadership within a hospital or other health-care organization. The DON is typically responsible for several nursing units or service lines, overseeing unit-based nurse managers who have 24/7 accountability for specific clinical areas. The director of nursing generally reports to the chief nursing officer, who is the highest ranking administrative nurse within the organization. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for health services managers such as directors of nursing will grow 16 percent between 2006 and 2016.