Charge Nurse: What is it?

Lindsay
Lindsay Smith
Last updated at January 26, 2021

A Charge Nurse is one of the most important roles in health care. Because they must remain current on both clinical and management matters within a health care facility, the charge nurse role requires nurses to be well-organized, good at problem-solving, and have the ability to plan ahead.

What is a Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses provide patient care while also taking on leadership responsibilities for other staff members. Leadership responsibilities can include scheduling, coordinating, and communicating with fellow nurses on a shift or across a unit or entire department.

Being a charge nurse requires excellent communication, organizational, and leadership skills. The function of charge nurse also requires a registered nurse to be able to multitask and remain calm under pressure, while having excellent interpersonal skills when communicating with patients and teammates alike.

Is a Charge Nurse an RN?

Typically, charge nurses are RNs who have at least 3-5 years of experience providing patient care in a clinical setting. Additionally, most have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

Is a Charge Nurse the Same as a Nurse Manager?

Nurse managers and charge nurses are healthcare professionals who put their training and expertise to use in a managerial role. In this position, both have some responsibility for patients, nursing staff, and for keeping order and maintaining care levels in healthcare facilities.

The nurse manager and charge nurse have to be effective communicators and confident leaders. They are responsible for patient well-being, team morale, and more. They must also stay on top of nursing staff issues and have strong conflict resolution skills.

Nurse managers typically have more advanced education than charge nurses. Usually, nurse managers hold, at a minimum, a BSN or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Nurse managers may also be RNs who have earned advanced degrees in management and have comprehensive clinical experience in a healthcare setting. A nurse manager can also earn between $74,588 and $94,952 according to Salary.com, which is similar in range to charge nurses.

What do Charge Nurses Do?

Charge nurses are responsible for many tasks. Scheduling, delegating responsibility, ordering supplies, and meeting with patients and their families are just a few.

Not only do they provide care, but they also schedule and coordinate across nursing teams, and oversee admissions and discharges of patients.

Responsibilities and tasks vary by facility, department, specialty, and shift. However, in addition to providing patient care, the responsibilities of typically include:

  • Record patients’ medical records and monitor vital signs.
  • Supervising the nursing staff and monitoring their needs.
  • Coordinating daily administrative duties, including schedules, nursing assignments, and care of patients.
  • Overseeing admissions and discharges as well as patient transfers to another unit.
  • May provide mentoring and training new staff and providing support and guidance to all staff members.
  • Monitoring medical charts and providing compassionate care and assistance staff to patients and families.
  • Liaising with doctors and administrators and communicating any protocol changes to staff.
  • Ensuring compliance with all health and safety regulations.
  • Recording and maintaining accurate reports.
  • Identifying issues or emergencies in their unit and responding in a calm and efficient manner.

Where do They Work?

Charge nurses can be found working in hospitals, clinics, doctor's offices, long-term care, and rehabilitation facilities, and just about any other health care facility where nurses work. If the medical facility has more than 2-3 nurses on any given shift, it is very likely the provider will have a capacity for a charge nurse.

What do Charge Nurses Make?

As of December of 2020, the average pay of a US-based charge nurse was $89,097, according to Salary.com. The salary range falls between $82,743 and $99,059 for charge nurse positions and can vary substantially depending on numerous factors.

Factors that drive the salary include skills, education, certifications, and the number of career years spent in the nursing profession. The geographic location, facility, and the organization they work for will also be variables for determining salary.

When reviewing an offer for this position from a prospective employer, it's essential to compare apples to apples. Be sure to take into consideration the total offer, and not just the pay. For example, having better vacation time or more flexible sick leave may be more valuable to you than just the cash.

Some other important benefits to compare are health coverage – as well as vision and dental care. And don't forget about tuition opportunities to further your education as well as childcare.

And finally, consider the cost of living in the area and how close you will be to your work. Shorter commute times for nurses can not only save dollars but also many hours in your day.

How do You Become a Charge Nurse?

Like most nursing jobs, becoming a charge nurse requires more experience, training, and education. To become a charge nurse, you'll have to combine everything required to be a licensed registered nurse (RN) with your clinical experience in nursing where you have demonstrated the interpersonal skills and leadership characteristics innate to the job.

Becoming a Charge Nurse

Charge nurses must have the following qualifications:

  • An ADN, BSN, or MSN degree
  • Successfully passed the NCLEX-RN exam
  • 3-5 years working as a nurse in clinical patient care

If you are looking to specialize your healthcare career, try to make as much of those 3-5 clinical years of experience working within your specialty, or specific practice of choice.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Charge Nurse?

It takes about 5-7 years to get a job as a charge nurse.

Step I – Becoming an RN

An ADN degree or diploma program usually takes 2-3 years to complete while a BSN degree usually takes 4.

Step II – Getting the Experience

Registered nurses then spend 3-5 years to gain the experience necessary.

Most importantly, you'll want to learn and demonstrate exceptional organizational skills and an empathetic and positive demeanor. Becoming a charge nurse means you'll be making important decisions about resource allocation and expected to be calm and kind under pressure, keep these in mind while working full time with other nurses to get the experience you need. 

The ability to communicate clearly and compassionately is key to successfully attaining and keeping this leadership nursing role.

FAQs

What's the Career Outlook for a Charge Nurse?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for nurses across all specialties will grow by 12% through the year 2028. Specifically, the demand for charge nurses is likely to be even greater. 

What Degree Do You Need to be a Charge Nurse?

Charge nurses are RNs. Most have earned their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Those who have earned their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) are likely to be looked on more favorably when applying for this position.

Can an LVN/LPN Be a Charge Nurse? 

An LPN may become a charge nurse if they have a significant amount of clinical experience and have demonstrated the necessary leadership skills for the role.