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How to Become a Director of Nursing

As a generation of physicians and nurses are set to retire and the need for quality patient care continues to grow, a host of new career opportunities have arisen in healthcare. One of the key opportunities concerns positions of nurse leadership, such as director of nursing services. These directors are poised to prepare the next generation of nurses to address the industry’s influx of unique challenges so that care delivery remains optimal. Those who invest in the education and training to become a director of nursing services may find exciting opportunities to further their careers and become leaders in healthcare.

Director of Nursing consulting with his team while reviewing report on a clipboard

How to become a director of nursing services is a complex process. Beyond the typical steps required for attaining the director of nursing services position at a hospital, assisted living facility, or other healthcare organization, there may be additional training, education, certification, or experience required that is dependent upon the employer, organization, or nature of the position.

Why Directors of Nursing Services Are So Important

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), more registered nurse (RN) jobs will become available through 2022 than jobs in any other profession in the United States. One of the many factors contributing to this need stems from the projected increase in older patients due to an aging population. Studies indicate there are more people over the age of 65 than at any time in U.S. history. Those in this age bracket tend to have more chronic illnesses to manage compared with those in younger age brackets, which could create a greater need for care delivery.

Another major factor is the increase in nurses set to retire. It is estimated that roughly 1 million nurses will retire by 2030, the year that the youngest members of the baby boomer generation will turn 65. This will not only lead to a large number of projected job openings but also leave the healthcare industry with a need to cultivate nurses with the skills and knowledge on par with the acumen of experienced nurses.

High-level nursing professionals, such as directors of nursing services, are poised to play a crucial role in the healthcare landscape. They can use their knowledge and skills to help instruct the next generation of healthcare professionals on how to deliver high-quality care, even as technology and legal policies change and evolve. This instruction can ultimately help healthcare facilities deliver care that improves patient outcomes.

What Is a Director of Nursing Services’ Role?

The director of nursing services is in charge of managing a nursing staff to ensure its optimal performance and maintain the highest level of care for its patients. In supervising a team made up of nurses, office personnel, and other healthcare professionals, the director of nursing services must train new nurses and continue to educate them on policy and regulation changes, as well as any changes to organizational procedures or directives. It is the director’s duty to clearly communicate the standards of care for the facility and evaluate the performance of the nursing staff so the facility continues to meet those standards.

When necessary, directors of nursing services also collaborate with physicians, community agencies, and other institutions to resolve departmental problems and improve the efficiency and quality of overall care. As representatives of their departments, they may be required to request and acquire new equipment and to address other staff concerns. Directors of nursing services meet with patients, residents, and families, as well as with business associates, vendors, department heads, and government representatives.

The director of nursing services often reports to the chief nursing officer. When working in a larger setting, such as a hospital, the director of nursing services is usually in charge of a specific department and responsible for managing its personnel. In smaller organizations, such as nursing home facilities, the director of nursing services may be in charge of the entire nursing staff. This position also entails some business-related tasks, such as budgetary planning and oversight, record-keeping, creating work schedules for staff members, monitoring complaints, and completing other administrative duties.

Steps to Become a Director of Nursing Services: Training and Education

To attain the advanced position of director of nursing services, healthcare professionals must have a bachelor’s degree. For this role, the degree should be in nursing, health administration, health management, or business administration. Many employers also require a master’s degree in nursing or another field that combines healthcare and business courses. Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) may or may not be required to become a director of nursing services, depending on the position or organization, but this advanced degree does provide many benefits for nursing professionals looking to take on leadership roles in healthcare.

The curriculum offered in DNP programs can help working nurse practitioners (NPs) develop the leadership competencies necessary for making decisions, handling conflict, and managing teams of skilled nurses at an administrative level. DNP students may also choose to hone their expertise in a particular healthcare specialty, such as family and pediatric care, adult-gerontology primary or acute care, or psychiatric mental health. Regardless of concentration, the curriculum will typically have coursework that enables students to gain training in a controlled real-world environment. This opportunity allows them to build skills that are essential for an advanced nursing role, such as leadership, analytical, technical, and communication competencies.

The director of nursing services role also requires that professionals have relevant experience working in a healthcare setting as either an RN or NP. Aspiring directors of nursing services can gain this experience at a hospital, mental health facility, nursing home, or other clinical organization. This work provides candidates with a firsthand understanding of how healthcare systems function, what daily activities one might expect working when in a clinical environment, and what nurses and other professionals need to provide quality care.

Director of Nursing Services Salaries

The role of a director of nursing services is complex and requires high-level organization and management skills. For performing the supervisory functions of this position, these leaders are usually well compensated. According to PayScale, the average director of nursing services salary is around $86,700, as of March 2020. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not specify average pay for this position, it has found that medical and health services managers earned a median annual pay of $99,730 in 2018, while managers working in state, local, and private hospitals earned a median pay of $108,730.

Future Growth for Director of Nursing Services Roles

There are many reasons why the BLS projects leadership positions in health services management to increase at a much faster rate than the average for all U.S. occupations. As more people age and stay active in their older years, there will be a greater demand for health services. Combine this with the national nursing shortage, and there will be an unprecedented need for more nursing professionals. Although the BLS does not have figures showing the job outlook for the director of nursing services position specifically, it predicts that the employment of all medical and health services management professionals will grow by 18% from 2018 to 2028.

Learn More About Becoming a Director of Nursing Services

There is a wide range of exciting and challenging opportunities for nursing professionals to advance in their field, including the role of director of nursing services. Working in this position can give nurse leaders opportunities to take on critical supervisory roles and gain indispensable experience in providing a high level of care to patients and residents. Nurses can also learn to educate other nursing professionals in the delivery of healthcare services and continue to advance their own careers to achieve other top positions in healthcare.

Learn more about how Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice program can help working nurses develop the technical, administrative, and leadership skills they need to advance their careers.

Recommended Reading

What Is A DNP Degree?

BSN to DNP Curriculum

Advanced Nursing Careers for BSN to DNP Graduates


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Shortage

Atlanta Journal Constitution, “What the Nursing Shortage Means for Healthcare”

NCBI, “Nursing Shortage”

PayScale, Average Director, Nursing Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers