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In today's evolving healthcare landscape, the nurse executive role has become pivotal in bridging the gap between clinical practice and management. But what exactly does a nursing executive do, and how can you reach this position? 

In essence, nurse executives are responsible for overseeing an entire nursing staff at a given healthcare facility. Their diverse duties include facilitating communication across multiple networks, promoting teamwork in nursing, and taking responsibility for improving clinical health care.1

Here, we’ll discuss the responsibilities of a nursing executive, their key qualities, and how you can get started on the route to becoming one.

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What is a Nurse Executive?

Much like ships have captains and trains have conductors, healthcare teams have nurse executives to drive the direction of their staff and steer them toward excellence in patient and nursing care.

Nurse executives are among the most senior, experienced members of a clinic’s staff and, thus, they’re entrusted with a wide range of important responsibilities. Some of the key duties of a nurse executive can include:2

  • Spearheading patient care by designing, implementing, and managing regiments, routines, and schedules
  • Drafting a budget and allocating funds based on the resources available and the needs of their healthcare facility
  • Listening to, acknowledging, and communicating the diverse needs of their staff
  • Writing the very policies and procedures that guide their facility
  • Advocating for the various needs of their patients and staff
  • Working with a wide range of interdisciplinary healthcare professionals to improve patient care services
  • Using industry connections to develop and maintain care networks that better serve the needs of ailing patients

Add to this myriad of responsibilities being a go-to consultant for any high-level issues their staff or facility encounters, and you have the general day-to-day life of a nurse executive. As such, they’re the true cornerstones of any successful medical team, and their central authority and prominence in healthcare facilities cannot be understated.

Importance in Healthcare Leadership

Nurse executives can hold some of the top positions within healthcare facilities. They can even earn the rank of Director of Nursing, Certified Nurse Manager, and Chief Nurse Executive, among other similarly lauded, high-level roles.3

As such, they’re often looked up to for their wealth of knowledge, tact, and professional experience. Nurse executives are usually mentors to the staff they work with and, when it’s time to make decisions for the facility as a whole, they exercise the executive in the nurse executive title.

With the immense power of the role comes equal levels of responsibility, however. As leaders, nurse executives are generally tasked with shaping the policies and strategies their staff will adhere to. Thus, they may be called upon to:

  • Review and assess a facility’s existing policies
  • Audit areas for improvement and work out ways to initiate change
  • Implement treatment policies and staff guidelines that aim to improve the current quality of patient care
  • Provide colleagues with the necessary resources and support to stick to established procedures
  • Examine the efficacy of their policies and tweak them to obtain the desired patient outcomes

When shaping a healthcare organization's rulebook, nurse executives should keep quality care at the heart of their policies. As such, they should pay special attention to providing treatment that’s:4

  • Safe
  • Effective 
  • Patient-centered
  • Timely
  • Efficient
  • Equitable

Alongside their many duties, nurse executives should consistently strive to improve their organization's quality of care by prioritizing these principles. That isn’t necessarily an exceptional ask, however, as nurse executives are generally driven, caring, and passionate individuals who are genuinely concerned about delivering the best possible patient outcomes.

Qualities of a Successful Nurse Executive

Most healthcare professionals have a rich history of clinical experience before they start a nurse executive role. As such, they’ve had a long time to develop critical skills and competencies that make them well-suited for the position. 

To that end, some of the key qualities of a successful nurse executive can include:5

  • Professionalism – Nurse executives are often the face of their organization to patients, staff, and external healthcare professionals. As such, it’s critical they maintain a calm, cool head, and professional demeanor when dealing with the difficult situations and people they’re bound to encounter in the field.
  • Communication and relationship management – Nurse executives are a central hub for the information that flows amongst their staff. They should be attuned to the individual needs of their colleagues while facilitating open, civil dialogue between team members. 
  • Knowledge of the healthcare environment – In a field of rapid developments, new technologies, and cutting-edge treatments, nurse executives are tasked with staying up-to-date on the latest healthcare innovations and applying them to improve patient care at their own facilities.
  • Business skills and principles – Since nurse executives are largely responsible for financial oversight in their facility, it’s essential they foster a business-oriented, number-crunching mindset. With limited funds at their disposal, they must consider where to make cuts and where to pool resources in order to achieve the highest possible level of care and health administration.

On top of these refined skills, nurse executives must also stay consistently inquisitive and keep on top of continuing education requirements—both for themselves and their staff. In fact, when you reach a nurse executive position, you’ll be responsible for facilitating the professional development, nursing education, and clinical hours your colleagues need to maintain their certifications.6

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How to Become a Nurse Executive in 4 Steps

Speaking of certification, there are quite a few educational requirements that are necessary to become a nurse executive. On top of formal schooling, you may also need to rack up significant clinical experience and professional skills. To get started toward becoming a nurse executive:

#1: Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

Many who aspire to become nurse executives are already nurses working in clinical positions. They hold either a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or an associate degree in nursing (ADN). Additionally, they’ve already passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) exam and are actively certified. 

To acquire a nurse executive position, however, candidates are generally required to have an MSN on top of these other qualifications.7 The positive news is that you don’t need to spend four years acquiring a BSN to start your MSN if you already have a degree in another discipline. 

Alliant International University offers a master’s of science in nursing direct entry program (MSN-DE) designed for those who want to break into the field of nursing. If becoming a nurse executive is your ultimate nursing goal, our MSN can help get you closer by:

  • Fostering the development of the acute nurse leadership skills necessary to excel in a senior healthcare management position in the field of nursing
  • Exposing you to the type of cutting-edge, innovative technology you’ll work with in clinical settings
  • Providing hands-on training and experience that can help prepare you for roles in real-world healthcare settings
  • Setting you up to sit for the NCLEX-RN, allowing you to work legally as a nurse

If you want an MSN that can help you develop the necessary knowledge and capabilities to become a nurse executive, apply to the MSN-DE before the start of the next program.

#2: Gain Hands-On Experience

As mentioned, nurse executive is a senior healthcare position and, thus, generally only applicants with abundant clinical experience are considered for such roles. While there isn’t a cut-and-dry number for how much experience one needs, like most management positions, more is generally better.

Junior staff look up to nurse executives to solve complex problems. So, when they come asking questions, these senior managers should have solid answers—or at least know where to look to find them.

#3: Continue Your Professional Development 

Nurse executives, like those in most other nursing positions, are required to maintain an active nursing certification.8 After completing the MSN Nurse Executive program and passing an NCLEX-RN, this means renewing your license pursuant to your state’s regulations. Different jurisdictions have varying requirements regarding: 

  • How often you need to renew your license
  • The clinical practice hours necessary to maintain licensure
  • Any continuing education credits you need to complete before renewal

Along with maintaining your nurse’s license, it can also be pertinent to pursue further certification. One such option is to get Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL). Another option is to obtain the Nurse Executive Certification. It’s a leading industry-recognized certification that can help you prove your management expertise and bolster your educational credentials.

#4: Search for Jobs and Seek Opportunities for Advancement

With this much experience, expertise, and a collegiate nursing education, you can begin searching for jobs as a nurse executive. When hunting for management roles in the healthcare field, remember these helpful tips:

  • Nurse executives operate in a variety of healthcare settings, from huge hospitals to countryside clinics—so, if senior positions aren’t available in one type of facility, diversify your applications.
  • Leadership positions aren’t as abundant as clinical roles; thus, flexibility and a willingness to relocate can be fruitful means of increasing your options.
  • Becoming a nurse executive can be a personally fulfilling experience—the exact compensation and benefits of the role, however, can depend on the location, title, and duties.

After obtaining a nurse executive position, you’ve essentially reached the top of the clinical ladder. If you fancy a change of title or scenery, however, it’s possible to leverage your position for a move to a similar role, such as chief nursing officer (CNO) or nurse director.

Discover a Path to Becoming a Nurse Executive at Alliant

If you aspire to become a nurse executive but don’t have a background in nursing, the MSN-DE program at Alliant International University is catered to applicants with non-nursing related bachelor’s degrees who want to change their careers. Through our MSN program, you can:

  • Earn a relevant advanced degree that prepares you to start a career in the field of nursing
  • Qualify to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam 
  • Develop a foundation in the essential leadership skills you’ll need to enter into a nurse executive position

So, if you’re looking for nursing programs in Phoenix AZ, consider applying at Alliant today.


  1. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  2. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  3. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  4. Flaubert JL, Le Menestrel S, Williams DR, et al. “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; National Academy of Medicine; Committee on the Future of Nursing 2020–2030. May 11, 2021. Accessed September 15, 2023.
  5. AONL Nurse Executive Competencies.” American Organization for Nursing Leadership.  Accessed September 15, 2023.
  6. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  7. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.
  8. Writers, Staff. “How to Become a Nurse Executive - Salary.” June 7, 2023. Accessed September 14, 2023.

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