What Is a Charge Nurse? Duties, Pay, and How to Become One

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A charge nurse is a registered nurse who also serves as a leader during a nursing shift. From nursing education to leadership skills, learn what it takes to become a charge nurse, what the job is like, and if it might be the right career choice for you.

[Featured image] A charge nurse pushes a patient sitting in a wheelchair through a hospital.

A charge nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who leads a nursing unit during a shift or specific period. Charge nurses undergo additional training to gain deeper leadership abilities, which they use alongside strong clinical and human skills while performing their managerial responsibilities.

If you're looking for nursing positions in which you'll get to make critical decisions, manage others, and coordinate workplace tasks, then you might consider a career as a charge nurse.

In this article, you'll learn more about what a charge nurse does, the benefits of choosing this career, and the typical educational requirements you decide to embark on this exciting career. 

What is a charge nurse?

Charge nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who supervise other nurses and other health care professionals within a unit or department in a health care facility.

Charge nurses pair patient care with managerial leadership. Unlike some administrative positions in health care, such as clinical managers, charge nurses continue working with patients while also occupying leadership positions. As a result, RNs who decide to become charge nurses are often those who wish to take on more responsibility and become leaders in their fields.

While there are many paths you can take in the nursing field, such as becoming a nurse practitioner or a nurse anesthetist, charge nurses have the unique responsibility of leading, managing, and supporting other registered nurses. You might also take this path if you enjoy making a difference in others' lives or are simply looking for a career that offers greater variety. 

What does a charge nurse do?

From moment to moment, a charge nurse's responsibilities may change.

While one hour you may be overseeing a nursing unit, another you might be working directly with patients, creating schedules, assigning nurses, or addressing any of the many other problems that may arise during a shift. In some cases, you may also perform various clinical and administrative tasks.

Nonetheless, some of the most common tasks you may perform as a charge nurse include:

  • Supervising and supporting other nurses and unit staff 

  • Creating staffing schedules and assigning nurses to patients or tasks 

  • Training new hires or implementing new programs with existing staff 

  • Overseeing safety compliance and ensuring that organizational regulations are met 

  • Educating patients

  • Meeting with administrators to discuss staff members and patient care successes and failures 

  • Handling admissions and discharges 

  • Monitoring supplies and ordering new ones as needed 

  • Caring for patients yourself when a nurse on your team is unable to complete a task

  • Monitoring medication 

  • Providing guidance and advice to your team of nurses 

  • Evaluating nurses' performance 

  • Monitoring patients' conditions and intervening when necessary

  • Intervening in volatile situations involving patients, their loved ones, or staff members 

  • Updating, revising, and approving patient care plans 

  • Coordination with the nurse manager and other staff members 

  • Checking the environment of the unit or patients' rooms for safety hazards 

  • Ensuring medical equipment is functioning properly 

Charge nurse vs. nurse manager

Although a charge nurse and nurse manager's job descriptions may seem similar, they are two different careers. While both positions typically start as RNs, positively impact patients' lives, and require years of experience, charge nurses and nurse managers often have different responsibilities.

Typically, unlike charge nurses, nurse managers don't work directly with patients. Instead, they focus more on administrative and managerial duties, such as communicating with doctors, administrators, and various other medical professionals. Nurse managers might also focus on ensuring a nursing unit is within budget while also managing support staff and other health care professionals in their units.

By contrast, a charge nurse often works directly with patients and focuses on managing the nurses within their units or training new nurses. Even still, in some health care facilities, job duties for a charge nurse and nurse manager may overlap.

Read more: What Is Health Care Management? A Career Guide


Charge nurse salary and job outlook

While there are no official statistics on the exact pay and job outlook for charge nurses, related statistics and self-reported incomes suggest that you can earn a higher-than-average salary and expect strong demand in the coming years as a charge nurse.

According to Glassdoor, charge nurses earn an average annual base salary of $106,003 as of July 2023 [1]. That's significantly higher than the median annual pay for registered nurses, which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics put at $77,600 as of May 2021 [2].

Furthermore, the BLS reports that all health care jobs expect a growth rate of 13 percent between 2021 and 2031, which is much faster than the projected average job growth rate [ [3]. That includes a 6 percent growth rate for registered nurses [2]. If you are already a registered nurse or want to become one, then working towards career advancement, like becoming a charge nurse, may add even more job security. 

Why become a charge nurse? Benefits and impact

Being a charge nurse provides many benefits, such as offering work variety, granting the chance to make a difference in others' lives, and potentially improving job satisfaction.

If you decide to pursue work as a charge nurse, then you'll not only have the opportunity to advance your career, but you'll also likely find that you're doing something that can be fulfilling and life-changing. 


When you work as a nurse, each day will typically be unique. Even if you work in one department and focus on the same issues every day, such as labor and delivery, each patient will bring their own set of challenges and needs. 

This is especially true for charge nurses. Not only are you serving unique patients every day, but you're also working with a team of nurses with their own unique abilities and challenges. With so many responsibilities, those pursuing a career as a charge nurse can expect to be stimulated both physically and mentally every time they go to work. 

Ability to make a difference

Simply becoming a registered nurse offers many personal benefits. In fact, every time you don your scrubs, you have the opportunity to make a difference in another person's life. 

As a charge nurse, you'll continue to help both patients and their loved ones while also extending your support to other nurses in your unit. If your unit is well-organized and well-staffed, you’ll benefit from a more favorable environment for both nurses and patients. Not only will you help your own patients through hands-on care, but you'll help ensure your unit is running smoothly, which can lead to better overall care for all administered patients.

As a charge nurse, you can help make a hospital or clinic a place where nurses are happy to be at work, and patients receive compassionate, quality care. 

Job satisfaction

Becoming a charge nurse might improve your overall job satisfaction, particularly if you're looking for a career move that provides increased responsibilities and leadership opportunities. As a charge nurse, you'll also be tasked with solving problems, making big decisions, and improving the operations of your nursing units.

It's also considered a positive move for a registered nurse who wants to learn more about how an organization works. It's your opportunity to gain new experiences. In addition to your clinical work, you'll learn more about scheduling, budgets, communication, and management. 

Where do charge nurses work?

Charge nurses typically work in hospitals, usually in a particular unit like labor and delivery, surgery, intensive care, or the emergency department. However, you can work in other medical settings, like clinics, doctor's offices, nursing homes, dialysis centers, rehabilitation facilities, home health care agencies, and urgent care. Jobs can be full-time, part-time, or as needed. 


How to become a charge nurse

Being a charge nurse starts with becoming a registered nurse and includes gaining experience and leadership skills. While there's no specific training for a charge nurse, those who wish to embark on this career typically follow a similar path. Here's what you can expect:

1. Gain your nursing credential.

Before you can become a charge nurse, you must first become a registered nurse. To become a registered nurse, you must first possess a nursing diploma, a bachelor's degree, or an associate degree in nursing. You may also choose to go on and earn a bachelor's or master's degree in nursing if you haven't already, especially if you know you want to advance your career in the future.

Many hospitals and clinics prefer to hire charge nurses that have at least a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Some states require a registered nurse to hold a bachelor's degree. 

Read more: Your Guide to Nursing Degrees and Certifications

2. Get licensed.

Once you've obtained your nursing credential, you'll qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN), which you must pass in order to become a registered nurse [4]. Once you've passed the NCLEX-RN, you'll need to become licensed in your state to become a practicing registered nurse.

Each state has unique requirements for nursing licenses, so always check to make sure you're doing what's required as you embark on your nursing career. 

What about certification or other credentials?

Charge nurses do not necessarily need any sort of licensure or certification beyond this to do their jobs. However, the organization where you work may have special requirements. For example, you will likely need to be certified in CPR or basic life support, and you may need specialty credentials, such as pediatric or cardiac life support. 


3. Gain relevant work experience.

Once you've become a registered nurse, your professional experience is where you can really take steps to become a charge nurse. You'll need to spend about three to five years working as a registered nurse in a clinical setting. During that time, you may want to decide on a nursing specialty, like labor and delivery or intensive care, and work on gaining as many skills as you can in this area. This is also a great time to advance your education and hone your leadership skills. 

4. Cultivate the right skills.

Leadership skills are a must if you want to be a charge nurse. Your team of nurses, patients, and other staff members will look to you for guidance when something goes wrong or when they're unable to answer a question themselves. 

You'll also need strong clinical skills as you may need to step in when a nurse on your team doesn't know what to do to help a patient. There are many other critical human skills you can gain and improve on to ensure you can successfully fulfill the job requirements and enjoy being a charge nurse. These include: 

  • Using good judgment

  • Making quick decisions 

  • Being organized 

  • Being a good planner

  • Staying flexible so you can handle whatever comes your way

  • Communicating and coordinating with patients, patients' loved ones, nurses, physicians, and other support staff

  • Evaluating situations constantly and making adjustments as needed 

  • Thinking critically at all times 

  • Remaining calm under pressure 

It can also be advantageous for a charge nurse to be creative and curious, and a good sense of humor can help you through some of the most trying health care situations. 

Next steps 

One of the best ways to advance your nursing career is to continue learning and improving your skill set. Coursera offers flexible, online courses that help you learn about patient-centered care, pain management, mindfulness, leadership, and other topics important to being a charge nurse.

Take career-specific specializations, such as Integrative Nursing and Nursing Informatics Leadership Specialization, from top institutions like the University of Minnesota today. 

Article sources


Glassdoor. "RN Charge Nurse Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/rn-charge-nurse-salary-SRCH_KO0,15.htm." Accessed July 18, 2023. 

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