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Charge Nurse: What Is It & How to Become One

Every industry requires leadership in some form. In nursing, there are various managerial positions and one of the most important roles is the charge nurse. Essentially, a charge nurse is a clinical nurse who supervises a specific department or unit.

Nearly all healthcare facilities, including hospitals, clinics, and private doctor’s offices, with a nursing staff hire charge nurses to be a leader on the floor where all the action takes place. As leaders of their unit, they ensure the nurses under their supervision are operating efficiently.

What is a charge nurse?

As the name implies, a charge nurse is an RN who is in charge of a ward in a hospital or healthcare facility during their shift. Their role is to make sure everything is running smoothly while they are on shift and act as the liaison between physicians, hospital administrators, staff nurses, and other charge nurses. This means they are usually responsible for tasks such as preparing schedules, delegating tasks, training new nursing staff, and monitoring admissions and discharges.

In addition to their managerial duties, charge nurses are also expected to perform many of the same tasks that regular nurses do. Charge nurses must have strong leadership, communication, organizational, and nursing skills to effectively manage their team and provide the best care for their patients.

Responsibilities of a charge nurse

Broadly speaking, charge nurses oversee a particular department in a given hospital ward, unit, or physician’s office. Some specific responsibilities include:

  • Delegating nursing assignments: One of the core responsibilities of a charge nurse is to delegate assignments and make sure every patient receives the level of care they need.
  • Training new employees: Oftentimes, the charge nurse is responsible for training new employees and introducing them to how their ward, unit or facility operates.
  • Creating schedules: The charge nurse is usually responsible for creating and maintaining the nursing schedule. Depending on where they work, nurses can have different types of shifts, such as three 12-hour shifts a week, four 10-hour shifts, or five eight-hour shifts. Making sure the healthcare facility is fully staffed at all times is no small feat.
  • Overseeing admissions, transfers, and discharges: Knowing how many beds are available at any given time is very important, especially in a hospital environment. The charge nurse must oversee the admitting and discharging process to know what their capacity is, how to prioritize incoming patients, and to communicate everything exiting patients need to know.
  • Monitoring and ordering supplies: In some environments, charge nurses order medical supplies directly and make sure healthcare professionals have access to the equipment they need. If the charge nurse doesn’t order supplies directly, they will work with their facility’s administration department to make sure they are always stocked up.
  • Overseeing policy, procedure, and safety requirements: While everyone in the nursing field should follow proper policy, procedure, and safety requirements, it is the charge nurse’s responsibility to make sure everyone follows protocol. If anyone under their supervision fails to follow these requirements, the charge nurse will work with the individual to correct the situation.
  • De-escalating conflict: Workplace conflicts are inevitable in any environment, including in the healthcare industry. Charge nurses are tasked with settling disputes between nurses under their supervision, and are often asked to settle disagreements between different departments.
  • Assuming responsibility: Last but not least, the charge nurse is responsible for their ward. They must react quickly and efficiently direct their nursing staff in an emergency situation.

Charge nurse requirements and skills

To become a charge nurse, you must at least be an RN with the right experience and leadership qualities. However, the higher your degree, the more likely you’ll be to earn this position. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can help ensure you’re equipped with the right education and expertise for the role.

Beyond their degree, charge nurses must also be able to balance administrative responsibilities with clinical care. Because they are the person in charge during their shift, they may be required to evaluate the performance of the nurses under their supervision and document any issues. Depending on the facility, some charge nurses may work with the hospital administration to develop training and educational programs for their staff.

Charge nurses are expected to have the knowledge to answer a wide range of questions from both patients and individuals under their supervision. Additionally, charge nurses are sometimes tasked with preparing reports on their patients and the nurses under their care, so they must have strong written communication as well.

On top of the hard skills they develop over the course of their education and career, charge nurses must have solid soft skills, as they have to manage and work with all different types of personalities. These soft skills include leadership, verbal communication, and interpersonal skills.

How to become a charge nurse

Like all RNs, a prospective charge nurse must have earned a nursing degree and passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and obtained a state license to practice nursing. Beyond these requirements, becoming a charge nurse is more about obtaining experience and skills than furthering a formal education.

There are no credential or certification requirements that are specific to charge nurses. However, charge nurses in specialty units are required to earn the specific credentials or certifications to work in that unit. Additionally, hospitals, physicians’ offices, and clinics will often prefer candidates with additional certifications, such as basic life support and CPR certifications.

Generally, charge nurses must have worked in the nursing field for a minimum of three years. If you want to manage a specialized unit or ward, you will need to have years of experience in that given specialty.

Healthcare administrators will also look for certain leadership characteristics when filling a charge nurse position, such as excellent communication, organization, and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, administrators and hiring managers will hire individuals they feel can keep their ward, unit, or floor running efficiently in any given situation.

If you’re interested in becoming a charge nurse, the best way to climb the ladder is to gain experience and seek a mentor who can help you achieve your goals.

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