My career in healthcare wasn't an intentional journey. I originally planned to be a secretary, not a nurse administrator. However, I fell into a healthcare role early in my career, and that's how it all began. This is my story.
I started out as a clinic assistant in a women's healthcare facility. My position included standard office tasks like managing the phones and booking appointments. Gradually, my supervisors trained me in healthcare-related tasks such as providing patient education, taking blood pressures, and drawing blood for laboratory testing. After acquiring all this hands-on training, I decided a nursing degree was the next logical step in my career.
My career path takes a turn
I enrolled in nursing school while there was a shortage of nurses. Once I graduated, the shortage had ended. My plan was to find a nursing job in women's healthcare after graduation, but those positions had dried up. I considered my passions, which led me to pursue a role in the nursing field that interested me most: psychiatric nursing. I then went on to obtain my certification as a psychiatric and mental health nurse.
Next, I attended training to provide dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to patients. I also received training in staff crisis management education. These skills are essential for psychiatric nursing, but they also enriched my nonverbal and verbal communication skills. Little did I know that I'd draw upon this experience and the communication skills I had refined as I pursued my career in nursing administration.
Expanding my career options
A nurse's schedule can be challenging. After years of working varied shifts and long weeks with little time off, I felt burned out. I faced challenges that are familiar to many nurses:
- Low morale
- Unsatisfactory scheduling
- Lack of respect from members of the healthcare team
I realized that additional education might help me diversify my career options and find a more stable schedule. I wanted to make a difference in my career, as well as other nurses' careers. The best way I knew to influence change was to become an administrative nurse leader.
Once I decided to pursue an education in nursing administration, I looked for ways to make the process affordable. Fortunately, my facility provided tuition assistance, which allowed me to earn a master's degree in nursing. A nursing administration degree usually takes about two years to acquire and includes classes that help the student gain a global view of healthcare, such as:
- Current nursing practice
- Project development
- Information systems technology
Becoming an administrative nurse leader
I was hoping to advance into an administrative role within my facility but, like my initial nursing plan, that didn't come to fruition. Instead, I accepted a position as the director of a private duty agency. I stepped into a role vacated by a well-respected retiring director, so the bar was set high. This prompted me to draw on the skills that earned me the role, and the ones I highlighted in my resume and cover letter. My nursing education was solid, but each new position and facility comes with unique challenges.
Over the next 16 years as a nurse administrator, I relied heavily on my communication skills to gain expertise in the areas a good nurse leader needs to succeed:
- Policy development
- Recruitment and retention
I also taught as a nurse educator at a local college. All these experiences provided key skills to highlight on my resume as I expanded my career to include healthcare freelance writing and online educational healthcare content.
So, what is nursing administration?
Furthering your nursing education often opens doors to job promotions, higher salaries and rewarding opportunities. However, many nurses don't know just what's involved in an administrative role. The time spent with nurse mentors and peers during my graduate studies helped me develop a professional network and better understand what it was like to work in nursing administration. The relationships I developed with other nurse leaders allowed me to gain the confidence to make difficult decisions within my organization.
Here are a few skills that successful nurse administrators must possess to keep up with rapid changes in healthcare and maintain the long-term stability and growth of an organization:
- Communication and collaboration
- Budgeting, marketing and business skills
- Critical thinking, problem analysis and strategic planning
- Creative thinking and an organizational vision
- Effective leadership and interpersonal relationships
- Knowledge of policies and procedures to support the provision of quality care
How to become a nurse administrator
If you want to become a nurse administrator, you have options other than acquiring a master's degree. The training and education needed for a particular position may vary depending on the facility. Some jobs may require applicants to obtain a Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC), which requires:
- A bachelor's degree or higher
- Two years of full-time mid-level or administrative experience in the last five years
- Completion of a nursing administration exam
- Fulfillment of 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years, which may be waived if you have a master's degree in nursing administration
Many nurses advance to an administrative role without additional formal education, but the learning curve is steep. You'll need strong leadership skills, and managing a staff comes with many challenges. You're no longer only responsible for your work, but also the work of everyone you oversee.
My ongoing career growth
Leaving bedside nursing behind to focus on managing staff and helping an organization grow was a learning experience. I'm thankful for my education and can excel in this role because I'm committed to continuous learning, hands-on experience, and taking the time to listen and respond to staff members.
If you have the experience and education necessary to advance in a nurse administrator role, make sure your resume reflects your accomplishments. Oh, and here's a tip I learned along the way. Many healthcare employers now use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to review nursing resumes. These systems automatically scan resumes to find relevant keywords that match up to their job description. When updating your nursing resume and cover letter, incorporate these trigger words when you can.