careertrend article image
Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Qualifications for a Director of Nursing

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Few organizations can operate without a steady hand at the helm. For organizations that employ nurses, that hand often belongs to the director of nursing. A director of nursing might work in a hospital, a clinic, an outpatient care center or a nursing home. Each work setting may have specific regulations or requirements, but many have similar requirements regarding issues such as education and experience. Each state regulates the practice of nursing, and requirements may differ from one state to another.


A director of nursing begins her professional life with basic nursing education. She may choose a two-year associate program, a two- or three-year nursing diploma or a four-year baccalaureate program. If her career goal is nursing management, the baccalaureate is the best choice, as she will be positioned to go on for a master’s degree, which many large organizations require. The baccalaureate degree also offers education on cultural, political, economic and social issues that affect health care, as well as nursing theory, health care economics, health informatics and health policy, according to the American Nurses Association. Some nurses obtain their basic education, practice for a few years and then go back to school.

Licensing and Certification

Once she has finished her education, the RN must take the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain her license. A license is required in all states. She may also choose to become certified in nursing administration. Although certification is not required for nursing practice, many employers prefer or require this credential. A director of nurses would generally choose the Certified in Executive Nursing Practice, or CENP credential, which is offered through the American Organization of Nurse Executives. A master’s degree and at least two years of experience in the role are required to take the exam.

Skills and Knowledge

As the nurse executive, the director of nursing is in a critical leadership role, according to “Nurse to Nurse: Nursing Management,” by Linda Knodel. Knodel writes that nurse leaders must have self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management skills to succeed at their tasks. They must be able to read their own emotions as well as those of others, master impulses, inspire, influence and develop others to fulfill their role. The director of nurses must also have excellent conflict management skills and be able to advocate for the nursing experts who report to her.

Facility-Specific Requirements

Some facilities, such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, have specific requirements for the director of nurses, according to the University of Minnesota. These may be federal or state requirements. They may specify the number of hours the director must work or the number of nurses she may supervise. A few states require that the director of nurses deliver hands-on care in some fashion. A state may have specific educational or experience requirements; these may vary by state. Some states mandate continuing education, which is typically related to job responsibilities such as the care of gerontology patients or long-term care administration.