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What is a Charge Nurse?

By Cassie L. Damewood
Updated Jan 28, 2024
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A charge nurse is the person responsible for the efficient management of a department in a clinic, hospital or health care facility. Among other duties, she is in charge of the operational aspects, including admissions and discharge, as well as directing the activities of the nurses and support staff in the department. In addition to her managerial duties, she is normally required to simultaneously perform her regular nursing tasks.

While directing the nurses and department functions, a charge nurse prepares work schedules, plans budgets for the nursing staff and maintains inventories of medicines and supplies. She is commonly expected to monitor patients, chart their vital signs, administer medications and report any special circumstances to patients’ doctors. Her duties may also include altering care plans or arranging for specialists to confer on patient cases.

The nurses who work under the direction of charge nurses may require guidance on administering care to new patients or those with special needs. The nurse in charge is regularly expected to be available to answer such inquiries. She is also normally required to document the performances of the nurses she is managing. In addition, she may be called upon to counsel a nurse if she notes shortcomings in the nurse’s performance.

Outside of her ward or department of responsibility, this nurse is often asked to develop and implement training programs to prepare other nurses to advance to the position of charge nurse. This usually involves soliciting input from other staff members to set up educational programs at times and places most convenient for those anticipated to attend them. If other charge nurses are available, they are commonly asked to assist in the educational presentation or answer questions as part of a panel.

Exemplary communication skills are extremely important to being a successful charge nurse. She is regularly expected to motivate and support her staff of nurses, which requires communicating with a wide range of personality types. A charge nurse is also the nurse most often called upon to answer questions posed by patients and their families. Good written communication skills are normally required to write reports and assessments on patients’ conditions or nurses’ performances.

Aspiring charge nurses must first become a registered nurse through completing a bachelor’s or associate’s degree or complete another accredited nursing program, and then become licensed. The position also generally requires a few years of experience as a nurse as well. Demonstrated leadership and negotiation skills are also helpful in securing a charge nurse position.

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Discussion Comments
By anon210228 — On Aug 29, 2011

If you are interested in being a charge nurse, it is extremely beneficial to obtain a BS degree because at that level of education much focus is given to management positions (as opposed to A-RN 2 year nursing degree). With all things being equal, preference will be given to a BS-RN.

By wisemommy12 — On Jan 31, 2011

I would think that if one were in nursing school and thought they might one day want a charge nurse job, they would be wise to take courses in management as well as business. With the added responsibility of budgets, work schedules, and employee management, it seems that these classes would definitely offer a leg up. Perhaps even an additional degree in business or management would be helpful.

By widget2010 — On Jan 31, 2011

There are many kinds of nurse jobs, but being a charge nurse seems like a good option for people who want some level of leadership but are not interested in becoming a doctor or administrator in a hospital. I imagine they are also part of the steps towards gaining further seniority within a hospital's staff.

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