Director of Nursing Salary: Earning Potential for a Leadership Role

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As the metaphorical brain behind a well-functioning nursing department, the director of nursing manages the services provided by the nursing staff of a health care facility. A competent nurse leader, such as a director of nursing, can affect fundamental change and develop plans for efficient clinical performance, making the role an important and influential one.

For this reason, pursuing an advanced education should be a priority for anyone who wants a competitive advantage in the job market. A program that takes students from BSN to DNP can provide such an advantage, equipping future nurse leaders to excel within their field and benefit from a generous director of nursing salary.

What Is a Director of Nursing?

A director of nursing is a top authority within a health care facility, often overseeing the administrative, financial, and leadership sides of their department or institution. Their duties may include:

  • Managing and allocating nursing personnel
  • Balancing the department budget
  • Archiving patient records
  • Ensuring standards of nursing care are met through staff training and complying with regulations

Directors of nursing foster efficiency by promoting collaboration among their staff and setting long-term goals for health care treatment improvements.

Director of Nursing Salary Potential

The May 2020 job survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that medical and health services managers, including directors of nursing, had a median annual salary of $104,280. The highest earners in the profession made upward of $195,630, also per the BLS. More specifically, the aggregate compensation site PayScale reports that directors of nursing had an annual median salary of about $93,800 as of January 2022.

Actual director of nursing salaries can vary based on location, years of experience, and the industry in which an individual works. Here are some examples of industries and their median salaries, according to the BLS:

  • Government: $116,380
  • Hospitals (state/local/private): $112,870
  • Outpatient care: $100,690
  • Physician’s offices: $94,240
  • Nursing/residential care: $89,880

Of all the above industries, hospitals are where most directors of nursing are employed, with approximately 33% of all directors of nursing working in hospitals, according to the BLS. This is followed by physician’s offices (12%), nursing homes and residential care facilities (10%), government (9%), and outpatient care centers (7%).

Most directors of nursing work full time, though they may be called on to work more than 40 hours a week if the need arises. Because their workplaces usually are open around the clock, they may need to work evening or night shifts, especially if they are summoned for an emergency.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts that employment of medical and health services managers — including directors of nursing — will likely soar between 2020 and 2030, with 32% job growth projected through the decade. This is largely attributed to the vacancies that will emerge as existing employees change careers or retire, as well as the aging baby-boom generation’s increasing need for medical services.

Director of nursing smiling and working at a desk on a laptop.

How to Become a Director of Nursing

Most individuals who aspire to become directors of nursing and earn a director of nursing salary follow a certain path to equip themselves with the skills and knowledge needed to perform effectively.

Education and Licensure

Individuals must earn an undergraduate nursing degree first. This can be either a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Graduates can then take the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX) examination and become licensed as a registered nurse (RN).

After earning licensure and accumulating nursing experience, individuals can then earn an advanced degree in nursing, which is especially important if they intend to seek a leadership role in a large organization. This can mean earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or enrolling in a BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) bridge program. A nurse may also consider earning a master’s in business administration (MBA), public health (MPH), public administration (MPA), or health administration (MHA).


To show evidence of skill as a nurse leader, individuals may pursue certification through a qualified organization. Certifications normally need to be regularly renewed and have continued nursing education requirements.

Some certifications available for the developing director of nursing include the director of nursing services certification (DNS-CT), provided by the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, and the certified director of nursing exam (CDNE), available through the National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration (NADONA).

A Comprehensive Nursing Education

With the ability to lead other nurses, influence their professional environment, and earn an impressive salary, directors of nursing play a significant role in their health care organizations.

The first step to becoming a director of nursing is to explore graduate programs in nursing, such as Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online BSN to DNP program. This program is designed to encompass everything a student needs for a master’s and doctoral education, and it can be completed by full-time students in as little as 34 months. With courses like Advanced Pathophysiology and Advanced Pharmacology, Hawai‘i Pacific University’s program can provide graduates with a competitive advantage when seeking advanced roles in nursing. Discover more about the program, and begin your journey toward nursing leadership.

Recommended Reading:

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Overcoming Cross-Cultural Communication Barriers in Nursing

What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing?


American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, Director of Nursing Services — Certified

Betterteam, Director of Nursing Job Description

Houston Chronicle, “Qualifications for a Director of Nursing”

Indeed, “How to Become a Director of Nursing in 7 Steps”

LeaderStat, Director of Nursing: Resources and Facts

National Association of Directors of Nursing Administration Long-Term Care, Certified Director of Nursing Exam

PayScale, Average Director, Nursing Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers