How to Become a Clinical Nurse Manager

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The United States is in a period of explosive growth for nurse practitioners, and in turn, highly effective clinical nurse managers who can help their teams and departments flourish. As large numbers of less-experienced NPs break into the industry, qualified nursing leadership will be crucial in guiding, nurturing, and cultivating them toward delivering optimal care to patients.

The path to becoming a clinical nurse manager starts with pursuing an advanced education, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, that prepares the nurse leaders of tomorrow.

What Does a Clinical Nurse Manager Do?

Clinical nurse managers plan, organize, and direct initiatives for health and medical services. Their authority may cover a team of medical professionals, a department, or even an entire facility. Nursing managers must be able to navigate industry changes, such as updates to health care regulations and policies, while also guiding other nurses toward improved direct patient care.

The core of a clinical nurse manager’s role lies in overseeing nurses. Their responsibilities include recruiting, training, and evaluating nurses; teaching time-management skills; improving clinical performance; and enhancing bedside etiquette. They’re also responsible for coordinating budgets, ensuring compliance, and organizing work schedules.

Steps to Become a Clinical Nurse Manager

Many steps precede a career as a nurse manager. Generally, becoming a clinical nurse manager includes earning bachelor’s and graduate degrees, clinical experience, and licensure and certification.

Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

While aspiring nurses can become licensed with an associate degree, those interested in senior positions, such as clinical nurse manager, should begin their journey with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). This education is foundational to understanding the basic principles of nursing practice, such as how to understand clinical texts, communicate trust with patients, and associate nursing instruments with their proper functions, all developed through precise, evidence-based teaching.

Bachelor’s programs generally require an average of four years to complete.

Gain Work Experience

Aspiring clinical nurse managers need to accumulate clinical nursing experience before being considered for management positions. Specifically, with their feet on the ground, nurses have an opportunity to see what skills and characteristics work in a clinical leadership position so they know what to emulate for their own future success.

They can meet the experience requirement through working as a registered nurse, health information technician, or administrative assistant — or in a related position in a hospital, physician’s office, or residential care facility.

Earn an Advanced Degree

Those interested in management roles should then pursue an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Both BSN- and MSN-credentialed nurses may earn their DNP degree. Usually requiring two to three years to complete, advanced degrees further develop students’ practical expertise and often include supervised administrative experience in a health care facility.

Though some senior positions are open to nurses with a master’s degree, pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice can open further opportunities. Emphasizing leadership and systems improvement, DNP programs prepare practicing nurses to accelerate their careers beyond direct patient care.

Obtain Certification

To practice legally, nurses must pursue licensing in their state. While specific requirements vary, all nurses are required to pass the NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. While additional certification may not be required, it can provide a competitive advantage for nurse managers. Specialized certifications include information management certifications, such as those offered by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA); medical management certifications, as offered by the Professional Association of Health Care Office Management (PAHCOM); and nurse leadership certifications, such as through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).
A smiling clinical nurse manager stands in a hospital hallway.

Clinical Nurse Manager Salary and Job Growth

With the increasing demand for health care workers, the BLS predicts that positions for medical and health services managers, which include clinical nurse managers, will increase by 32% between 2020 and 2030. Health care facilities will need knowledgeable leaders to train and oversee new nurses. As veteran professionals exit the labor force and retire, nurse managers who seek positions of leadership may see increased opportunities for promotion and professional development.

The BLS reports that clinical nursing managers made a median annual salary of $104,280 as of May 2020, with the highest earners making approximately $195,630. Salary can vary based on education, years of experience, geographic location, and industry sector, with clinical nursing managers who work in hospitals and government reporting the highest median incomes at $112,870 and $116,380, respectively.

Prepare to Become a Leader in Health Care

Nurses interested in pursuing roles as clinical nurse managers will have no shortage of options over the next decade. To capitalize on the anticipated growth, start building on your education and experience as soon as possible.

Hawai‘i Pacific University’s BSN to DNP program allows students to earn a terminal degree in 34-44 months. Nurses who already have a master’s degree can earn their doctorate through the MSN to DNP program in as few as 20 months. Both programs offer a choice of three in-demand concentrations: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), and Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP).

Learn more about how HPU can help you lead in the spirit of aloha.

Recommended Readings:

Trauma Nursing in Vacation Cities

Nursing Advocacy: The Role of Nurses Advocating for Patients

Which Nurse Practitioner Specialty Is Right for Me?


American Health Information Management Association, Certifications Overview

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified Nurse Manager and Leader Certification

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Nurse Executive Competencies

Avant Healthcare Professionals, “What to Look for When Hiring a Great Nurse Manager”

PayScale, Average Clinical Nurse Manager Salary

Professional Association of Healthcare Office Management, Certified Medical Manager

Relias, “Nursing Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?”

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

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners