Career Pathways & Education

What Is a Charge Nurse?

Sarah Gray, RN
January 22, 2021
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The decision to become a charge nurse is not one to take lightly. It’s important that we continually feel challenged, stimulated, and are making progress in our professional growth. One opportunity to do this as a clinical nurse is by becoming a charge nurse and taking up your unit's charge nurse role. 

What Is a Charge Nurse?

Essentially, a charge nurse is a registered nurse leader that oversees a specific department or unit. They are often responsible for delegating nursing duties and assignments, coordinating schedules, monitoring admissions and discharges, and overseeing the supply and demand of medications and supplies.

It’s likely that you’ve felt the impact that a great charge nurse can have on a shift. They’re the ones that keep the unit humming, anticipate problems or situations before they arise, and advocate for their clinical nursing staff members and adequate resources. 

They can assuage or de-escalate a patient or family member, help talk you through critical care moments, and often jump in to help before you even have to ask for it. Hopefully, they’re always sure to check in, albeit with a smile on their face.

The Benefits of Being a Charge Nurse

Though it’s certainly not for everyone, there are many benefits of being a charge nurse. For starters, it brings variety. 


It’s an incredibly dynamic role, meaning that on any given shift or day, you may be a bedside nurse or a charge nurse. The rotating nature of it prevents you from maintaining a single set of responsibilities and skill set, even if your patients and their diagnoses are ever-changing. There is a different set of leadership skills or competencies that are utilized when in a charge nurse role so you’re stimulated and challenged in a different way.

Different Side of Care Delivery

Second, it exposes you to a different aspect of care delivery - from the system and administrative level. You have responsibility in staffing, planning and predicting census, determining appropriate acuity and patient ratios, and representing or advocating for your unit resources. 

You’ll be interacting with a House Supervisor, escalating and coordinating to and with your Nursing Manager more directly, creating communication channels and alignment with other disciplines, and collaborating with fellow charge nurses.

Bedside Skills of Charge Nurse

Additionally, it will make you a better bedside nurse. It will give you insight into all of the decisions and nuances that go into making patient care assignments, difficulty in triaging and balancing admits and discharges, considerations with staffing skill-mix and patient acuity, and thus afford you an overall newfound appreciation for your fellow charge nurses.

Like being a manager, we shouldn’t necessarily think about becoming a charge nurse as simply as being a logical next step in a career ladder. Just as management isn’t for everyone, being a charge nurse isn’t either. Some people are meant to be individual or independent contributors (ICs) and are exceptionally good at what they do. 

In clinical terms, being an incredibly skilled and experienced bedside nurse doesn’t necessarily mean you should or can become a charge nurse. This is what most units or systems fail to recognize - and it’s not unique to nursing or health care. 

Charge Nurse Pay

While pay shouldn’t be your primary (or even secondary) reason for seeking out a charge nurse role, it is still a factor. As is typical, with more responsibility comes greater pay. In 2019, the national average charge nurse salary was $87,280 per year. Compare that with the average nurses’ salary of $75,510 annually.

(Keep in mind this is salary estimation and isn’t guaranteed at every healthcare facility.)

medical equipment in hospital being in a charge nurse role

The Responsibilities of a Charge Nurse

The roles and responsibilities of a charge nurse can really vary by health care facility. For example, at one facility, it might be a static and full-time role. In another, it might be a role that is held on any given shift, rotating in-between with being a bedside nurse. 

Additionally, charge nurse requirements differ as well, requiring a varying number of years of experience, competencies, certifications, or milestones. Essentially, the main objective is to manage and coordinate the operating rhythm of the unit - admits, discharges, patient assignments and needs, resources for clinical stuff, escalations, and solutions. 

The following competencies are ones that would make one an effective charge nurse. Not sure what your competencies are? Try taking StrengthsFinder or getting honest feedback from co-workers, friends, and family about your strengths or areas for improvement. 

That said, there are strengths and weaknesses to every competency, so a good balance of several of these—when implemented with practice and experience—is optimal for a successful charge nurse:

  • Patience
  • Calm under pressure
  • Ability to shift tasks or priorities
  • Ability to help others get to the answer
  • Multiplying efforts
  • Communication - with co-workers, other disciplines, patients, and parents
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Resourcefulness
  • Advocacy

Ultimately, being a charge nurse is easier said than done. However, it definitely can be an incredibly rewarding role if you choose to pursue it. Just make sure you do your homework first!

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