Do you ever wonder what it takes to get to the nurse executive level? Does running a hospital or being a chief nursing officer sound like your ideal job?

Getting to a management level is an attainable goal if you know how to get there. No matter where you are in your nursing career, you can always set new goals and start taking steps to achieve new milestones.

1. Set a Goal

You have to have a goal, know that goal, and be very direct about it,” says Al Rundio, PhD, DNP, RN, APRN, CARN-AP, NEA-BC, DPNAP, FIAAN, and associate dean for post licensure nursing programs at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions.

Rundio, who started his career as a teenage orderly, says having degrees is crucial to career advancement for any nurse. But it takes both the educational background and the professional experience to really move you forward to management roles. You have to be confident when you come up against barriers and be willing to take chances to get what you want.

2. Get the Education and Experience

Graduating with a bachelor’s degree is an excellent goal, but it won’t launch you into hospital administration. “You have to work your way up and have a track record,” says Rundio. While you’re getting your degrees, gain experience by taking on increasingly challenging administration-based roles in your workplace so you can prove your worth.

Don’t be daunted by the extra degrees often needed for executive roles, says Rundio. “More education just helps,” he says, noting that all his post associate’s degree education was completed part time. “You don’t have to do it full time, but just chip away at it and get it done. Learning is lifelong.”

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Navigating the Road to Nursing Leadership

3. Focus, Focus, Focus

What’s really available for executive level nurses? Lots, says Rundio. Knowing what you enjoy and what you’re good at will help you set your goal and take the right steps to get there. In Rundio’s case, he initially wanted to be a hospital CEO. As his career allowed more work with administration, he realized how much he enjoyed the problem solving and the chance to improve things for nurses that executive-level roles allowed.

He planned career moves to advance. “I realized to get there I had to have a stepping stone,” he says. When he eventually reached CNO, he thought he was one step closer to the CEO role he wanted. But after 11 years working as a CNO and loving it, Rundio’s goals changed. “I really loved this role,” he says. “I realized I don’t want to be a CEO.” With the CEO responsibilities more outwardly focused and the CNO role more on the daily operations, Rundio said he enjoyed the latter. Changing his goals kept his personal goals and professional career on track.

4. Make It Work for You

When setting your carer goals also consider what parts of nursing you enjoy the most. If you like administration, but don’t want to give up with caring directly for patients, assume clinical roles whenever you can or work them into your administrative role. Rundio continued to practice in a residential center and spent days circulating in the emergency room as a CNO. The clinical work satisfied his desire to work with patients and also boosted his understanding of clinical operations as a CNO.

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5. Be Essential

Executive roles are often vulnerable when money gets tight. Rundio advises nurse executives or those thinking of that path to continue with clinical work, getting a nurse practitioner’s license and keeping it current. “Having the NP license as a back up is not a bad thing to have,” he says. Balancing both administrative and clinical roles isn’t easy, but it makes you essential to your organization. “You can do both successfully,” says Rundio. “It’s up to you. It is a fine-tuned balance.”

There’s no straight path to reaching executive roles, and it helps to know what you want so you can take the right steps to get there. Education, experience, and persistence will all pay off.

 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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