Nurse administrators—closely related to nurse managers, directors of nursing, or chief nurse executives—are the CEOs of the nursing world. They are distinct from certified (or clinical) nurse leaders (CNLs), who focus primarily on nursing practice. By contrast, nurse administrators bridge the gap between nursing and business leadership; instead of occupying the C-Suite of a major corporation, however, they report to hospitals, acute care facilities, private practice offices, and other healthcare settings. Nonetheless, their ability to manage nursing care and operations place nurse administrators among the most advanced—and most flexible—nursing professionals.
The American Nurses Association’s Nursing Administration Scope and Standards of Practice describes nurse administrators as healthcare leaders who ensure that facilities follow optimal patient care, regulations, and safety practices. They are advocates for patients and nurses, striving to maintain healthy, efficient working environments for all people involved. At the same time, nurse administrators manage nursing’s strategic, financial, and human resource planning. Above all, nurse administrators must be effective communicators who are knowledgeable about health economics and policy. They are critical thinkers, risk managers, and evidence-based practice researchers. Compared to nurse managers who may be in charge of one unit at a healthcare facility, nurse administrators may coordinate the efforts of several sectors or departments, taking on relatively expanded responsibilities.
Nurse administrators’ educational requirements vary considerably from one employer to the next. Many healthcare facilities prefer to hire candidates with Nurse Executive – Board Certified (NE-BC) or Nurse Executive Advanced – Board Certified (NEA-BC) designations, certifications managed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certification standards require that candidates hold active RN licenses and at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), plus two to four years of mid-level administration, nursing management, executive consultation, or full-time nursing faculty experience. Not surprisingly, job prospects are best for administrators with at least a master’s degree. Some of the most common pathways to nursing administration positions include:
Because nursing administration is an advanced career, many now-and-future leaders continue to work while pursuing relevant degrees and certificates. Online nursing administration programs are an ideal solution. Online options tend to be flexible and convenient, but that does not mean they are easy: in fact, online nursing administration programs are generally just as respected, rigorous, and selective as their campus-based counterparts. This guide explores several online nursing administration schools and what it takes to attend them.
MSN Healthcare Systems Management
Online MSN - Executive Leadership
Online MSN - Health Systems Administration
Nursing administration programs want students who are not only invested in their studies but prepared to excel in them. This section details common nursing school admissions criteria by degree level. Though not always required, many nursing programs prefer applicants with relevant work experience and an aptitude for math and science.
MSN requirements plus:
Choosing what (and how) to study is the first major stepping stone toward a career in nursing administration and there are various factors to weigh among possible programs. Cost, attendance options, and school reputation are all important considerations, but one should not overlook the fine print. For online nursing administration schools, that means reviewing program accreditation and state authorization status.
Accreditation signifies that a third-party organization evaluated a particular nursing administration program and confirmed it complies with established quality standards and best practices. Many graduate schools, employers, and even financial aid providers only consider applicants who graduated from accredited institutions. In other words, graduates of accredited nursing administration programs know their degrees or certificates are worth something. This is true whether one attends classes online or on campus.
Prospective students are encouraged to seek online nursing schools accredited by organizations recognized by the U.S. Education Department’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Programs are usually accredited nationally, regionally, and/or programmatically. For programmatic accreditation, the preferred accrediting entities are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). For regional, institutional accreditation, the agencies below are most likely to approve nursing administration schools:
State authorization is a regulatory matter that determines whether one can attend a particular online nursing administration program based in a different state. All states regulate what types of schools and programs can enroll their residents. State authorization rules are designed to ensure only reputable institutions enroll residents but may impact one’s options. National agreements help. For instance, Pennsylvania is a member of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA)—an interstate program that makes it easier for Pennsylvanians to attend online institutions in other member states. Schools like the University of Pittsburgh have additional agreements with non-SARA states like California, Florida, and Massachusetts, which means residents from all 50 states and the District of Columbia can attend Pitt Online.
Most online nursing schools publish state authorization information online, but prospective students who cannot find this information or want to ensure it is current can always contact the school directly.
Nursing administration is a truly interdisciplinary field demanding not online general nursing and clinical knowledge but a keen understanding of business management, human resources, and health policy. Examples of real online nursing administration and leadership courses include:
There are many ways to become a nurse administrator. While online nursing administration degree and certificate programs are often flexible and convenient, they tend to be just as rigorous as their campus-based counterparts. Online students attending programs with required practicums are expected to complete them at approved facilities in their home communities. Online courses also demand lots of self-motivation, organization, and time-management skills. The following are examples of online nursing administration master’s, doctoral, and certificate programs.
Please note that there is some educational overlap between the fields of nursing administration, nursing management, and executive leadership. Additionally, some employers and certification bodies require only an active RN license and BSN. Bachelor’s degrees in nursing administration are exceedingly rare, however, and are therefore not included below. Graduate certificates could give BSN-holders an edge in the job market.
Online MSN in Nursing and Health Care LeadershipDuke University
Duke University of Durham, NC offers an online MSN in nursing and healthcare leadership program; it’s considered one of the America’s finest. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report named named it one of the top 10 nursing administration schools in the country in 2017. According to the University’s official program page, the nursing and health care leadership major provides a solid foundation in leadership, financial management, organizational theory knowledge applicable to several nursing leadership roles. Students can attend this part-time, 36-unit program 100 percent online, which means they can learn from Duke’s nationally recognized nursing leaders while still enjoying the flexibility of online learning.
RN-to-MSN – Nursing AdministrationBradley University
Bradley University is a private, Peoria, IL-based college with many online nursing options. Its online RN-to-MSN in nursing administration degree cultivates nursing and business skills that prepare students for nursing administration positions and professional certification—including both the Certified Nurse Executive (NE) and Certified Nurse Leader (CNL) designations. Coursework covers such topics as healthcare policy, nursing administration theory, legal and ethical health issues in health care, and evidence-based practice. Graduates have gone on to work in hospitals, community health agencies, acute care settings, private medical practices, and more. According to BU, its online MSN program offers an innovative, highly immersive, and collaborative learning environment.
Online MSN – Executive Nurse AdministrationUniversity of South Alabama
The University of South Alabama’s based in Mobile designed its online MSN in executive nurse administration for future nursing administrators, nurse managers, directors of nursing, chief nurse executives, and other advanced nurse leaders. Coursework explores advanced nursing and business topics, and USA reports its program graduates have the administrative, communication, management, leadership, and technology skills required by the Council on Graduate Education for Administration in Nursing. The curriculum also aligns with American Nurses Association Nursing Administration Scope and Standards of Practice and the American Organization of Nurse Executive competencies—both of which are available online. Note that USA also offers an accelerated MSN and RN-to-MSN programs for registered nurses with BSNs, associate degrees, or diplomas.
MBA in Nursing Administration and LeadershipCalifornia University of Pennsylvania
California University of Pennsylvania or Cal U—appropriately based in California, PA—reports that its online MBA in nursing administration and leadership is designed to complement MSN program students or graduates seeking mid- to high-level administrative careers in nursing. These include nurse executives, chief nurse officers, and more. Students gain a broad understanding of business issues that arise in medical settings. While the program requires that students from other schools complete their MSN degrees before applying, Cal U students can attend concurrently. In either case, the MBA in nursing administration is a fully-online program without campus residency requirements, though students still receive a suite of support through the school’s Global Online onboarding program.
Online Coordinated MSN-MBA DegreeUniversity of Texas at Tyler
The University of Texas at Tyler describes its online MSN-MBA degree as a rigorous and career-focused program that shapes future nurse administrators while establishing a solid foundation for doctoral studies. Coursework includes MSN- and MBA-related courses with additional training in the delivery of care, as well as financial, regulatory, and legal management. Students enrolled in UTT’s online MSN-MBA program can complete their degree fully online under the direction of experienced faculty, mentors, and consultants. Note that UTT also offers an online MSN in nursing administration.
Dual Online MSN/MBABenedictine University
Students of Benedictine University’s online MSN/MBA program pursue two separate degrees concurrently and in less time than it would take to earn an MSN and MBA individually. According to BU, a school based in Lisle, IL, this program is ideal for nurses who want an advanced understanding of nursing practice, but also wish to cultivate the critical thinking, decision-making, financial, and leadership skills required of nurse administrators and leaders. The dual online MSN/MBA is a fully-online, 23-course program that requires about three years of study. Benedictine University notes its program fulfills academic requirements one needs to take the Nurse Executive (NE-BC) or Nurse Executive – Advanced (NEA-BC) certification exams Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) or Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) examination offered by the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE).
Online DNP – Nurse ExecutiveOld Dominion University
Like many other business and nursing programs, DNP programs in nursing administration are well suited to online study, though tend to be more specialized than master’s programs. Old Dominion University’s online DNP for nurse executives—a career closely aligned with nursing administration—focuses not only on executive leadership, financial, and human resource management skills, but also how to work with vulnerable populations and conduct clinical organizational research. According to ODU, a school based in Norfolk, VA, graduates should possess the skills necessary to lead and develop interdisciplinary teams, conduct evidence-based research, address national policy issues, and improve patient health outcomes. They are also trained to be advocates of change in healthcare and healthcare technology. Please note that this program is not available to Washington residents.
Online DNPs in Systems Leadership and Enhancing Population Health OutcomesRush University
Rush University is a somewhat small Chicago-based university with a big reputation: U.S. News & World Report (2017) ranked it among the nation’s 10 best nursing schools for DNP and nursing administration programs, and among the the top 20 for MSN programs. Rush offers online nursing administration DNPs in two specializations: systems leadership and enhancing population health outcomes. Students enrolled in the systems leadership program learn how to effect health policy, develop new patient care models, and inspire and sustain organizational change, while students pursuing the online DNP for enhancing patient health outcomes study how to improve care among vulnerable populations, promote community health, and manage and evaluate strategic programs. Both online DNPs are fully-online, part-time programs requiring two-to-three years of study.
Online Graduate Certificate in Nursing AdministrationThe University of North Carolina at Charlotte
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte’s online graduate certificate in nursing administration is a four-course, 12-credit program ideal for BSN-holders who want to improve their advancement potential without investing in a lengthier MSN or MBA program. According to UNC Charlotte, students develop the administrative and leadership skills they need to climb the ranks and improve their pay grades. This is a fully online, part-time program requiring no campus visits. Students typically complete their certificates within one year.
Online Post-MSN Graduate Certificate in Nursing AdministrationEast Tennessee State University
Unlike UNC Charlotte’s graduate certificate in nursing administration, which requires only a bachelor’s degree, East Tennessee State University’s online nursing administration certificate is designed specifically for MSN-holders. According to ETSU, a school based in Johnson City, students benefit from an individualized learning experience that reinforces strong leadership, financial management, complex systems, and organizational skills. Coursework includes a mix of synchronous and asynchronous classes.
MSN Healthcare Systems Management
Online MSN - Executive Leadership
Online MSN - Health Systems Administration
Online MSN to DNP - Nurse Leadership
Online RN to MSN - Nursing Management
Online MSN - Nursing Management