Director of Nursing Salary and Job Outlook

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As a director of nursing, you can impact health care at the highest levels. Vital to the operations of hospitals, community clinics, government health services and private practices, directors of nursing are skilled professionals who make decisions about care delivery, organizational management and the nursing workforce at large.

Not only does a nursing director need to possess advanced clinical competency, they also should exhibit key nursing leadership qualities. As a likely member of decision-making teams, nursing directors have to be strategic thinkers as well as accomplished patient care providers — which makes the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) an ideal degree to earn if you aspire to influence health care and nursing as a director.

As the terminal degree for nursing practice, the DNP prepares graduates with the highest level of clinical expertise and comprehension of nursing theory and evidence-based practice. Depending on the nursing degree program they enter, graduates may also gain specialized skills, like the type Bradley’s online DNP-Leadership track confers.

Let’s further explore the director of nursing salary, job description and educational requirements.

What are the job duties of nursing directors?

Directors of nursing are influential administrators in health care systems and other work environments where the nursing workforce necessitates a top-level manager. These professionals are often tasked with mission-critical performance and organizational management duties. Not only are these job responsibilities broad, they are also diverse. Nursing directors are involved with patient care, finances and billing, nurse education and strategic decision-making, to name a few.

Typically, some of the core duties that a nursing director takes on include:

  • Managing nursing staff: Nurse directors are closely involved in the management of the nursing workforce. Nurse directors may be expected to help mentor nurses, assist in onboarding efforts or conduct facility management (like inventorying supplies). Directors should lead by example and instill best practices in their nurses.
  • Staffing and recruiting: Demand for health care services is growing every year, and providers need to keep up by hiring skilled and qualified talent. Nursing directors may contribute to resume review, but are more central to the interview and hiring process. Nursing directors may be asked to represent their institution at job fairs or other networking events.
  • Monitoring and assessing nurse performance: Supervising and ensuring the quality of patient care and safety is essential to the role of nursing director. They should regularly track and assess performance through various metrics and outcomes, as well as devise training or educational programs for continuous improvement.
  • Overseeing compliance: Nurse directors must have an intimate understanding of federal and state regulations that govern the delivery and administration of health care services. They must audit records and ensure compliance in all relevant matters, such as laws on patient data privacy.
  • Managing departmental finances and operations: Creating and implementing a nursing department budget is a primary responsibility of the nursing director. They may also be given other billing and accounting tasks related to departmental finance, like performing a cost-benefit analysis on a proposed investment.
  • Collaborating with other leaders: Nurse directors are not alone at the leadership table and often collaborate with other directors or members of the executive team. They may be asked for high-level input on annual objectives, institutional change or culture.

Nursing directors play an invaluable role in patient care and operational management; they can find work in most any care setting or work environment. Typically, nurse director jobs are found in:

  • Private, local and state hospital systems
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Nursing and long-term care facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Government
  • Private practice

How much does a director of nursing make?

“How much does a director of nursing make?” is the question on many an aspiring professional’s mind. Because the role is one of importance to the leadership and operational structure, the average salary for a director of nursing was between $90,000 and $100,000 nationwide in 2019, based on a sample of publicly available salary information.

However, professionals can earn more depending on their work environment, where they work geographically, level of education and years of experience. There is no one definitive source for director of nursing salary data, but looking at comparable government research and salaries for job postings can help establish a baseline.

It’s important to note that a director of nursing salary generally consists of three compensation elements: base pay, bonuses and profit share. Some directors may have other performance-based incentives tied to the workforce (quality of care) or the department (implementing nursing software on schedule and within budget).

According to Glassdoor, the average base national salary for a nursing director in 2019 was around $92,000. Additionally, it noted directors of nursing on average earn $6,500 more in cash compensation. Indeed returned a similar number, measuring the national nursing director average salary at just above $91,000 in 2019.

On the low end was PayScale, which said the national director of nursing salary averaged $85,000 in 2019. Meanwhile, estimated that director of nursing salaries average $145,000 and could reach as high as $169,000.

A better gauge of salary averages comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the BLS does not keep statistics on nurse directors specifically, the role closely aligns with the category of medical and health services managers. The median annual salary for professionals in such occupations was $99,730 in 2018. According to the BLS, managers could earn more than the median if they worked in government ($110,460) or hospitals ($108,730).

Geographically, the top-paying states for health and medical services managers in 2018 were:

  • District of Columbia ($145,760 median annual salary)
  • New York ($143,030)
  • Massachusetts ($133,900)
  • Delaware ($131,260)
  • Connecticut ($129,480)

Some of the United States metro areas with the highest median annual salary in 2018 were:

  • Vallejo-Fairfield, California ($157,240)
  • Cape Girardeau, Missouri-Illinois ($148,010)
  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania ($141,580)
  • Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut ($140,340)
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico ($138,680)

The top-paying nonmetropolitan areas for health and medical services managers in 2018 were:

  • Eastern Sierra-Mother Lode Region of California nonmetropolitan area ($133,810)
  • West Central-Southwest New Hampshire nonmetropolitan area ($126,670)
  • Arizona nonmetropolitan area ($123,560)
  • North Coast Region of California nonmetropolitan area ($119,810)
  • Central East New York nonmetropolitan area ($119,260)

What’s the job outlook for directors of nursing?

Using the data for health and medical services managers from the BLS, the job outlook for nursing directors is optimistic. The BLS estimates that positions for health and medical services managers will grow 18% between 2018 and 2028. This is compared to 6% for all other management occupations and 5% for all occupations. As demand for health care continues to grow, nursing directors will be needed to help orient and educate new nurses, ensure high-quality care and optimize operational management.

Why is a DNP beneficial for directors of nursing?

Earning a DNP is advantageous for carrying out the core responsibilities of the nursing director. Not only is it recommended given the level of preparation and expertise DNP graduates possess, but many employers will only consider job applicants who have completed a DNP degree program. While a Master of Science in Nursing is required for certification as an advanced practice nurse and state licensure, many employers will look for DNP-prepared candidates given the importance of the nursing director in executive-level management.

If you earn your DNP online through Bradley, you can gain enhanced leadership skills. The DNP-Leadership program features courses that address core clinical competencies of the nursing director and build leadership capacity. Classes include:

  • Health Care Economics and Finance: Students will examine the economic and financial aspects of the health care system, study organizational and institutional structures, and analyze production, consumption and distribution of health care services in the economy. Nurses will learn processes for the management of liquidity, major capital investments, debt and funding, and revenue models for both for-profit and not-for-profit health care organizations.
  • Leadership in Advanced Practice Nursing: Students will focus on organizational and system leadership strategies with an emphasis on productivity in emerging practice environments. Continuous improvement of health outcomes, patient safety and interprofessional collaboration are also addressed.
  • Healthcare Policy: Students will analyze health policy development and implementation and its impact on health care regulation, delivery and finance. They will focus on wellness and promotion of health for local, national and worldwide patient populations. Students will define health care provider roles in health promotion, health care delivery and quality improvement through activities related to health policy reform and finance.
  • Management in Healthcare Organizations: Students will explore the interdisciplinary approach to understanding management in health care organizations. They will study complex roles of health care workers and the behavioral processes of leadership, communication, motivation, group dynamics, conflict, change and organizational development. The class also broaches diversity, social responsibility and ethics.

Importantly, the Leadership-DNP degree program includes experiential learning opportunities through practicums. These mandatory courses give students a chance to apply all they’ve learned about evidence-based practice, nursing theory, nursing leadership and organizational management in a student-directed project that fits their specialization.

Earn your DNP online at Bradley

If you aspire to become a director of nursing, take some time to consider what further education you might need to complete. The more education you have, the more attractive you may be as a job applicant to an executive role. With a DNP, the terminal degree in nursing practice, professionals can be confident in their clinical abilities and management skills. With such preparation, you can earn a director of nursing salary and impact patient care positively from the highest levels.

In the Bradley Leadership-DNP program, open to master’s-prepared RNs, you can gain key insight into evidence-based practice and nursing leadership, as well as accrue the necessary clinical hours for certification/licensure. Graduates of our program can go on to become chief nursing officers, nursing directors, nurse managers, nurse educators, health care directors, nursing care facility managers, nurse executives or nurse administrators.

Offered 100% online, the DNP-Leadership program takes three years to complete, and students will finish with 1,000 clinical hours. Nurses who are working professionals seeking a DNP education can balance their studies with their job and personal commitments by finishing coursework when time allows them to. Want to learn more about the Bradley program? Contact an enrollment advisor today.


Recommended Readings

Should I Move from an MSN to DNP?

Choosing Your Career Pathway: DNP vs. Ph.D.

Bradley Online DNP-Leadership Program



Glassdoor – Director of Nursing Salaries

Indeed – Director of Nursing

PayScale – Average Director, Nursing Salary – Head of Nursing Salary in the United States

BLS – Medical and Health Services Managers, Pay

BLS – Medical and Health Services Managers, Employment Statistics

BLS – Medical and Health Services Managers, Job Outlook