What Does it Take to Become a Director of Nursing

If you love being a nurse but want to take your career a step further, you should consider becoming a Director of Nursing. In the senior living / long term care industry, the role of Director of Nursing is typically found at Assisted Living Communities, Skilled Nursing Facilities, Memory Care Communities, and Nursing Homes.


Becoming a Director of Nursing (DON) requires a combination of education, experience, and specific skills. The role of a DON is a senior leadership position often overseeing nursing staff and ensuring the delivery of high quality of patient care.


Here are the steps needed to become a Director of Nursing:


-Education: Bachelor of Science (BSN) is preferred since this program provides a strong foundation in nursing theory, leadership, and management.
-Registered Nurse (RN) License: You must be licensed in the country or state where you plan to work. This involves passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

-Clinical Experience: You need experience as an RN to build your clinical skills. It’s important for a DON to have several years of experience in nursing roles.
-Leadership Experience: a DON must progress to leadership positions such as a Nurse Manager, Assistant Director of Nursing (ADON) or clinical coordinator.
-Certifications: Relevant credentials can help boost a DON’s career. Certifications like Certified Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) or Certified Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) demonstrate your commitment and desire to nursing leadership positions.


Responsibilities of a Director of Nursing:


  • Oversee and manage nursing staff
  • Oversee regulatory compliance
  • Reporting to high-level staff members
  • Create and monitor nursing department budgets
  • Oversee staff operations and business planning
  • Ensure high standards of patient care
  • Oversee patient data and medical records
  • Ensure facility is following set standards and protocols
  • Interact with nursing staff, serving as their mentor & advocate
  • Create nurse training programs
  • Hire & onboard new nursing staff
  • Communicate with patients, physicians, families, doctors, health care staff & other nurses
  • Oversee inventory, order processing and distribution of products and services


Traits & Skills Needed to Become a Director of Nursing


As senior living and long term care recruiters, we view the following traits and skills as necessary to become a Director of Nursing:

-Clinical Expertise

-Leadership Skills

-Communication Skills

-Problem Solving Abilities


-Organizational Skills

-Decision Making Skills

-Strategic Thinking

-Empathy & Compassion

-Regulatory Knowledge

-Team Building Skills

-Financial Acumen



According to Indeed.com, a Director of Nursing can command a higher salary than a nurse, making this career path more financially appealing. The median salary for a Director of Nursing in 2023 is $92,087 per year. However, nursing directors with more than 10 years of experience often earn over six figures.


Advantages of Becoming a Director of Nursing


-Leadership Opportunities: As a DON, you have the chance to lead and manage and team of nurses. You’ll be responsible for setting the vision and direction for nursing care and making strategic decisions.

-Professional Growth: Holding a DON position can be a stepping stone to higher levels of care such as Chief Nursing Officer (CNO).

-Attractive Financial Compensation: DONs typically earn highly competitive salaries. Compensation may include base pay, bonuses, and benefit packages.

-Job Satisfaction: The roles of a DON can be very rewarding and fulfilling especially since the position makes a positive impact.

-Each Day is Different: Healthcare environments are dynamic and ever-evolving. So the role of the DON is different each day.

-Patient Care & Engagement: DONs have a direct impact on patient care by implementing evidenced based best practices. These best practices improve clinical outcomes & resident/patient experiences.

-Engage with Leadership Team and Health Care Staff

-Job Security: Healthcare is an essential industry and with more baby boomers reaching the age of 65, the senior living and long term care sector is growing.  This can provide job stability.


Job Outlook


The position of Director of Nursing is in high demand! According to the BLS, the job outlook for health services managers, which includes Director of Nursing careers, is expected to grow might increase by 32% from 2020 to 2030.


In addition to senior living / long term care facilities, a Director of Nursing can find career opportunities in hospitals, clinics, private practices, outpatient care, insurance companies, health care corporations, government agencies, universities and colleges .


What is an Interim Director of Nursing?


Becoming an Interim Directors of Nursing can be a career path for a seasoned Director of Nursing. They take on temporary assignments and experience different types of settings, teams and locations.


An Interim Director of Nursing holds the fort down until a permanent Director of Nursing is hired. However, they are not just placeholders.  They’re extremely valuable.  Typically, they have over 20+ years of experience in senior living and long-term care facilities and bring a wealth of knowledge.
In fact, interim Directors of Nursing can bring stability to senior care organizations and communities undergoing changes. They can minimize any business disruption.  Also, they can take on special projects as well as improve the standard of care and team morale. They can hit the ground running and lead a team of nurses when needed.
It is not uncommon for an interim Director of Nursing to receive a permanent offer.




Bottom line…if you’re a career-oriented nurse within senior living / long term care, who prefers the challenge and pace of a high-level management role over day-to-day patient care, becoming a Director of Nursing could be a very rewarding career.



Julie Rupenski is the Founder & CEO of MedBest Recruiting. Since opening its doors in 2001, Julie has grown MedBest into an award winning, multimillion-dollar national firm, garnering impressive awards including INC 5000 Tampa Bay Fast 50!  In addition, Julie was named as one of the “Top 100 Women Leaders in Tampa 2022″ by Women We Admire and most recently the Interim Talent Division was named on Top 10 List for Interim Services Providers. 


MedBest has gained national recognition due to Julie’s industry expertise and high level of success. Julie has an in-depth knowledge of the senior living / long term care industry.  She previously worked in operations for both senior housing and senior living prior to founding MedBest.


MedBest is an award-winning national Executive Search Firm exclusive to the Senior Living / Long Term Care Industry. For more than two decades, we have connected senior living / long term care organizations with exceptional senior living executive talent for both permanent and interim roles. MedBest was named as a Top 10 Interim Services Provider 2023! In addition, we were one of American’s top companies by Inc.5000 and a Tampa Fast 50 Company in 2021!  Contact MedBest at 727-526-1294.


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