Certified Nurse Executive (NE) Career Guide

Instead of providing direct patient care like a registered nurse (RN) or nurse practitioner (NP) would, a certified nurse executive may be in charge of leading the vision and management of a nursing organization.

A certified nurse executive may work in hospitals, in nursing homes, for health care organizations or for home health agencies. In health care organizations, certified nurse executives may take on the following roles:

  • Provide continuing education opportunities
  • Manage and direct finances
  • Promote teamwork and creativity among a nursing team
  • Encourage staff to professionally develop and become members of national nursing organizations
  • Develop relationships in the health care industry

In addition to being experts in nursing, successful certified nurse executives should possess strong leadership, business, communication and interpersonal skills. If being a leader in nursing sounds appealing to you, use this guide for tips on how to develop your career.

Steps to Become a Certified Nurse Executive (NE)

How do you become a certified nurse executive? The path typically requires education, experience and certification. Though everyone’s path is different, below are some common steps to become a certified nurse executive.

1. Complete an Accredited Nursing Education Program 

Getting into nursing school and earning a bachelor’s degree and/or master’s degree in nursing helps you fulfill the educational requirements to earn a certification as a nurse executive. For example, the Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requires at least a master’s degree in nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a master’s in another field. 

2. Obtain Your RN License

You’ll need an active RN license to get a nurse executive certification. Nursing licensure varies by state, so check your state’s specific requirements. To apply for a nurse license and become an RN, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). 

3. Obtain Required Additional Education and Experience 

Most nurse executive certifications require education related to nurse leadership or nurse administration. Both the NEA-BC and the Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC) from the ANCC require 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration and some experience in the field. This specialized education may prepare you to lead nursing teams in a variety of environments.

4. Apply for Certification

A professional nursing certification may benefit you in your nurse executive job search and may be required for many nurse executive positions. Professional credentials like the NEA-BC and NE-BC are available to indicate that you’ve met ANCC’s requirements for certification.

Pathways to Becoming a Nurse Executive

Regarding education, there are different ways to become a nurse executive,  based on where you are in your career and the education you’ve obtained. Consider the pathways below.

  • Master’s in Business Administration (MBA): Certifications like the NEA-BC can be obtained with a non-nursing master’s degree. If you already have your BSN, you might consider an MBA with a focus on health care. Or, you can complete a dual degree MBA with a master’s in nursing, so you learn both advanced nursing and advanced business and leadership principles.  
  • Master’s in Nursing (MSN): A master’s in nursing prepares you to obtain an advanced nursing certification in a nursing specialty, which may help you move up in a nursing career and obtain leadership roles. You typically need a BSN or a bachelor’s degree in another subject, along with prerequisite coursework, to enter an MSN program. There are also master’s in nursing administration degrees. There are plenty of online nursing programs and online MSN degree options if you want to study online without relocating for school.
  • RN to MSN: For RNs who don’t have a BSN yet, there are RN-to-MSN programs that include nursing material you’d typically learn in a BSN program, as well as advanced nursing topics covered in an MSN program. With an MSN, you can pursue more advanced roles in nursing and/or specialty certifications.
  • Post-Grad Certificate: If you’re already an RN with a master’s or higher degree, you can research certification requirements for a certified nurse executive credential. This may include a certain number of work hours in nursing administration and/or passing an exam.
  • Doctorate in Nursing: A doctorate in nursing is the highest possible nursing degree. It can prepare students for executive-level positions in patient care and typically includes coursework on subjects like administrative leadership, ethics, evidence-based practice and public policy. There are also specialization options for a doctorate in nursing if you know in which area of nursing you want to work as a nurse executive.

Sponsored Online Nursing Programs

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Earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University.

  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Preparation to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Part-time, full-time, and extended plans of study

Earn an MS in Nursing online from Georgetown University.

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

Earn an M.S. in Nursing online at the Wegmans School of Nursing

  • The Wegmans School of Nursing is ranked among the top 100 nursing schools nationally, and is No. 6 in New York state1
  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options: PCFNP, PMHNP, AGACNP, AGPCNP

Earn your MSN online from USC’s Top-Ranked School of Social Work.

  • Prepares RNs to pursue board certification as family nurse practitioners
  • Earn a CCNE-accredited MSN in as few as 21 months
  • Choose from part-time and full-time study options

1 U.S. News & World Report, 2022 Best Nursing Schools: Master’s. Ranked in 2021.

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Should I Become a Nurse Executive?

Nurse executives use their nursing expertise to lead organizations that employ nurses. They can also pursue paths as consultants for various organizations, so their work environment is constantly changing depending on the clients they’re serving.

If you know you’d like to move up the career ladder and out of direct patient care, a nurse executive career might be right for you. Because these positions are typically the most senior roles in nursing, there may be higher earning potential. 

Salary & Career Outlook

How much do nurse executives make? Nurse salary averages and career outlooks for nurse executives vary depending on the location and demand for each specific area. As an example: 

The BLS also reports the 2020 median pay for top executives was $107,680 per year, with 4% more positions by 2029, about average growth. The 2020 median pay for nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners was $117,670 per year, with projected job growth of 45% by 2029, much faster than average.

These career projections and salaries are only a reference point; fine-tuning what a nurse executive earns and the job outlook depends on location, experience, education, certification and more.

Roles & Responsibilities

Nurse executives plan and direct nursing services in a health care organization. Instead of being in rooms with patients, their work typically takes place in offices and boardrooms.

Their duties might include:

  • Designing and managing patient care
  • Creating and maintaining health care and nursing budgets
  • Shaping nursing care policy
  • Developing wellness networks with other health care organizations

Nurse executives who serve as consultants may analyze a health care organization’s performance and recommend improvements that align with that organization’s health care goals. Nurse executives who work in education may design curriculum formats, hire professors, direct and approve research, and perform other education-focused leadership duties.

Skills

Nurse executives may need to know nursing duties so they understand what the people they manage and/or their clients do. Having leadership skills to inspire those they lead to work toward a shared vision may also be beneficial.

Some skills successful nurse executives could benefit from include:

  • Analytical skills: To understand and follow regulations and adapt to new laws
  • Communication skills: To lead and collaborate with nursing teams and other executives
  • Interpersonal skills: To manage conflicts and build relationships that benefit a nursing organization
  • Managerial skills: To motivate staff to achieve exceptional results
  • Organizational skills: To prioritize the most valuable action items and meet deadlines

Nurse executives may be public-facing; public speaking may be required for presentations about organizational developments. Nurse executives should be comfortable talking to large groups, contributing creative ideas and working with individuals and teams to improve outcomes for organizations. The skills a nurse executive develops may also translate to a non-nursing role, such as a business leader or consultant. 

Nurse Executive Certifications

Nursing certifications may help you stand out to employers. Some certified nurse executive roles may prefer a credential. Below are nurse executive certifications to consider, with the  requirements, fees and renewals as of June 2021. For the most up-to-date information, check with the issuing organization/agency.

Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC)

The NE-BC certification is offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Eligibility requirements:

  • Hold an active and current RN license in a U.S. state or territory or the legally recognized professional equivalent in another country
  • Have at least a BSN degree
  • Have taught graduate students nursing administration or served as an executive consultant or in nursing management; or at least a full-time mid-level administrative position for at least two years in the last five years
  • Have completed 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years; this requirement is waived in you have a master’s degree in nursing administration
  • Transcripts

Fees:

  • $295 for American Nurses Association members
  • $395 for non-members

Renewal: Certifications are renewed every five years. Renewal fees are:

  • $250 for American Nurses Association members
  • $350 for non-members

Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

The NEA-BC certification is offered by the ANCC.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Hold an active and current RN license in a U.S. state or territory or hold the legally recognized professional equivalent in another country
  • Hold at least an MSN degree or a BSN and a master’s in another field
  • Have taught graduate students executive-level nursing administration or held an administrative role at the nurse executive level full-time for at least two years in the last five years
  • Completed 30 hours of continuing education in nursing administration within the last three years; this requirement is waived in you have a master’s degree in nursing administration
  • Transcripts

Fees:

  • $295 for American Nurses Association members
  • $395 for non-members

Renewal: Certifications are renewed every five years. Renewal fees are:

  • $250 for American Nurses Association members
  • $350 for non-members

Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification (CENP)

The CENP certification is offered by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL).

Eligibility requirements:

  • A valid and unrestricted license as an RN and a master’s degree or higher (one of the degrees must be in nursing), plus two years of experience in an executive nursing role ; or
  • A valid and unrestricted license as an RN and a BSN, plus four years of experience in an executive nursing role

Fees:

  • $325 for AONL members
  • $450 for non-AONL members

Renewal: Initial certification or recertification is valid for three years. Renewal can be obtained one of two ways:

  • Successful re-examination
  • Documentation of 45 contact hours of continuing professional education over the three-year period and payment of the renewal fee, which is $200 for AONL or American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) members and $275 for non-members

Nurse Executive Resources

There are many resources to help nurse executives connect with peers throughout the country and the world. You may use the resources below to find continuing education opportunities and learn the latest news about executive nursing.

  • Advisory Board, Nursing Executive Center: The Nursing Executive Center provides members with a best practice research library, ready-made tools and templates for nursing teams, on-call research experts who provide guidance, networking opportunities and events, educational web conferences, and a nurse manager portal.
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN): The AACN is the national organization for academic nursing, representing more than 840 member schools of nursing. The AACN is involved with nursing policy, instructional development, research and organizational leadership.
  • American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE): The ACHE’s mission is to advance leaders and the field of health care management excellence. The ACHE has career resource and learning centers and events and webinars related to health care management.
  • American Nurses Association (ANA): Members of the ANA get access to free webinars, continuing education, discounts on ANCC certification and ANA books, monthly journals, networking, mentorship and policy and lobbying opportunities, a newsletter, and more.
  • Nurse Executive Review and Resource Manual 3rd Edition: This prepares nurse executives to take the ANCC’s NE-BC certification exam. It covers testing materials and nurse executive standards of practice.

Related Nursing Careers

There are other types of nursing careers you might consider to advance toward a nurse executive position.  

  • Clinical Nurse Leader: A clinical nurse leader oversees care for a specific patient group. A clinical nurse leader may collect and evaluate patient outcomes and communicate, plan and implement care for patients.
  • Nurse Administrator: Nurse administrators manage nursing teams and nursing procedures in health care facilities. They may manage finances, confirm regulatory requirements are met and ensure nursing operations are efficient.
  • Nurse Case Manager: Case management nurses are responsible for coordinating long-term patient care. They collaborate with patients and families, physicians, and health care partners like pharmaceutical and insurance companies to advocate for patient care.
  • Nurse Educator: Nurse educators teach nursing students patient care and clinical units and may perform field research.
  • Nurse Practitioner: Nurse practitioners may diagnose patients and provide health and disease education. To become a nurse practitioner, you may pursue an on-campus or online nurse practitioner program.
  • Registered Nurse: RNs coordinate and provide patient care and offer advice to patients and families. To become an RN, you must complete an on-campus or online RN program.
  • Research Nurse: Research nurses work with patients who are undergoing clinical trials. They may recruit patients, talk with them about procedures and side effects, collect samples, administer vaccines, collect data, and monitor lab work.

Sponsored Online Nursing Programs

Sponsored

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing online from Simmons University.

  • Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Preparation to pursue certification as a Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Part-time, full-time, and extended plans of study

Earn an MS in Nursing online from Georgetown University.

  • Earn your MS in Nursing in as few as 23 months
  • Choose from one of four APRN specialty areas: AG-ACNP, FNP, NM/WHNP, or WHNP
  • Gain hands-on clinical experience in evidence-based practice

Earn an M.S. in Nursing online at the Wegmans School of Nursing

  • The Wegmans School of Nursing is ranked among the top 100 nursing schools nationally, and is No. 6 in New York state1
  • Part-time and accelerated tracks available
  • Four program options: PCFNP, PMHNP, AGACNP, AGPCNP

Earn your MSN online from USC’s Top-Ranked School of Social Work.

  • Prepares RNs to pursue board certification as family nurse practitioners
  • Earn a CCNE-accredited MSN in as few as 21 months
  • Choose from part-time and full-time study options

1 U.S. News & World Report, 2022 Best Nursing Schools: Master’s. Ranked in 2021.

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FAQs

Have questions about becoming a nurse executive? Check out the FAQs below.

What is a nurse executive?

A nurse executive is a senior nursing position that leads nursing teams in health care organizations or provides nursing consultation. Nurse executives may also work in education, coordinating postsecondary nursing programs.

What does a nurse executive do?

Nurse executives direct nursing operations in health care organizations, inspire teams of nurses to provide quality care, ensure organizations meet health care regulations, and create executive long-term visions and goals. Nurse executives are instrumental in creating environments that provide exceptional patient care. Nurse executives may also work as consultants or as leaders in education.

Where does a nurse executive work?

Nurse executives work in health care settings like hospitals and nursing homes, leading teams of nurses. They may also work as consultants in a variety of settings, depending on the organizations they’re assisting. Nurse executives can also work in educational settings like nursing colleges, leading teams of nursing instructors.

What is the difference between a nurse leader and a nurse executive?

Nurse leaders are more directly involved in patient care, leading teams of nurses as they serve specific populations. Nurse executives may be less involved in direct patient care. They lead entire teams of nurses and represent them on a larger scale, potentially collaborating with other health care divisions such as physicians and health care operations.

Information on this page was last updated in June 2021.