What it takes to be a charge nurse


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I’ve talked in the past about how I recognize excellence in my nursing staff, but I thought I would talk about what I look for when I am looking for a new charge nurse.  I know there are many of you out there that may be at that point in their career when they are considering being a charge nurse.

I have very high expectations of my charge nurses, because a lot was expected of my when I was a charge nurse.  A charge nurse is the first step in the leadership of the unit and need to be able to run the unit without the manager being there.  If they don’t know the answers that staff members come to them with, they need to know where to find the answers.

A charge nurses needs to be able to confront a staff member and correct negative behaviors immediately and be able to praise positive behaviors immediately.  Then need to be able to manage the flow of the unit and help out the hospital by knowing when to help the other units, or even when to refuse a patient when they feel the acuity of the patient and/or the unit is too high.  They also need to be a teacher.

What I look for is excellent clinical skills, the ability to stay calm when things are crazy or in a crisis situation and somebody that is truly a team player.  I also look for somebody that is not afraid to tell their team members when they did something wrong AND explain to them/teach them what the correct way to do it is.

Charge nurses are what hold the units together.  They are the go between for the staff and the manager and need to be able to communicate with both.

Actually, sounds like a more difficult job than mine.

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Rob Cameron

Rob Cameron is currently a staff nurse in a level II trauma center. He has primarily been an ED nurse for most of his career, but he has also been a nurse manager for Surgical Trauma and Telemetry unit. He has worked in Med/Surg, Critical Care, Hospice, Rehab, an extremely busy cardiology clinic and pretty much anywhere he's been needed.Prior to his career in nursing, Rob worked in healthcare finance and management. Rob feels this experience has given him a perspective on nursing that many never see. He loves nursing because of all the options he has within the field. He is currently a grad student working on an MSN in nursing leadership, and teaches clinicals at a local university.Away from work, Rob spends all of his time with his wife and daughter. He enjoys cycling and Crossfit. He is a die hard NASCAR fan. Sundays you can find Rob watching the race with his daughter.

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3 Responses to What it takes to be a charge nurse

  1. And THAT is what makes you a great manager Rob – recognizing how difficult the charge position is. I can only imagine how appreciative your employees are.
    Be sure to pass on the knowledge to other managers!!!

  2. RNCN

    I can say I am a night Charge nurse on a 43 bed tele/oncology unit and I think the role is misunderstood by most. I thank you for this post, I am going to refer a few of those people to it! As they say in my place of employment….. everyone LOVES to hate the CN..LO

  3. Lois

    I am a 56 yr old RN, who just graduated approximately 5 1/2 yrs ago. To become a nurse was a 30 yr goal for me while raising my children, going thru divorce, real life situations. I have been very lucky to work on the second shift at my local hospital. I have found out exaclty what a charge nurse is not suppose to do from watching the charge nurses on the frist shift versus being able to learn from my charge nurse. She is an awesome charge. Jan, and our second shift are team players. Jan helps where most charges don’t. First shift nurses have been heard saying “that is part of your job!” such as checking off orders or helping to start an IV site when you have 7 patients and one always gets neglected. But Jan helps check our orders off, runs down the hall when the fall light goes off, and is there anytime we need help. There is no better charge nurse at my hospital, as I have worked in several of the other areas, ie. ortho, tele. Working as a team is of prime importance when it comes to the care of lives.