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Characteristics of a Charge Nurse

by Ellie Williams

A charge nurse oversees a department within a hospital, and typically comes to the role after several years of experience as a staff nurse. While she has strong clinical skills, she may not have leadership experience, especially if it’s the first time she’s stepped into a managerial role. The job requires combining clinical knowledge with strong people skills to keep everything running smoothly and ensure high quality patient care.

Leadership

The charge nurse makes assignments and delegates tasks, determining what role each nurse plays within the department. She needs skill in matching employees with the assignments that complement their strengths. She also needs to inspire respect from her employees so they recognize her authority. In addition, a charge nurse sets the tone for the department and ideally sets a positive example for others to follow. The most effective charge nurses establish clear guidelines and standards that encourage staff members to contribute their best efforts and focus on providing the highest quality patient care.

Strong Communication Skills

A charge nurse gives direction to her staff, but she also answers their questions and listens to their concerns. If she can’t express herself or understand what others are trying to say to her, she can’t effectively lead her team. She’ll also have greater difficulty establishing a relationship with them. In addition, the charge nurse takes goals for the unit, sometimes set forth by hospital management, and creates concrete, actionable steps staff nurses can take to bring these goals to fruition. If a charge nurse can’t transform the ideas in her head into duties her nurses can carry out, she misses a valuable opportunity to move the unit forward.

Adaptability

Charge nurses play several roles, switching from mentor to problem-solver all in the course of the day. They must be flexible enough to respond to the continuously changing demands of the job, and to the rapidly changing demands of health care itself. No two days are the same, whether they oversee an emergency room or a pediatric ward. Even if the unit isn't filled to capacity, that doesn’t mean they can expect a lighter work load. For example, a patient’s condition might suddenly deteriorate, requiring the staff to spring into action.

People Skills

As the department’s leader, the charge nurse is the one fellow nurses come to when they have questions or are unsure about how best to care for a patient. She’s also the one patients and family members turn to when they have questions or concerns about the care offered. This requires empathy and patience. Also, the charge nurse frequently intervenes when other members of the team don’t see eye-to-eye. She needs strong conflict resolution skills to encourage a compromise that benefits the employees, the department and the hospital’s patients.

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