Challenges of working as a charge nurse

Charge nurse As with the unique traits of this job, charge nursing has its own set of unique challenges. “In my experience, one of the more challenging situations as a charge nurse was being short-staffed,” says Paulson. “Keeping up with the demand was not easy and required some creativity!”

With another layer of responsibility on top of ordinary nursing duties, there’s no doubt that being a charge nurse is a demanding job. Additionally, being the one who everyone turns to for advice and help can be a high-pressure situation—not to mention having to keep your nursing knowledge and skills in tip-top shape as the expert in the room.

“[Y]our hands are always full as a charge nurse with tasks like handling call-ins, difficult patients, patients declining or needing more care and supporting everyone as needed,” says Paulson.

There are also relationship dynamics to contend with as a team leader. Good charge nurses need to be wary of favoritism and the individual needs of nurses on their unit. For instance, are you providing opportunities for teammates who’ve expressed interest to take on high acuity patients? Or finding ways to balance assignments for a nurse who’s been put through the wringer with challenging patients the past few shifts? These are considerations that can be challenging to navigate in some circumstances.

What’s enjoyable about being a charge nurse?

Before you worry too much about the challenges of this job, rest assured that there are plenty of rewarding aspects of being a charge nurse.

In exchange for the pressures of the job, charge nurses are entrusted with additional authority and responsibility. “I loved being a charge nurse because I had an overview of the entire unit,” says Paulson. If you’ve got a knack for leadership, then this job could be for you.

“I was also able to work with everyone, mentor new nurses and collaborate with the other ICU members,” says Paulson. “Being a charge nurse was an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience.” With the additional duties, there’s ample variety, so you’ll never have a boring moment.

And charge nurses get the joy of helping out the rest of the nursing team and seeing them succeed. The position lets you take a mentorship and advisory role to lift up the nursing staff.

Furthermore, as a charge nurse, you still get all the rewarding aspects of helping patients and the hands-on work that is typical of nursing positions.

Traits of effective charge nurses

What does it take to be successful as a charge nurse through both the rewarding aspects and the challenges?

First and foremost, Paulson says, “A successful charge nurse is an expert in the specific area or department they operate.” Because the rest of a hospital or department’s nurses depend on the charge nurse’s knowledge, charge nurses need to have above and beyond the typical nurse’s knowledge.

Charge nurses also need to be able to stay calm and levelheaded. When there’s an emergency or unfamiliar situation, the nursing team looks to the charge nurse for experience and advice. Amidst all these stressful situations, charge nurses have to be strong leaders.

“With experience comes many solutions to unpredictable situations,” says Paulson. “Charge nurses are a resource to the facility team and are important for keeping things operational.”

Finally, charge nurses need to be multi-skilled and adaptable. As Paulson says, “A glimpse of what a successful charge nurse should be able to handle: the ability to assess patients, lead the team, be a good mentor, provide support and see the entire unit.”

Ready to lead as a charge nurse?

Now you can answer, “What is a charge nurse?” This nursing leadership role has a lot of overlap with typical nursing duties with the addition of leadership responsibilities and added expertise.


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