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How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

A chief nursing officer is a highly-ranked, non-clinical administrator. The position demands extensive education, skill, and experience. As the highest-ranked nurse, you will oversee the directors and managers of a healthcare organization. It is a lucrative career path with numerous job opportunities across different states.

Due to its high-level role, you are required to have ample experience and education. This guide will help you learn more about the position, its fundamentals, and provide you with vital resources to help your learning process to become a chief nursing officer.

What Is a Chief Nursing Officer?

A chief nursing officer (CNO) is an expert administrative nurse in a healthcare organization. It is the highest position in any healthcare organization for a registered nurse. The CNO is reliable in reducing care complexities, curbing nurse shortages, and reducing cost pressures. The CNO is essential in providing fundamental changes to address key concerns in a healthcare organization.

In the government, CNO nursing is vital for bridging different roles, such as project managers, clinical researchers, and political analysts. Through this work, CNOs can influence the government to undertake major health policy changes.

What Does a Chief Nursing Officer Do?

The healthcare system is becoming more complex and there is a growing need for CNOs to manage it. A chief nursing officer has a wide range of roles and responsibilities that help in nursing management. The role of the CNO ensures that the best quality of services is administered at the lowest cost. Below are some of the responsibilities of a CNO.

Nursing Role

The main role of a CNO is to maintain high quality clinical and patient care standards. You are responsible for monitoring a patient's safety and providing essential medical care. You work in conjunction with management and other stakeholders to ensure enough resources are available to meet objectives. You also advise management on improving medical facilities and optimizing existing systems.

Leadership Role

The CNO should serve as an example to other nurses and hospital management. A certified CNO ensures that nurses uphold best practices when handling patients. You should serve as a representative or trainer during medical conferences or seminars. You are also responsible for verifying the certifications of nurses to ensure compliance.

Administrative Role

As a CNO, you will often perform different administrative duties. You can act as the hospital administrator or even CEO in absentia. You are responsible for overseeing daily activities, and organizing, coordinating, and directing medical services.

You can also hire, shortlist, and fire nurses based on their performance. There are also instances where you will be involved in budgeting for the hospital.

Advisory Role

As a CNO, you will play a major role in running the hospital and observing the system's standards. Often, you will carry out in-depth research, evaluate results, and prepare reports on the best approach for the hospital to optimize operations. The management relies on the CNO to provide relevant information about the number of nurses required and any training needed to keep the team updated.

Liaising With Other Departments

A CNO acts as a link between the hospital administration, nurses, and physicians. You should ensure that nurses provide maximum support to doctors in different departments. The CNO can also alter the policies of a hospital to improve the quality of healthcare.

Essential Chief Nursing Officer Skills

The administrative roles for nurses are expanding and there is a need for top-rated nurses to have certain skills. To be an effective chief nursing officer, you need the following key characteristics and skills.

Decision-Making Skills

As a chief nursing officer, different issues and situations will bombard you constantly. Due to the highly volatile environment at the hospital, you will not have ample time to make the right decision.

You are required to be a fast critical thinker to make successful decisions for the healthcare organization. Always make evidence-based decisions to ensure that you accomplish your goals in line with the organization's objectives.

Leadership Skills

A CNO is primarily a leader of all nurses and a reference to directors and managers. You must be a proactive force in a difficult environment and display high levels of commitment.

You must continuously reflect on the values of the organization you work for and ensure your colleagues are up to par. You should also be able to create strategic plans to help the hospital operate better.


A great CNO sees beyond what other practitioners see. You must have a clear cut vision of how you want the nursing department to be, how to get it there, and the possible outcomes. The more detailed your vision, the better the execution and results. You can use your vision to gain trust amongst stakeholders and motivate your employees.

Communication Skills

A chief nursing officer acts as a link between different departments or positions. Because of this, a CNO needs to possess good communication skills to relate to different audiences. A CNO must communicate with nurses, CEOs, executives, and stakeholders. To be a great communicator, you must also be an active listener.

Analytical Skills

It is imperative that you can analyze a situation efficiently to curb another incident or stimulate certain results. You must be able to identify certain factors and their relationship to understand patient outcomes. The hospital is a busy place and requires a sober mind to predict certain trends.

Chief Nursing Officer Salaries and Job Outlook

Payscale estimates the average salary of a chief nursing officer to be $130,100. However, the salary changes depending on the education level, certifications, skills, and experience level.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be a steep growth of 32 percent for health services managers by 2029. There will be a decrease in the number of CNOs due to retirement, meaning about 73,000 new opportunities will open up for future CNOs.

Being a CNO is a rewarding practice that will always be essential in every institution. There is a need for a representative to address the nursing staff's issues to the management. It's a great career path that pays well and fulfills one purpose.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Chief Nursing Officer?

Becoming a CNO is not a simple process. It requires hard work, sacrifice, and dedication. Different people take different amounts of time, depending on different factors. Most employers require the nurse administrator to have a minimum of five years of experience in nursing and one year of experience in management.

We have provided a list of online programs and resources essential in helping you become a chief nursing officer in a shorter period.

How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer: A Step-by-Step Guide

Before becoming a chief nursing officer, you must obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing. After completion of a degree in nursing, follow these steps to become a chief nursing officer.

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

You will need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited program to become a registered nurse.

Step 2: NCLEX-RN

After completing your undergraduate, register for the NCLEX-RN. There are steps available to help you pass the exam and become a registered nurse.

Step 3: Get Experience

You do not have to go back to school immediately after registration. You can opt for jobs depending on the location.

Step 4: RN to MSN

There are plenty of healthcare administration degrees to help you become the best practitioner. Earning a master’s degree in nursing leadership or healthcare administration is the next step for a chief nursing officer. There are plenty of MSN programs available to meet your needs.

Step 5: Certifications

There are certificates in leadership, nursing management, or administration to help you land the job. There is a list of credentialing centers available for you below.

Step 6: Relevant Job Experience

You can get a job that will give you relevant exposure to the leadership and management of nurses.

Step 7: Get Your Dream Job

Becoming a chief nursing officer is not a short process, but it is a worthy cause.

Required Education to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

It is a relatively long journey to become a chief nursing officer. You must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited institution to become a registered nurse. After you complete the undergraduate course, you must register for a Master of Science in Nursing program.

You can also opt to pursue a master of health administration or master of business administration. Other organizations prefer if you also have a Doctor of Nursing Practice that is specialized in administration.

Best Programs and Courses to Become Chief Nursing Officer

Enrolling in the best classes or programs will increase your success rate exponentially. These courses provide quality education, qualified personnel, and relevant material for studying. Below are some of the best programs and courses for CNOs.

Nursing and Health Care Leadership

  • Provider: DukeUniversity 
  • Time: 4-7 semesters
  • Prerequisite: N/A

It's a great program that helps nurses learn about the system's complexities, organizational theories, financial management, and leadership best practices. The program is online, allowing you to alter your schedule at your convenience.

Master's in Nursing Leadership

  • Provider: University of Buffalo
  • Cost: $470
  • Time: 224 hours
  • Prerequisite: N/A

It prepares nurses to assume leadership and executive roles in different healthcare systems and settings. These are core competencies in promoting innovative change and quality results in the complex healthcare system.

Doctor of Nursing Practice Program

  • Provider: Columbia School of Nursing
  • Cost: N/A
  • Time: 2.5 years
  • Prerequisite: N/A

This is an instrumental course for registered nurses and advanced practice nurses to learn how to provide full care to their patients. Doctoral-level education is essential for independent practice.

Chief Nursing Officer Certificates

Getting certified as a chief nursing officer is essential to increase your career prospects. These certificates are essential in helping you attain your dream job in a healthcare organization.

Nurse Executive, Advanced Certification (NEA-BC)

This examination focuses on helping nurses with system integration, resource management, high-level finance, and strategy. The certification is valid for five years, and you can renew the license when it expires. The Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification issues this certificate to nurses.

Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification

This is meant for nurse leaders who are in executive nursing practice. The certificate will demonstrate your knowledge in executive management and land you your dream nursing job.

Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE) credential

This is recognized as a standard for professionals in the medical management department. It is an exceptional certificate to showcase your capabilities and expertise.

Nurse Executive Certification (NE-BC)

This is a verifiable test that focuses on the entry-level skills and knowledge of nurses. The nurses are responsible for handling daily operations, staff development, staffing, and analyzing group and individual performances. After you are deemed legible and pass the examination, you will be granted the Nurse Executive Board certification.

Should You Become a Chief Nursing Officer in 2020?

CNOs have a fulfilling career of giving back to the community and helping friends and families. They are guaranteed long-term job security, good pay, and many rewards and bonuses.

With the current pandemic, healthcare providers need nurses to help run the organization. There is a need to establish guidance and vision. A CNO is highly sought after in the medical arena.


Who does the chief nursing officer report to?
CNOs work directly under chief operating officers as the highest-ranked nurse. A CNO is also supervised by the chief executive officer of the healthcare organization. Health service managers and directors report directly to the CNO.
How much does a CNO make per year?
The average salary of a chief nursing officer is $148,000 per year. The bigger the hospital, the higher the pay for a CNO. You can earn up to $300,000.
What degree do you need to be a director of nursing?
You must have a master's degree in nursing leadership or healthcare administration.
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