Every career field has its ladder rungs. At the top of the nursing hierarchy is a Chief Nursing Officer (CNO). When you want to become a CNO, you give up working bedside with patients to pursue a non-clinical, administrative position within a healthcare system. Nurses who want to make a difference in healthcare but no longer desire the hustle and bustle of hands-on care with patients may find this a desirable career path. Becoming a Chief Nursing Officer requires a high level of education and experience. Nurses who aspire to this role can take several different paths to get there.
In this article, we will explore:
- Job responsibilities of a Chief Nursing Officer
- Where CNOs work
- CNO job and salary oultlook
Job responsibilities of a Chief Nursing Officer
CNOs, sometimes called Directors of Nursing, ensure everything is working properly within a nursing unit. While they do not work directly with patients, they have the final say on how patients receive treatment prescribed by their medical teams.
CNOs serve as a voice for all nurses within their organization. They collaborate with their team of nurses to make sure everyone under their management aligns to the mission, values, and vision of the healthcare organization they represent. Chief Nursing Officers have complex and demanding roles. They must be willing to be accountable for everything that happens under their oversight. CNOs also require strong communication and leadership skills to achieve quality patient outcomes.
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a CNO include:
- Creating achievable goals for improving the nursing department
- Coordinating daily nursing operations and overseeing new projects that affect the unit
- Developing best practices and improved patient outcomes guidelines
- Hiring and supervising nursing staff within the unit
- Overseeing financing and budgeting for the department
As with all nursing careers, there may be additional responsibilities for CNOs depending on where they choose to work.
Where Chief Nursing Officers work
Chief Nursing Officers work in a variety of healthcare settings. Any medical facility that relies on nurses to deliver patient care can benefit from having a CNO on staff. Some of the most popular places for CNOs to work include:
- Government healthcare agencies and services
- Group physician or nurse practitioner practices
- Healthcare system corporate offices
- Hospitals and trauma centers
- Insurance company corporate offices
- Outpatient clinics and surgery centers
- Rehabilitation facilities
Chief Nursing Officers are Registered Nurses (RNs) who have earned either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). After they complete their formal education, they must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to earn their RN licensure.
Once nurses hold their RN licensure, they have two choices for continuing to pursue their advancement to a CNO position. They can opt to work as a licensed RN for several years to gain some experience, or they can continue with their education by applying to a Master of Science in Nursing degree program. Some nurses choose to work as RNs while pursuing their MSN degrees part-time. This can take longer to earn an MSN. Regardless of whether you attend part-time or full-time, choose an MSN program that focuses on healthcare administration, leadership, and nursing management. While not required, some CNOs continue their education in a Doctoral Nursing Program because employers prefer this advanced degree.
There are bridge programs that can help cut down time spent in school:
- Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) – up to 8 years
BSN-to-DNP bridge program – about 3-4 years
MSN-to-DNP bridge program – 1-2 years
After earning your MSN or DNP, the final step is to become certified in administration, leadership, or nursing management. There are numerous options for CNO certifications. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Certification in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) from the American Organization for Nursing Leadership
- Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE) from the American College of Medical Practice Executives
- Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL) from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
Each certification program has eligibility requirements. Certifications must be renewed every 3 to 5 years for most of these certification programs. Continuing education requirements vary by certification, so CNOs must check with certifying bodies to ensure they meet all renewal obligations.
CNO salary and job outlook
CNOs have extensive responsibilities and receive top salaries to compensate for the additional accountability. The average salary for a CNO is $177,997. The top 90% of wage earners in this field can top out at around $262,000 annually. Some of the highest paying cities for CNOs include New York, NY; San Mateo, CA; Boston, MA; Juneau, AK; and Berkeley, CA. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts demand for medical and health services managers like CNOs will increase by 32% between now and 2030.
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