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Chief Nursing Officer Career

How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

Many healthcare organizations, from hospitals to outpatient clinics, provide patients with high-quality care. Behind that high-quality care is a team of nurses, working coordinated schedules to ensure that each patient receives sufficient treatment. Leading this team of nurses is a chief nursing officer (CNO), an experienced nurse who helps manage finances, enforce policies, and connect patients with the care they need.

Chief nursing officers fulfill a wide variety of regulatory duties in addition to hands-on patient care. As one of the top nursing leadership roles available today, the position of a chief nursing officer requires strong leadership and communication skills.

If you’re someone who thrives in a healthcare environment and you’re looking to put years of nursing experience to work in an administrative setting, the role of a chief nursing officer may be a rewarding career option for you.

What is a CNO?

As a chief nursing officer, you will provide leadership to the nursing team at your healthcare organization. On a typical day, you might manage finances, implement treatment plans, integrate new medical technologies, assign schedules, and onboard new nurses into the department.

As a specialized career option, the position of chief nursing officer typically requires both an undergraduate and master’s degree. In addition, you will need at least 5-6 years of experience in a healthcare environment fulfilling specific nursing duties. Leadership experience is also preferred by many employers looking for a chief nursing officer.

The position of a CNO is often referred to as the “VP of Nursing,” and is associated with ensuring high levels of patient care while implementing policies that contribute to long-term facility success.

What Do CNOs Do?

On a day-to-day basis, the CNO of a healthcare organization is kept busy by a wide range of responsibilities. Between communicating with team members, implementing new protocols, and evaluating department performance, a CNO completes leadership tasks each day that allow the rest of the organization to function well.

The exact responsibilities of a CNO can include:

  • Leading all nursing staff toward immediate and long-term success by improving patient outcomes at their facility.
  • Evaluating the performance of individual nurses, and the entire healthcare organization.
  • Implementing new medical technologies that can streamline operations and contribute to more efficient nursing procedures.
  • Hiring new nurses and releasing employees whenever necessary.
  • Informing existing nursing staff of any new policies to be implemented across the department.
  • Managing financial assets.
  • Assessing collected data sets to draw conclusions that can contribute to more efficient organizational operations.
  • Reporting results to the president or board of executives at your healthcare organization and informing them of any recent developments involving nursing staff members and procedures.

These and other responsibilities define the career of a chief nursing officer, an individual committed to helping all nurses connect patients with the best possible care options.

What Education Does a CNO Need?

Before you can begin a career as a CNO, you will need to satisfy a few educational requirements. First, you’ll need a qualifying bachelor’s degree in nursing or healthcare, where you’ll learn the basics of patient care, medical assessment practices, and diagnostic evaluation. It’s ideal for a chief nursing officer to have worked as an RN before they pursue this next level of their career. If you’re a current RN pursuing this bachelor’s degree in nursing, a tailored RN-to-BSN degree program helps you take steps toward an improved education, one that can yield real dividends in a healthcare organization.

After earning a bachelor’s degree and working as a nurse or in another healthcare role, you’ll need to continue your education with a Master of Science Nursing Leadership and Management degree. For those that are current nurses that need both a bachelor’s and master’s degree, an RN to MSN bridge program can help you earn both of the degrees you need at one time. An MSN program focused on leadership and management allows you to further hone your skills in nurse leadership, healthcare management, and global health trends — all skills that are useful when fulfilling a chief nursing officer position.

Best Degrees for a CNO

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,795 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,385 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
    Chief Nursing Officer
    Quality Director
    Clinical Nurse Leader
    Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

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This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

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Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
    Chief Nursing Officer
    Quality Director
    Clinical Nurse Leader
    Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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What Skills Does a CNO Need?

The role of a chief nursing officer is defined by a certain skill set. In communicating with patients and team members, informing nurse operations, implementing new care strategies, and training new nurses, a CNO fulfills vital healthcare and business roles. As a result, their skillset needs to contribute to both the short-term and long-term success of their healthcare organization.

The exact skills that a CNO needs can include:

  • Healthcare management: The ability to appropriately manage all aspects of a healthcare environment including budgeting, nurse management, hiring, employee training, and data analysis.
  • Leadership: The ability to guide all nurses as they work to achieve improved outcomes for all patients, leading by example in policy implementation and correct patient care procedures.
  • Interpersonal communication: The ability to correspond well with healthcare organization team members, including nurses.
  • Data reporting: The ability to collect, analyze, and report collected data in user-friendly report formats that executives can understand.
  • Staffing: The ability to hire and release nurses, according to their contributions to your healthcare organization.
  • Instruction: The ability to teach new and existing nurses about patient care procedures and regulations.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to identify and creatively solve problems that nurses or patients may face.
  • Technological proficiency: The ability to operate all necessary pieces of medical technology, including any computers, tablets, phones, and online programs.

These and other skills allow a chief nursing officer to find success, as they work to continually connect patients with high-quality levels of care from trained nurses.

How Much Does a CNO Make?


The exact income of a chief nursing officer can vary based on a variety of factors that often include your employer, employer’s location, employer’s available funding, years of experience, education, and acquired certifications.

In general, the salary of a chief nursing officer can average $126,218, with a range of roughly $87,000 to $221,000 earned each year.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


From 2019 to 2029, employment for all registered nurses is expected to grow 7%. This growth rate is well above the average forecasted growth across all occupations, and indicates a favorable outlook for a majority of nurse occupations.

Aging populations are behind much of this anticipated rise in required healthcare. As the baby-boomer generation grows older, their need for long-term care that addresses chronic concerns will also increase. When more nurses are needed to facilitate this care, the need for qualified chief nursing officers to lead those nurses should increase in parallel.

Where Do CNOs Work?


Chief nursing officers typically work onsite at their healthcare employer’s place of business. As a CNO, you will need to maintain constant communication with teams of nurses and other members of the healthcare organization’s staff. This communication is made easier if you maintain an office on the same floor where nurses provide care.

Chief nursing officers can work at any of the following locations: hospitals, emergency medical clinics, outpatient care facilities, inpatient or partial hospitalization programs, medical research facilities, doctors’ offices, or nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Interested in Becoming a CNO?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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