What Is a Chief Nursing Officer and How Do You Become One?

Updated January 3, 2023

A chief nursing officer plays a pivotal role in helping a medical facility and its nursing personnel provide high-quality health care services to patients. This position may be a great choice for a nurse seeking a managerial position in the hospital and health organization industry. Learning about chief nursing officers and what they do can help you decide if this position is the right choice for your skills and career goals. 

In this article, we answer the question "What is a chief nursing officer?" by providing the job duties, skills, salary, job outlook and work environment associated with this role and describing how to begin a career as a chief nursing officer. 


What is a chief nursing officer?

Chief nursing officers work within the health care industry to oversee daily operational, administrative and nursing procedures. They primarily focus on coordinating and maintaining the functionality of the nursing department for various health care centers, but they may also complete other tasks as necessary. Chief nursing officers often serve as the voice and advocate for all the other nurses in the department. They improve and streamline nursing processes and ensure the nursing department provides high-quality services to the patients in their care.

 As administrators, it's important for a chief nursing officer to oversee all nursing personnel and be knowledgeable of all activities that they perform while on duty. Chief nursing officers seek to find a balance between managing resources and making reports and striving to uphold the welfare and health of their staff and patients. They may use their previous nursing experience to plan and implement positive changes and updates in nursing procedures. 

Related: How To Become a Nursing Officer in 5 Steps


What does a chief nursing officer do?

Chief nursing officers perform a variety of tasks and duties in the role, most of which are administrative. One of their chief concerns is the safety of the patients housed within the facility. It's essential that a chief nursing officer takes active and actionable steps to ensure that patients receive all the medical care that they require. Chief nursing officers may regularly confer with other hospital management leaders and leverage their position to receive the resources necessary for their department.

Chief nursing officers also work to take care of their nursing staff and make certain that they have the proper tools, equipment and safety gear for them to do their jobs diligently and safely. Here are some other key duties that chief nursing officers may perform:

  • Enhance patients' medical care

  • Create strategies to improve the performance of nursing staff

  • Ensure that the medical facility follows federal, state and local policies and regulations

  • Interview, hire and train new nurses

  • Provide training to current and new staff on good health care procedures

  • Provide insight on budget usage and cost of certain provided health services

  • Encourage collaboration among staff and nursing personnel

  • Serve as a spokesperson for the medical facility at important events

  • Help nurses keep their certifications up to date so they keep to industry regulations

  • Conduct research and then create reports used to improve facility operations

  • Provide expert knowledge to government officials

  • Work closely with physicians, hospital management and administrators

Related: Learn About Being an Administrative Officer


Chief nursing officer skills

A chief nursing officer often possesses the following skills to help them complete their work:

  • Interpersonal skills: Chief nursing officers may work with nurses and other staff within the health care setting to optimize department performance. They may use interpersonal skills to relate to and understand the needs of patients and nurses.


  • Nursing expertise: Chief nursing officers begin their careers as nurses. This helps them understand nursing procedures and needs and how to manage and improve processes.


  • Problem-solving: In this role, a chief nursing officer may frequently encounter issues within a department and work on ways to solve them efficiently. They may also manage interpersonal problems, such as those between employees or between nurses and patients.


  • Compliance and reporting: As part of their administrative duty, chief nursing officers may manage and ensure compliance with local and national government standards for health care centers. They may develop regular reporting procedures and ensure that the center's performance remains up to standard.


  • Organizational skills: Chief nursing officers may manage many important documents, records, schedules and other administrative data. Organizational skills can help them keep track of dates and requirements and manage employee performance.

Read more: Important Nurse Leadership Skills and How to Develop Them


Chief nursing officer salary and job outlook

The national average salary for a chief nursing officer is $131,370 per year and often varies depending on their job experience, location of work and employer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a 6% growth in job opportunities for all registered nurses, including chief nursing officers, from 2021 through 2031. This is about as fast as average for all occupations and can mean about 203,200 job openings per year on average. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the links provided.

Read more: 32 Best Nursing Jobs To Consider Pursuing (With Salaries)


Work environment for a chief nursing officer

Chief nursing officers primarily work within health-based facilities such as hospitals, clinics, rehab centers and sometimes government agencies. They may alternate their shift with another chief nursing officer so that patients have full coverage aid from on-duty health care and nursing professionals. Their work shifts can differ, as some may work nights, weekends and also during holidays. If a chief nursing officer is on call or on standby, that typically means their employer can have them come into work with little prior notice or warning.

Related: What Are Rotating Shifts? Definition, Benefits and Tips


How to become a chief nursing officer

These steps can help you begin a career as a chief nursing officer: 


1. Earn your bachelor's degree

If you want to become a chief nursing officer, you may begin your career as a registered nurse. To do this, you can receive a Bachelor of Science in nursing. You can receive this degree by going to a nursing school for a minimum of four years. Health care organizations often require you to earn this degree from a school with an accredited nursing program, meaning that a local or national agency in the field has deemed the program legitimate and viable because of the quality of the courses available.

Related: BSN Degree: Definition and Program Types


2. Obtain a graduate degree

Many chief nursing officers have a Master of Science in nursing, with an emphasis on nursing administration. There are additional degrees that may prove useful for becoming a chief nursing officer, like a Master of Business Administration or a Master of Health Administration. These degree fields can provide a chief nursing officer with the skills necessary to perform their job successfully. Some chief nursing officers may achieve a doctorate in nursing practice administration as well, which is sometimes a prerequisite to work for bigger health care facilities or organizations.

Related: Types of Master's Degrees in Nursing


3. Get certified

Nurses may pass a licensing exam to receive certification and the ability to practice. You can pursue licensing after your undergraduate degree if you want to gain some experience before a graduate degree, or you can wait until you complete your educational path. Some other certifications you may want to consider include those in nursing management or administration. This can help you improve your skills and demonstrate your dedication to the field.

Related: Nursing Certifications: What You Need to Know


4. Gain experience

Many chief nursing officers have extensive experience before beginning this leadership role. Consider selecting beginning nursing roles that allow you to improve your patient care skills. You can also pursue administrative roles, like those in health care administration, to help you prepare. As you advance your resume, you can begin roles like nurse manager that help you develop your health care leadership abilities.

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