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Meet a Chief Nursing Officer

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated February 22, 2024
    Meet the CNO of Morristown Medical Center and find out the skills and education you need to become a chief nursing officer.

    Chief nursing officers (CNOs) are critical healthcare professionals who oversee the daily operations of an organization. They seek a balance between managing resources and upholding the welfare and health of the staff and patients.

    The chief nursing officer is the top rung in the administrative ladder in any nursing department. They serve as an advocate for the nursing staff and are poised to make a difference in healthcare without participating directly in patient care. Nurses who aspire to this role must have a high level of education and experience.

    On this page, we explore the role, how to become a CNO, and how much they make. First, let’s hear from the chief nursing officer at Morristown Medical Center, Brandee Fetherman, MSN, RN, CCRN-K.

    Q&A With Chief Nursing Officer

    Portrait of Brandee Fetherman, MSN, RN, CCRN-K

    Brandee Fetherman, MSN, RN, CCRN-K

    Fetherman is a highly respected leader with more than 20 years of experience, most recently serving as director of nursing at Morristown Medical Center since 2017. She was named CNO of Morristown Medical Center in October 2021.


    At Morristown Medical Center, Fetherman oversees the delivery of nursing care, nursing education and professional development, nursing quality and research, and patient flow. Working closely with leadership across all disciplines, Fetherman leads with high-quality standards of nursing excellence.

    She partners with the chief medical officer and other administrative leaders to ensure Morristown Medical Center’s delivery of care. She also advances clinical programs, patient flow efforts, and patient experience throughout the medical center.

    What led you to pursue nursing as a career?

    From my earliest memories, I have always wanted to help people. As a child, I vividly remember going to the hospital with my grandmother who was a volunteer. Nursing impacts everyone at some point in their life. Nurses are there for essentially every human experience, and I wanted to make that my life’s work.

    To you, what is the greatest threat or challenge faced by nurses today?

    The great resignation of the postpandemic workforce. Unfortunately, nursing has not been immune to this national issue, and we are going through a period of great unrest and uncertainty. As nursing leaders, we need to continue working diligently every day to help mitigate further exodus and upheaval in our ranks.

    As you move into your new role as CNO at Morristown Medical Center, what are you most excited for?

    Even though we are experiencing some difficult labor challenges, I am confident that the future of nursing is bright. I am excited to lead our extraordinary nursing team throughout the upcoming years as we continue to innovate, inspire, and touch the lives of our patients, their families, and loved ones in our communities.

    CNOs have a unique position in addressing the nursing shortage by prioritizing hospital staff hiring and retention rates. How can CNOs contribute to mitigating the nursing shortage?

    We need to prioritize and focus on the nurse work environment. A critical component to this effort will be investing time and attention to the well-being of our nurses.

    We need to continue to ensure that nurses have all the necessary resources to excel in their work, including support staff, supplies, and helping them develop strong clinical partnerships across a variety of disciplines.

    Because the work environment is a priority here at Morristown Medical Center, we established a multidisciplinary committee, comprised of clinical and nonclinical professionals to remain focused on this priority.

    What solutions or advice would you offer to other CNOs looking to address the nursing shortage from their position?

    CNOs need to engage and listen to their staff, which means actively seeking their input to address the nursing shortage we are all facing across the country.

    Nurses have the innate ability to work together, collaborate, and partner to solve issues and challenges. We can be part of solving the staffing shortage by being role models and exemplary examples for others who might be interested in this career path. We need to encourage new and creative ways to guide those curious about nursing and help guide them.

    I am confident that the path to nursing careers will continue to evolve and expand as the years go on. This means we may have to take a hard look at what we’ve been doing and strategically change some of our past traditional ways to attract and retain the best and most highly skilled nurses.

    We have to be innovative and perhaps a little daring in our pursuit of this endeavor to continue strengthening the future of nursing. It’s exciting to be part of this evolution.

    In what ways can CNOs prioritize the mental well-being of the staff at their hospital?

    Nurse resilience remains a top priority for CNOs and other healthcare leaders. We need to continue to provide wellness programs.

    We need to explore and find creative solutions to develop a more measured approach to scheduling to help them find balance and satisfaction in their lives outside of work.

    This will include some new kinds of experiments in scheduling flexibility and organizational mobility for positions that best suit not only where they are in their careers but where they are in their lives.

    What hopes or aspirations do you have for the future of nursing?

    The National Academy of Sciences just published “The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity,” which outlines several significant recommendations.

    • We absolutely need to keep nurses’ health and well-being a top priority.
    • We need to continue to help advance them in their pursuit of the best education and training possible to allow them to practice at the top of their licensure.
    • We need to help with loan reimbursements and other financial incentives to continue to provide ongoing education and professional development for our nurses.

    As we continue to advance the science of nursing, we will also need to continue strengthening our research and innovation efforts.

    What Does a CNO Do?

    Chief nursing officers, like nurse administrators and nurse executives, can play a key nursing leadership role in a healthcare organization. They are the liaison between other departments and the nursing staff. CNOs seek to represent and protect the rights and health of nurses within the organization. On a day-to-day basis, they have little interaction with patients.

    CNOs have daily tasks alongside their leadership role. They must function to maintain communication within the nursing team. CNOs also carry out protocols and evaluate the performance of staff and policies. This analysis helps improve patient care and the overall health of the organization.

    “We have to be innovative and perhaps a little daring in our pursuit of this endeavor to continue strengthening the future of nursing. It’s exciting to be part of this evolution.” – Brandee Fetherman, MSN, RN, CCRN-K

    Some of the responsibilities of this role include:

    • Leading staff management and policy development that improve patient outcomes
    • Evaluating nursing performance throughout the organization
    • Initiating the implementation of technology that can streamline operations
    • Carrying out change that contributes to an efficient nursing process
    • Hiring and firing nursing employees as necessary
    • Managing the financial assets of the nursing department, including creating and following an annual budget
    • Serving as a community spokesperson for the organization
    • Reporting to the top management of the organization, including on any developments in the nursing department

    Some of the skills of this role include:

    • Strong communication, organizational, negotiation, and interpersonal skills
    • Clinical expertise, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills
    • Detail-oriented, empathetic, and strong grasp of industry policy and regulations

    How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

    The process to reach the pinnacle of nursing leadership takes time, determination, and patience. Candidates must thoroughly consider this path since it includes pursuing advanced education and experience, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree.

    Your nursing career begins by becoming a registered nurse (RN) licensed in the state where you live. You may become an RN by earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree or an associate’s degree. You can then complete an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN bridge program.

    To be licensed, a nurse must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Each state has different rules to maintain your RN license, but all require you to renew your license through submitting an application, fees, and other necessary documents.

    While you may qualify with an MSN degree, many employers prefer a CNO with a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). Earning a terminal degree, such as a DNP, can open more job opportunities and optimize the candidate’s skill set.

    A CNO must have several years of hands-on experience with patient care and other RN roles, such as quality improvement, medical ethics, infection control, and environmental health committees. This ensures an ability to apply academic knowledge to real-world experiences. It also expands professional networking opportunities for nurses.

    If you wish to work as a chief nursing officer, you must also be certified in administration, leadership, or management. There are several options, which include:

    • Clinical nurse leader certification offered by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing
    • Certification in executive nursing practice offered by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership
    • Nurse executive certification offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center
    • Nurse manager and leader certification offered by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership

    How Much Do Chief Nursing Officers Make?

    The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for medical and health services managers will increase by 32% through 2030, much faster than the average employment outlook.

    CNOs have extensive responsibilities and often work long hours. They also receive salaries to compensate for this added responsibility.

    According to Payscale, the average annual CNO salary is $134,690, ranging from $94,000 to $202,000. This doesn’t include annual bonuses, which are reported from $5,000 to $41,000, or profit-sharing, which can be between $2,000 and $20,000 annually.

    Factors that affect a chief nursing officer’s salary include their overall experience, level of education, certifications, and geographical location.