What Is a Chief Nursing Officer (CNO)?

Sherry Christiansen
Updated March 27, 2023
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Find out what it takes to become a CNO, key responsibilities, salary expectations, education requirements, and more.
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A chief nursing officer (CNO) is a top-level nurse, essential to a healthcare facility’s ability to provide high-level healthcare services to its patients. A CNO’s job duties include organizational, administrative, and nurse leadership duties.

Chief nursing officers set standards of nursing care and establish the policies and protocols for achieving those standards. These highly trained professionals often work in hospitals, ambulatory care centers, clinics, or government organizations.

Learn more about what a CNO does, where they work, and how to become a CNO in this guide.

How Long to Become
10+ years

Degree Requirements

Average Annual Salary

Source:Payscale, March 2023

What Does a Chief Nursing Officer Do?

MSN Required
Certification Optional

Chief nursing officers, also referred to as chief nursing executives, work within healthcare organizations as leadership team members. These highly qualified leaders perform many important job duties, such as regularly interacting with department leaders ensuring consistent operations and assessing department needs for more staff or resources.

A key responsibility for CNOs is to maintain quality patient care by establishing policies and protocols for achieving quality patient care standards.

hospital administrators talking

sturti / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Key Responsibilities

  • Overseeing leadership responsibility for all nursing functions
  • Managing operating budgets
  • Establishing patient care standards
  • Designing innovative systems to improve patient care
  • Integrating new medical technologies into healthcare facilities
  • Collaborating with healthcare staff members and department heads

Career Traits

  • Composure under pressure
  • Creativity
  • Respectfulness
  • Relationship builder
  • Trustworthiness
  • Professionalism (acting as a role model and mentor to other nurses)

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Where Do Chief Nursing Officers Work?

A CNO may manage several departments in a healthcare facility, oversee an entire hospital or several hospitals, or supervise other healthcare-related facilities, including:

  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Corporate offices for healthcare systems
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Group physician practices
  • Ambulatory surgery centers
  • Nurse practitioner groups
  • Insurance corporate offices

A CNO’s duties may differ substantially from one type of facility to another. For example, CNOs in a hospital setting must meet with other department leaders, making sure of consistency in operations. These nurse leaders, in charge of large healthcare institutions, meet regularly with stakeholders to discuss future goals.

At a corporate insurance organization, a CNO’s primary job may involve organizational administration duties.

How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

To become a CNO, nurses must possess a master of science in nursing (MSN) and an optional postgraduate business certificate, such as certified nurse manager and leader. Pursuing an MSN degree with a nurse executive concentration as a specialization will likely boost your ability to land a CNO position. But a terminal nursing degree (i.e., a doctoral degree) will open more doors than a master-level degree for many CNO positions.

Other steps for becoming a CNO include:

Credentials that might give applicants a competitive edge in the job market include the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) leadership certification courses, such as Nurse Executive or Nurse Executive, Advanced. ANCC also offers an informatics nursing certification that could benefit CNOs.

The American Organization for Nursing Leadership also has credentialing certificates for nursing leadership and management.

How Much Do Chief Nursing Officers Make?

According to a March 2023 Payscale report, the average CNO base salary is $138,260 per year with a yearly bonus of $5K to $49K. Expected compensation for CNOs varies depending on factors like the type of facility and how many departments/facilities you manage. CNOs often qualify for yearly bonuses, profit sharing, and other financial benefits.

The job outlook is very good for CNOs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth rate for medical and health services managers is 28% from 2021-2031, much faster than the average job growth rate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Chief Nursing Officers

How long does it take to become a chief nursing officer?

To become a CNO, it takes four years for an undergraduate degree, an additional two years for a master’s degree in nursing, and 5-6 years experience in a healthcare environment.

What does a chief nursing officer do?

A chief nursing officer is a top-level nurse who answers directly to the CEO. Job duties often include establishing policies and protocols for achieving a facility’s high patient care standards. CNOs also perform many administrative tasks, such as helping facility administration with budget reports.

What is the difference between a director of nursing and a chief nursing officer?

A director of nursing (DON) functions below the level of a chief nursing officer; the DON oversees nursing staff and patient care in an administrative role. A CNO is considered an executive who spends time with other hospital administrators, attends board meetings, and develops strategies that impact the entire facility or system.

What skills does a CNO need?

A CNO should have practical stress management skills. They should also be able to wear many hats and work with people of all backgrounds and educational levels. A high level of professionalism, dependability, good communication skills, and honesty are personal traits that would contribute to being a successful CNO.

Related Pages

Page last reviewed March 5, 2023

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