How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

The nursing field is expansive, and it requires individuals from all backgrounds to use their education and experience to deliver the best patient care possible. The field is so broad, in fact, that some nurses do not directly interact with patients themselves, but instead prioritize offering support to other nurses. Business acumen and nursing expertise combine in the role of a chief nurse executive (CNE) or chief nursing officer (CNO). The CNO provides clinical leadership for nurses in a health care facility to ensure that care is delivered with the best quality and at the lowest cost.

Nurses interested in learning how to become a chief nursing officer and a leader in health care should consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Chief Nursing Officer Job Description

The job description of a chief nursing officer centers on coordinating a health care facility’s strategies for optimizing clinical functions and care delivery. Those in the role work closely with other leaders to ensure sufficient nursing resources and cohesion between a facility’s nursing department and other departments. CNOs also oversee various administrative components such as the budget, legal compliance, and staffing. They may also serve as facility representatives at key events, taking on the role of a spokesperson.

Altogether, the CNO’s duties revolve around making sure a facility’s nursing staff is properly equipped to provide high-quality care through administration and advocacy. Their work can be critical for a health care facility to achieve its ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes.

How to Become  a Chief Nursing Officer in 3 Steps

Those exploring how to become a chief nursing officer should be aware that this career path involves several key steps. Each of these steps helps equip individuals with the advanced clinical and leadership skills the role demands.

1. Meet the Education Requirements

The typical educational benchmark for a chief nursing officer is a master’s degree. Because of the nature of the role, organizations typically look for CNO candidates who have a strong business acumen, which can be developed by pursuing an advanced degree such as a DNP. The majority of nurses entering a DNP program will have previous clinical experience, which may accelerate their career growth following graduation. The degree’s focus on concepts like nursing leadership can help equip them to confidently handle a CNO’s multifaceted duties.

2. Meet the Experience Requirements

A CNO is fundamentally a nursing role. For this reason, it’s expected that prospective candidates gain extensive experience in the nursing field. Achievement of this is twofold. CNOs typically gain nursing experience as registered nurses (RN), which provides hands-on experience in the field and helps them build a professional network. CNOs also commonly gain at least five years of experience in a health care managerial role to hone their administrative and business skills in a health care environment. Typical roles include nurse manager, clinical leader, or department head.

3. Gain Certification

While earning certification isn’t technically required to become a CNO, it can help a potential candidate stand out from the competition. Certification can provide further validation of a candidate’s knowledge and skill set, which may be advantageous in the eyes of various employers. Common certifications include Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP), Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE), and Clinical Nurse Leader (CNL).

Skills Needed to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

Professionals interested in learning how to become a chief nursing officer must be prepared to operate in the dynamic health care landscape. The delivery of health care has changed in recent years, and new laws, regulations, and technologies have impacted how nurses provide care to patients. A CNO who has developed competent management skills — through a DNP program, for example — will be better prepared to work in this evolving environment.


CNOs dedicate a significant portion of their time to financial management, including structuring budgets for support staffing, equipment, and supplies. Maintaining these budgets is particularly important as health care systems shift to pay-for-performance models. Facilities need to provide consistent, quality care across the health network and at the lowest possible cost.

Technical Skills

A CNO should continually leverage health care informatics and analytics to create strategic plans and budgets. By having the technical skills to compare data with other health care systems, a CNO can set achievable goals for patient care and operational efficiency.

Understanding of Information Technology

Fortunately, advancements in information technology (IT) systems have made it easier for CNOs to understand data connections and share results with staff. These systems also have standardized processes to maximize the amount of time a staff spends delivering patient care rather than completing administrative tasks. A CNO must continually look for opportunities to leverage IT systems and understand how to best apply them to current practices.


While they manage the administrative aspects of their departments, chief nursing officers must also provide adequate leadership to the nurses who work for them. To achieve strategic goals, a CNO needs to be available to effectively manage a workforce of nursing professionals by providing mentorship and establishing a model for professional development.

Development and Training

To prepare their staff for the increasingly complex issues that are developing in the medical industry, CNOs must also facilitate professional advancement among their direct reports by encouraging them to pursue continuing education and certification opportunities.

A chief nursing officer speaks with a team of nurses in a conference room. Chief Nursing Officer Salary and Career Outlook

Those considering this career path will also likely be interested in the typical chief nursing officer salary. Due to the demands of the role and the high level of skill required, compensation is often generous. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for a CNO was approximately $135,000 in November 2022. A few parameters can influence the precise salary that an individual may receive in the role such as their level of experience and the location of a particular job.

Career Growth for Chief Nursing Officers

Growing demand for health care services will translate to increasing opportunities for many health care roles in the coming years, including CNOs. And because CNOs can work in any setting where health care is provided — including hospitals, outpatient care centers, clinics, physician practices, health care system offices, insurance companies, and specialty care practices — the job outlook for this role is promising.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the demand for medical and health services managers such as CNOs will grow by 28% between 2021 and 2031, adding more than 136,000 new jobs.

Pursue an Advanced Degree in Nursing

Health care administrators are nimble professionals who must manage their organizations’ budgetary, technological, ethical, and regulatory demands while ensuring that patients receive outstanding care. If you’re an undergraduate and interested in becoming a chief nursing officer, you might consider pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree through Regis College’s BSN to DNP online program. This flexible, rigorous degree is designed to help you develop the expertise needed to lead a facility’s nursing department through the twists and turns of the health care field. See how we can help get you ready to guide health care at an advanced level.

Recommended Readings

5 Skills Every Health Care Leader Needs

The Healthcare Social Justice Movement

How Continuity of Care Nursing Impacts Health Care


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, CNL Certification

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, Certified in Executive Nursing Practice Certification

Houston Chronicle, “Function & Responsibilities of a Chief Nurse”

Indeed, “How to Become a Nursing Officer in 5 Steps”

Indeed, “What Is a Chief Nursing Officer and What Do They Do?”

Medical Group Management Association, Certification

Payscale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Medical and Health Services Managers