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The Role of a CNO and How to Become One

An MSN degree with a nurse executive specialization can prepare you to step into a chief nursing officer position.

By pursuing a career in nursing, you’ve already shown a commitment to delivering quality healthcare and a dedication to patient safety. If you’re ready to expand your sphere of influence and inspire others to achieve excellence, you may want to consider the role of a chief nursing officer (CNO).

As nurse leaders, CNOs manage healthcare facilities, medical offices, or departments of all sizes and kinds. A CNO’s job functions are similar to those of top executives in other industries. Nurse managers may be in charge of drafting organizational policies, strategic planning, budgeting, supervising a team of direct reports, and a host of other high-level duties. Whether CNOs lead sprawling healthcare facilities or moderately sized medical offices, they must use well-developed leadership, business, and communication skills. They must draw on deep experience and knowledge and adhere to the highest professional standards.

The Role of a CNO and How to Become One

Simply put, CNOs are leaders.

What Will I Do as a CNO?

CNOs’ roles and duties vary, which is an attribute that goes into the “pro” column for many nurse managers interested in advancing their careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some typical duties of medical and health services managers:1

  • Improve efficiency and quality in delivering healthcare services.
  • Develop departmental goals and objectives.
  • Ensure that the facility in which they work is up to date on and compliant with laws and regulations.
  • Recruit, train, and supervise staff members.
  • Manage the finances of the facility, such as patient fees and billing.
    Create work schedules.
  • Prepare and monitor budgets and spending to ensure departments operate within funding limits.
  • Represent the facility at investor meetings or on governing boards.
  • Keep and organize records of the facility’s services, such as the number of inpatient beds used.
  • Communicate with members of the medical staff and department heads.

How Can I Become a CNO?

The path many RNs take to top leadership positions includes a master’s degree in nursing, the academic credential most employers prefer or require. Many healthcare organizations also require several years of nursing management experience.

As you explore nursing school options, look for an online MSN program that’s accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). The best master’s in nursing programs offer a nurse executive specialization to help sharpen your skills and expand your knowledge to prepare you to lead at the highest levels in healthcare.

A leadership in nursing focus may include courses in finance and economics, human resources, and strategic planning, along with core classes on improving care, technology, research, leadership, and much more.

The best online nursing schools offer degree programs customized to the educational level you’ve already achieved to deliver the most efficient and cost-effective experience. Registered nurses with a BS in Nursing may choose a BSN to MSN track. If you hold a hospital diploma, associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor’s degree other than a BSN, look for an RN to MSN online track. Top nursing schools also may offer an RN to BSN Accelerated Into Master’s, allowing you to save time and money while simultaneously earning your bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Select universities will also offer their MSN program in both a course-based and competency-based format to suit different learning styles.

What Can I Expect to Earn as a Nurse Leader?

When you step into a top healthcare position, you’re likely to see your compensation package grow to match the expanded scope of your responsibilities. Salaries vary depending on multiple factors, but according to several surveys:

  • The average annual salary in the U.S. for all CNOs is $127,900. The average yearly pay for a CNO with less than five years of experience is $111,255. For late-career CNOs, the average annual wage is $143,371.2
  • Geographic location has a strong bearing on earning potential. CNOs in Los Angeles receive about 41% more than the national average. Other cities where CNOs may receive higher-than-average compensation packages include Miami, +19%; Chicago, +21%; and Houston, +10%.2
  • Cities where CNO salaries fall below the national average include San Antonio, -3%; and Dallas, -8%.2
  • The growth rate for healthcare executive and administrator jobs is pacing at 18% through 2028, resulting in an additional 71,600 positions.3

When Can I Get Started on My Degree?

At Walden University, No. 1 in Master of Science in Nursing graduates in the United States,4 your degree program begins when you are ready. Walden’s innovative online MSN program offers rolling start dates so you can design the timeline that’s right for you. Your MSN degree program is at your fingertips in a flexible, online learning platform that travels with you.

The healthcare industry is looking for gifted nurse leaders. If that’s your passion, heed the call and become a CNO who improves the delivery and quality of patient care and inspires staffs to excellence. Get started on an MSN degree today and let the skills and knowledge you gain propel you to a top leadership position.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a Master of Science in Nursing degree program online featuring eight specializations as well as course-based and competency-based formats. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


1Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-2
2Source: www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Chief_Nursing_Officer_(CNO)/Salary
3Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm#tab-1
4Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) IPEDS database. Retrieved July 2017, using CIP code 51.3801 (Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse). Includes 2016 preliminary data.</p>

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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