How to Become a Chief Nursing Officer

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A chief nursing officer must excel in clinical care and management.
A chief nursing officer must excel in clinical care and management. (Image: Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

A chief nursing officer plays a powerful and invaluable role in the operation of a hospital. She sets the standards for nursing care and oversees all nursing operations -- which deliver a large potion of the care patients receive. Nurses are responsible not just for patient treatment but for patient safety and well-being, which makes a CNO's responsibilities very serious. Although CNOs are necessarily nurses, it takes more than great nursing skills to reach such a high-level position. Managerial skills and prowess matter as much as clinical ability.

Obtain a bachelor of science degree in nursing. If you are a registered nurse with a nursing diploma or entrance into a four-year program isn't possible, diploma to BSN bridge programs can help you get your degree.

Work several years in a hospital. Choose high acuity settings such as the emergency department, intensive care unity and cardiac telemetry. Operating room experience is also useful. This will help you gain a solid understanding of acute care nursing and how several key departments and units operate.

Seek promotions to shift lead, charge nurse and nurse manager positions. You need a record of success in positions of responsibility. In each position, improve clinical outcomes, employee satisfaction and cost performance. These are measures of success for nurse managers.

Enroll in a graduate degree program. You have several choices that can benefit your career including Master of Science in Nursing, Master of Public Health and Master of Business Administration degrees. Each of these provides knowledge and skills applicable to a career in higher levels of nurse management.

Apply for department administrator and assistant or associate chief nursing officer positions. These advanced administrative positions will take you away from direct patient care and into the administrative workings of the hospital. Take advantage of mentorship opportunities by working closely with your supervisors and administrators. Volunteer to take on special projects and challenges to increase your knowledge and standing within your organization.

Apply to CNO positions at facilities throughout the country, particularly small community hospitals. Getting your first job as a CNO can be challenging both because you lack experience and because CNO openings are rare. Use job boards and listings in industry publications to help locate opportunities. Also attend nursing conferences and network with colleagues and professionals you know to learn about openings that may not yet be official or advertised.

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