Nurses are the backbone of our health care system. The nearly 4.3 million nurses in the U.S. represent the largest staffing component of health care and account for almost 40% of health care organizations’ operating costs, according to the American Nurses Association (ANA). Working across the full spectrum of health care, nurses are a critical component in achieving positive health outcomes.
Given nurses’ essential role in health care, health care organizations need to support nurses, ensure they have adequate resources and work to maintain overall nurse morale. Nurses also need to feel that someone represents their interests with executive management. The role of chief nursing officer is specifically designed for those purposes.
Interacting with both nursing staff and executive management, chief nursing officers have a combination of clinical expertise and business skills that enables them to develop strategies related to nursing, monitor nursing budgets and ensure compliance with nursing standards, among other tasks. If you’ve been considering pursuing a master’s degree in health administration online to move into a leadership role such as chief nursing officer, learning about the position and what it entails is important.
The Responsibilities of a Chief Nursing Officer
A chief nursing officer is responsible for overseeing a health care organization’s entire nursing practice, according to nursing organization ANA Enterprise. Typically reporting to a health care organization’s chief executive officer or president, the chief nursing officer is responsible for key functions such as:
- Developing nursing strategies that align with an organization’s mission and goals
- Conducting financial forecasting and ensuring budget accountability with respect to an organization’s nursing staff
- Making high-level business decisions related to an organization’s nursing staff
- Helping to ensure health care safety and quality, as well as approving an organization’s model for the delivery of nursing care
- Developing and overseeing initiatives to encourage patient engagement
- Overseeing compliance with nursing standards, regulations and laws
The Importance of Good Communication and Presentation Skills
With responsibilities that extend into numerous areas of a health care organization’s operations, successful chief nursing officers need to have certain soft skills.
Chief nursing officers frequently interact with nursing staff and executive management, as well as leaders in the community and consumers of health care, the ANA Enterprise notes. They also are called upon to lead presentations before an array of different groups. Communities see the chief nursing officer as the face of a health care organization, according to the ANA Enterprise. Therefore, well-developed communication skills and the ability to present information clearly are key ingredients in becoming an effective chief nursing officer.
The Effects of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all areas of health care, including the responsibilities of chief nursing officers. For example, a 2021 report in HealthLeaders underscored how the pandemic has reinforced the importance of chief nursing officers’ abilities to:
- Conduct succession planning and recruit nursing staff, particularly in light of nurse retirements and turnover
- Develop effective nurse retention strategies
- Provide emotional and mental health support to nursing staff
- Boost the morale of nurses who are experiencing burnout
- Maintain and strengthen nursing engagement
The Path to Becoming a Chief Nursing Officer
Becoming a chief nursing officer involves fulfilling certain educational, experiential and leadership requirements. As employment website Indeed explains, to become a chief nursing officer, an individual typically needs to:
- Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Become a registered nurse, which entails passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and obtaining a state license
- Gain clinical, administrative and managerial work experience
- Earn a master’s degree in a discipline such as nursing leadership or health care administration
- Consider pursuing a nurse leadership or nurse executive certification
Nurses need to have a minimum of three to five years of work experience in progressively higher nursing leadership positions (such as nurse manager or director of nursing) before they can become chief nursing officers, according to the ANA Enterprise. In addition, while most chief nursing officers have backgrounds working in acute care (because most registered nurses work in acute care), according to a 2020 report in HealthLeaders, chief nursing officers benefit from also having experience working in other areas, such as long-term care or post-acute services.
Nurses have a variety of certifications they can pursue to strengthen their leadership and executive credentials when pursuing chief nursing officer positions. For example, they can earn:
- The American Organization for Nursing Leadership’s Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) certification
- The American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Nurse Executive (NE-BC) certification
Chief Nursing Officer Salary Information and Job Outlook
The salaries and job prospects for chief nursing officers are promising. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for medical and health services managers was $104,280 as of May 2020. The BLS also projects that, between 2020 and 2030, jobs for medical and health services managers will grow by 32%, whereas the average projected job growth is 8%.
The median annual salary specifically for chief nursing officers, according to employment and compensation website PayScale, was approximately $135,000 as of April 2022. Of course, chief nursing officer salaries vary based on factors such as level of experience, size of the health care organization and location.
A Rewarding Career as a Chief Nursing Officer
Chief nursing officers play a critical role in health care. In addition to overseeing a health care organization’s nurses, they serve as a bridge between clinical nursing staff and executive management and help to ensure that the organization supports nurses and provides optimal care.
If you’re interested in working in a leadership role such as chief nursing officer, explore USC’s online Executive Master of Health Administration program. Providing clinical and management professionals with the opportunity to build their leadership expertise, the degree program enables students to deepen their knowledge of business and gain expertise in health management practice. Embark on your journey to health care leadership today.