How Much Does a Chief Nursing Officer Make?

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Every hospital has a front-line medical team working hands-on with patients to provide high-quality care. To ensure positive patient outcomes, registered nurses (RNs) abide by a set of best practices and operate in a way that aligns with the values, mission, and vision of the health care facility in which they work. The chief nursing officer (CNO), also known as the director of nursing, sets these organizational standards.

Although CNOs don’t work with patients directly, they’re directly responsible for ensuring their organizations and teams of nurses have everything they need to deliver high-quality care. The CNO position is one of the highest-level positions a person in the health care industry can attain. Considering the amount of responsibility that CNOs have, combined with the years of education and experience it takes to qualify for the position, it should come as no surprise that the role is one of the highest paid in all of health care.

Several factors can affect how much chief nursing officers make. An advanced nursing degree can help students understand these factors thoroughly and hone the skills to succeed as a CNO.

Chief nursing officer sitting and working at a desk with a computer.

What Is a Chief Nursing Officer?

The role of a CNO is purely administrative; however, even though CNOs don’t work directly with patients, much of their work is reflected in how patient care is delivered via the nursing staff. The typical duties of a chief nursing officer include:

  • Hiring, developing, and supervising nursing staff
  • Serving as the spokesperson for nursing staff
  • Developing a set of best practices for the facility; ensuring the staff abides by these best practices
  • Making sure the medical staff abides by state, local, and federal health care policies and regulations
  • Identifying areas of opportunity and finding ways to achieve better patient outcomes; setting performance goals for nursing staff
  • Overseeing the organization’s finances and budget by department; purchasing hospital resources and equipment
  • Collaborating with managers, administrators, and other health care leaders

CNOs are most commonly found in hospitals and other health care facilities; however, they also work in government agencies, private practices, the corporate offices of health care systems and insurance companies, outpatient clinics, and rehabilitation facilities.

How Much Does a Chief Nursing Officer Make?

CNOs typically earn high salaries. However, numerous factors, such as experience, region, and the facility that employs them, affect their compensation.

How much a chief nursing officer makes can be seen by examining the current salary range, salary levels by experience, and salary differentials by region.

CNO Salary Range

Based on the most recent data from PayScale, CNOs in the lowest 10th percentile have an approximate annual salary of $94,000. CNOs in the middle of the salary spectrum earn approximately $135,000. Finally, CNOs in the 90th percentile earn approximately $202,000.

CNO Salary by Experience

The number of years of experience has a direct correlation with what a CNO makes annually. The following salary data is from PayScale:

  • Less than one year of experience: $120,000
  • One to four years of experience: $121,000
  • Five to nine years of experience: $123,000
  • 10 to 19 years of experience: $136,000
  • 20+ years of experience: $148,000

CNO Salary by Location

Physical location also has a great impact on salary. For example, CNOs in Chicago make an average of 45.7% more than the national average, according to PayScale. CNOs in Los Angeles make 33.6% more, while those in Houston make 11.4% more than the national average.

Location, the payroll limitations of the facility hiring, and demand for the position all play a role in what salary is ultimately offered to the candidate.

What Are the Salary Figures Based on Certification and Education?

Two other major factors that affect how much a chief nursing officer makes are certifications and education. Those with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree have an approximate annual salary of $97,000, according to PayScale. Comparatively, those with a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree have an approximate annual salary of $106,000.

Certifications also play a role in a CNO’s salary. PayScale reports that someone who is a Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE) makes an approximate annual salary of $85,000. Someone with the Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP) certification makes $121,000 annually, according to PayScale.

Paths to Become a CNO

The first step to becoming a CNO is to become a registered nurse (RN). This is accomplished by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), and then obtaining licensure in the state of practice.

Those who wish to become a CNO should go on to pursue an advanced degree in nursing. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN-DNP) program is a great fit for those who aspire to become a CNO or attain another high-ranking position in the health care field.

Some BSN graduates choose to pursue a master’s degree. They may choose an MSN program or a degree program that focuses on business and health care, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Health Administration (MHA) program. Either choice can serve as a steppingstone to becoming a CNO.

Finally, certifications serve as a way of letting the health care industry know that a person has the  knowledge and skills to hold a high-level role. Nurse leaders and CNOs who are engaged in executive nursing practice are encouraged to consider the CENP and CMPE certifications, which may be obtained through the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) and the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), respectively.

Begin the Journey to Becoming a Chief Nursing Officer

Chief nursing officers ensure their teams of nurses have the resources and equipment they need to deliver high-quality health care. Although the CNO role is administrative in nature, CNOs deliver positive patient outcomes by establishing best practices and ensuring their teams always follow the latest in health care laws and regulations. The important work they do positions their teams of front-line medical workers to succeed and is reflected in how much chief nursing officers make.

The best way to pursue a position as a CNO is through education and certification, such as Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online BSN-DNP program. It features a curriculum that the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has approved, ensuring students gain the skills and knowledge they need to become leaders in the health care industry.

Explore Hawai‘i Pacific University’s program today so you can begin making a difference as a CNO.

Recommended Reading:

10 Effective Nursing Communication Skills for Nurse Leaders

Nursing Advocacy: The Role of Nurses Advocating for Patients

What Is Evidence-Based Practice in Nursing? 


American Association of Colleges of Nursing, CNL Certification

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

Incredible Health, “What Is a Chief Nursing Officer?”

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

Medical Group Management Association, Certification

PayScale, Average Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Salary

PayScale, Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Degree

PayScale, Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

PayScale, Salary for Certification: Certified in Executive Nursing Practice (CENP)

PayScale, Salary for Certification: Certified Medical Practice Executive (CMPE)