Nurses are the most important people in the medical field. They are responsible for the care of patients and work closely with doctors to ensure that everyone receives the best possible treatment.

In the U.S, there are nearly 4.3 million registered nurses. Of these, only about 2% will become nurse chiefs. So, what's the secret to becoming a nurse chief?

The qualities that make a great nurse chief are, first and foremost, the same qualities that make a great nurse. A passion for nursing, excellent clinical skills, strong leadership abilities, and a commitment to and advocacy for the nursing profession are all essential. A successful nurse leader also deeply understands the healthcare business and can effectively navigate the complex political landscape. In all occupations, you can do a few crucial things to ensure success. If you want to become a nurse chief, the same rules apply.

Becoming a nurse chief is not an easy task. It requires years of experience and dedication to the profession. However, it is possible to achieve this goal if you are willing to put in the hard work.

If you want to become a nurse chief, read on to explore the necessary steps to take and the challenges you may face along the way.

Get experience in a variety of nursing roles

To become a nurse chief, you must have a wealth of experience in different nursing roles. It will give you a well-rounded understanding of the field and see the big picture of how all the different pieces fit together. The qualification process for nurse chiefs requires a minimum of five years in a full-time nursing role.

The chief nursing officer salary (CNO) is the second highest paid nursing position, with an average salary of $135,000 per year. But it doesn't stop there. Several benefits come with the position, such as job satisfaction, personal growth, and opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of others.

Develop your leadership skills

As a nurse chief, you will be responsible for leading a team of nurses. You must develop your leadership skills to be successful in this role. There are many ways to develop your leadership skills, such as taking on additional responsibilities at work, pursuing educational opportunities, or volunteering for leadership roles in professional organizations.

Apart from these, many hospitals offer leadership development programs specifically for nurses. For instance, the American Nurses Association offers the Executive Leadership Institute. This year-long program provides nurses with the skills they need to become leaders in the healthcare industry.

Get a master's degree in nursing

A master's degree in nursing will give you the knowledge and skills you need to be successful in this role. A master's degree will make you more competitive when applying for jobs. By 2026, there will be a 16% increase in chief nurse employment, substantially quicker than the average for all occupations. You can also pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, the highest level of nursing education. It makes you even more qualified for the role of nurse chief and gives you an advantage when applying for jobs. However, a DNP degree is not required to become a nurse chief. Instead, most nurse chiefs have a master's degree in nursing.

Get certified as a nurse executive

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Certified Nurse Executive (CNE) credential. The CNE credential is the gold standard for nurse leaders and will give you a competitive edge when applying for jobs. To qualify for the CNE credential, you must have a current RN license, a minimum of five years of experience in nursing management, and a master's degree in nursing. You must also pass an exam. The ANCC also offers the Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE) credential for nurse chiefs who want to further their education.

Seek out mentorship and networking opportunities

Mentorship is a key part of becoming a nurse chief. Find a mentor who is already a nurse chief and can provide you with guidance and support. Many professional organizations, such as the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), offer mentorship programs. Networking is also important. Get involved with professional organizations and attend conferences to meet other nurse leaders. These connections will be invaluable as you move up the ladder.

Be prepared to make sacrifices

Becoming a nurse chief requires dedication and hard work. Be prepared to put in long hours and make sacrifices. It is a demanding job, but the rewards are great. As a nurse chief, you will have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and create positive change in the healthcare industry. Many challenges will come with the job, but the satisfaction you get from knowing you are making a difference is worth it.

Take the leap

Sometimes, you will feel like you are not ready to take on this role. But remember, you have the skills and experience to be successful. Take the leap and apply for the job. You may be surprised by how well you do. And once you become a nurse chief, don't forget to pay it forward and mentor others interested in this career.

Be patient

Becoming a nurse chief can be long and challenging, but it is worth it. The satisfaction you will get from knowing you are making a difference in the lives of others is invaluable. So, be patient, work hard, and never give up on your dreams.

Despite challenges you may face along the way, remember why you became a nurse first: to help others. And with that mindset, you will be well on your way to becoming a nurse chief.

It is an exciting time to be a nurse. The healthcare industry is evolving, and nurses play a vital role in this transformation. If you are interested in becoming a nurse chief, now is the time to take the first step.


The most important advice for anyone interested in becoming a nurse chief is to never give up on your dreams. It is a long and challenging journey, but it is worth it. With dedication and hard work, you can be successful in this role. So what are you waiting for? Start your journey today.