You can make a lot of money as a nurse if you’re willing to take your career to the next level. Demand for advanced-level nurse practitioners is on the rise all over the country. The number of jobs for nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives is expected to grow 40% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
NPs have a master’s degree and earn a median salary of $120,000 a year, according to the latest figures. But that is just the start. If you work as a C-suite chief nursing officer, you can make anywhere from $180,000 to $300,000 a year.
Rather than spend time with patients, CNOs oversee the entire care experience, creating a safe, efficient, and equitable environment for providers and patients. They often balance the needs of the patients while trying to reduce the cost per capita of healthcare. They develop and manage the department’s annual operating budget while creating a long-term expenditure plan. Some health systems manage anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 registered nurses, so the “span of control can be large” for CNOs, says Beth Brooks, a clinical adviser to Vivian Health.
“There is always a need for nurse leaders in executive practice—whether in community-based organizations, home care or hospice organizations, hospitals or health systems, long-term care or skilled nursing facilities, ambulatory and outpatient settings, primary care practices or boardrooms,” Brooks explains.
So, how can you make the most money for your time as a CNO?
It all starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Once you earn a BSN, you will need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to get your RN license. This will allow you to practice as an RN, but you will need to continue your education by getting a master’s degree.
“Generally speaking, a nurse who aspires to a leadership role will complete one-to-three years as a staff nurse leading a team to provide bedside nursing care, followed by experience as a charge nurse or assistant manager,” Brooks says. “Typically, these are the entry-level management positions. After three-to-five years of management experience, many nurse leaders return to graduate school.”
Getting a master’s degree in nursing will help you become a nurse practitioner, nurse anesthetist, or nurse midwife. The number of advanced care nurses has increased by more than 9% over the last year alone.
Around 90% of NPs have a master’s degree and about 5% have a doctorate in nursing.
Brooks says you might also need to get a Ph.D in nursing to land a high-paying CNO position. “Due to the complexity of today’s healthcare systems and the broad span of control, many CNOs also complete a terminal degree such as the science-based Ph.D. or clinically-based doctor of nursing practice in executive leadership,” she explains.
Some chief nursing officers also have a master’s in business (MBA), a master’s in health administration (MHA), or a master’s in public health (MPH).
Brooks says you will need to gain some management experience by overseeing smaller units before applying for a CNO position. “The best way to prepare for a career in nursing executive practice is to volunteer to lead project teams at the unit or department level such as quality improvement, patient safety, value-chain analysis and the like,” Brooks says.
You can also try chairing a leadership committee, working on evidence-based practice models, or designing policies and procedures to develop essential experience.
From there, Brooks says you’ll need to rise through the ranks of the nursing department to become a department manager. This means having around-the-clock responsibilities. You can’t just clock out at the end of the day and go home. Brooks says you may also oversee the pharmacy, nutrition services, radiology, and respiratory therapy as part of your job, so it’s important to have a well-rounded background.
“Nursing executive practice is a dynamic, rewarding and challenging specialty area within the nursing profession,” Brooks says. It requires “business acumen, communication and negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, and leadership focused on quality patient outcomes.”