Chief Nursing Officer Q&A: Career Path from RN to CNO

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There are many paths to becoming a CNO, but you need a master’s degree and at least five or six years of prior nursing experience. Meredith Robison started as a medical-surgical nurse before transitioning to a nursing manager position and eventually landed her first CNO role. She encourages students to pursue higher degrees and prioritize patient care.

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Nursing is an incredibly diverse field, with many career paths to choose from. Some nurses, such as nurse practitioners, focus on advancing within their care practice, while others pursue leadership-oriented positions, including chief nursing officers (CNOs).

At Utica University, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program and our Advanced Standing BS in Nursing program prepare students to pass the NCLEX exam and enter their nursing roles with confidence and experience, positioned to strive for more advanced positions later. If you have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree or 65 credits from a regionally accredited college or university, you may be eligible to receive your BS in Nursing in as few as 16 months from Utica University.

From there, you can work toward an advanced chief nursing officer role.

What is a CNO?

As a chief nursing officer, you will lead the nursing team at your healthcare organization. The CNO’s responsibilities are managing team finances, organizing schedules, onboarding new nurses, integrating new technologies and implementing care plans.

As an advanced role, the CNO position typically requires an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree. Employers also look for at least five or six years of experience in a healthcare setting fulfilling nursing-specific duties. Many employers want candidates to have prior leadership experience before entering this role.

Chief nursing officers are often referred to as the Vice President of Nursing and are responsible for implementing strategies that ensure the facility’s long-term success.

student nurse with book

To better understand the role, we spoke with Meredith Robison, CNO of St. Peter’s Health Partners Acute Care (SPHP). Here’s what she had to say about her journey into the CNO role and her insights into the nursing profession:

What was the path from an ICU RN to a Chief Nursing Officer like?

After I graduated from college, I worked for one year in medical-surgical nursing, then went into the ICU. I worked as a bedside RN for seven years before accepting a job as the unit manager. I stayed in that role for almost three years before we moved back to New York. When I returned to New York, I was the ICU nurse manager at Ellis Hospital.

From there, I was a director of general medicine and was appointed the associate Chief Nursing Officer. In 2016, I left Ellis and came to St. Peter’s as the director of outpatient oncology. And that was a switch! But it was a wonderful learning experience. Then, in 2022, I went to Ellis as part of SPHP to be the CNO, where I stayed for about 1.5 years and transitioned back to SPHP Acute Care to be the CNO.

Would you say that is a traditional path into your role?

I think so. I could try new things like outpatient oncology and continue to learn new parts of the healthcare system, which helped me become more well-rounded.

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Are you curious about furthering your nursing education? Learn how a BS in Nursing prepares you for advanced nursing degrees.

What does the day-to-day look like for a CNO?

Busy… All day long. I try to get out and around at least two times a week. Otherwise, I am with my team and in meetings. We are constantly evaluating what we are doing, looking at our quality and looking for ways to improve.

Did you know from the beginning of your career that you wanted to pursue nursing management?

Not really… I started in leadership by doing relief house supervision, which I loved. Once I did that, then yes, I knew I liked leadership.

Meredith Robison portrait

What advice can you give ABSN students to set themselves up at the beginning of their careers for eventually landing these advanced roles?

Learn as much as you can. Spend a year doing med-surg at night. There is no better way to learn how to be a nurse than that time. Keep learning and trying new things. That’s the beauty of nursing. You can keep trying and learning.

Can you offer an inside look at the hiring process in the nursing field and what skills and experience you look for in a candidate?

I look for someone who can carry a conversation, make eye contact, and is passionate about caring for patients. We can teach skills, but we can’t teach compassion or empathy.

What are some top characteristics you have seen in successful newly hired nurses?

Willingness to learn and to listen. Be willing to attend all the nursing residency classes. Don’t be afraid to try new things; have confidence in yourself.

Considering applying to nursing school? Discover 8 traits that prove nursing is right for you.

nurse with patient

Is there anything that gives Utica ABSN program graduates a leg-up in the nursing hiring process?

Your relationship with the clinical instructors and the nurses on the floor!

What can students do to prepare for their first nursing interview?

Come prepared with some questions for us. As much as we are interviewing you, you need to interview us. Make sure it’s somewhere you want to be. Be able to speak about yourself with confidence.

You gained experience as an Associate Chief Nursing Officer and a Nursing Manager before your role as CNO. Plus, you have multiple degrees and career accolades under your belt. What would you say to the students who want to know more about your experience and background, and what is your vision for the future of nursing?

Keep going for your dreams. Get the next degree. Take one class at a time if need be. But just do it. Don’t be afraid to take that next step. I love what I do, and I am thrilled that I get to support nurses. While I don’t take care of patients anymore, I take care of the team that takes care of patients. Every job I have held has taught me something new and different and allowed me to build my skills.

I feel lucky to be a Chief Nurse and to be able to help craft our profession. My vision for the nursing profession is simple. We need to care for patients. Period. Treat them like they are a member of your family. Treat them the way you would expect to be treated. Nursing isn’t just a job. It’s a calling and a profession, and we need to be professionals.

What advice would you give to students considering an ABSN program or a nursing degree in general?

There is no better profession than being a nurse; you can’t tell me otherwise. Continue your education. Once you have your degree, no one can take it away from you.

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How or in what way is the ABSN program helping to address the nursing shortage, in your opinion?

Programs that help get nurses into the care setting are going to help. We need more programs like the Utica program!

Contact one of our dedicated admission representatives to learn more about Utica’s ABSN program.

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