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Function & Responsibilities of a Chief Nurse

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Because health care services are becoming more complex and competitive in the early 21st century, nursing leadership positions are gaining prominence by the day. A chief nurse, also known as chief nursing officer, implements established objectives, policies and procedures, supervises nurses, recommends strategies to improve service delivery and ensures health care operations meet industry standards. To qualify for this position, you must be a registered nurse, preferably with an advanced degree in nursing or health care administration.

Measuring Quality

A chief nurse develops and implements effective programs to evaluate the quality of health care services and patient outcomes. For example, a chief nurse working in a community hospital may conduct a consumer survey to detect satisfaction levels. If the survey reveals that some nurses are ignorant of procedures, for instance, the chief nurse may launch an investigation to identify the rogue nurses and initiate appropriate disciplinary actions. The chief nursing officer also identifies opportunities for enhancing health care quality and may provide information to help consumers choose among health plans and providers.

Managing Resources

Chief nurses help health facilities manage human and financial resources through proper deployment of nurses -- which is crucial in improving patient health outcomes -- and use of drugs and equipment. A chief nurse working in an outpatient center, for example, ensures optimal staffing of all departments and assigns specific tasks to nurses depending on everyday needs to improve service delivery. He also monitors usage of drugs to minimize misuse and ensure purchase orders are consistent with the facility’s needs.

Providing Leadership

Being an administrative official who supervises operations in a health facility, a chief nurse helps nurses handle day-to-day work challenges. When a nurse working in the emergency department can’t operate newly installed equipment, for example, use your knowledge of information technology applications to help the nurse improve his technical skills. You also can offer guidance on issues such as patient safety, shared governance and career development. An effective chief nurse can think and make good decisions on her feet.

Representing Nurses

Efficient communication in health systems is crucial to delivery of quality health care. A chief nurses uses her position in middle-level management to facilitate flow of information between senior managers and junior nurses. When a health facility holds a meeting to revise institutional policies, for example, the chief nurse presents the views of nurses to the board and advises against adoption of policies that may negatively affect performance of nurses. A good chief nurse must find the balance between protecting the interests of the facility and those of nurses.


Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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