The Advantages of a CNO Earning a DNP

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Chief nursing officers are expected to have in-depth knowledge of nursing, from bedside care to human resources management.

Chief nursing officers (CNOs) are expected to have in-depth knowledge of the nursing field, from bedside care to human resources management. Considered the highest-ranking nurse administration position, CNOs must be able to use their knowledge and experience to generate solutions in an ever-changing medical field.

CNOs are increasingly pursuing advanced degrees to position themselves for emerging opportunities, according to Joan Ellis Beglinger. CNOs, she writes, “express an understanding of the tremendous fluidity of healthcare structures and roles, fueled by the turmoil of the changing healthcare environment.”

CNOs work primarily in a business environment, using a skill set that is not traditionally found in a master’s-level nursing curriculum, write Michelle L. Swanson, and Marietta P. Stanton, in “Chief Nursing Officers’ Perceptions of the Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree.” The essentials of the DNP degree, they note, “are designed to address this gap in education while maintaining the focus on advanced nursing practice and executive management competency.”

The nursing curriculum offered in Duquesne University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program pairs advanced business knowledge with evidence-based clinical care. CNOs seeking a DNP degree have the opportunity to become more efficient and generate innovative solutions in their role as nurse executives.

The Importance of a DNP Degree

Nurses have long held influential positions in providing patient care. However, the evolution of the medical industry is resulting in “new opportunities for nurses to become healthcare executives, policymakers, government officials, and business leaders,” according to “This shift towards placing more experienced nurses in high-level executive leadership roles and within increasingly complex healthcare environments demands a higher level of educational preparation.”

DNP programs, according to, “emphasize areas that support nursing leadership, such as systems management, quality improvement and data-driven decision-making.” Other degree programs tend to concentrate on research, scholarly analysis or high-level specialty skills.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses’ (AACN) “Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice” includes an “organizational and systems leadership component that emphasizes practice, ongoing improvement of health outcomes and ensuring patient safety.”

According to the AACN, graduates of a DNP program should be able to:

  • Develop and evaluate care delivery approaches based on scientific findings in nursing and other clinical sciences, as well as organizational, political and economic sciences.
  • Ensure accountability for quality of healthcare and patient safety.
  • Develop effective strategies for managing the ethical dilemmas found in patient care, the healthcare organization and research.

Preparing Executive Nurses for Leadership Through the DNP Program

DNP nurses are moving beyond traditional leadership roles and into more senior executive-level positions. The DNP graduate “has the capacity to engage proactively in the development and implementation of health policy at all levels, including institutional, local, state, regional, federal and international levels,” according to the AACN. Nurses with a DNP degree are expected to analyze health policy and demonstrate leadership in development of a policy that shapes healthcare financing, regulation and delivery.

DNP nurses have the opportunity to develop their expertise because DNP programs provide extensive study in:

  • Work with vulnerable populations
  • Fiscal and human resource management
  • Quality Magnet achievement
  • Emerging technology
  • Organizational research in clinical issues

DNP students also can explore other factors that affect leadership, including:

  • Leadership Style: Comparing leadership models, such as authoritarian leadership and Magnet certification leadership.
  • Evidence-Based Management Practices: Embracing evidence-based practice and strategizing about its use in management practices.
  • Collaboration: Working within teams to achieve the goals of an organization. Students are also taught to transcend barriers for collaboration, “such as work-related boundary concerns and competition.”

DNP graduates, according to the AACN, should have the ability to “conceptualize new care delivery models that are based in contemporary nursing science and that are feasible within current organizational, political, cultural and economic perspectives.”

Benefits for the Graduate of a DNP Program

A nurse who pursues a DNP receives “practice-based training on the clinical applications of higher-level nursing knowledge,” according to Course content focuses on analysis of data and statistics, leadership and nursing philosophy.

With their specialized expertise, graduates of the DNP program should be prepared to:

  • Effect change with the implementation of policies within a healthcare system composed of varying constituents
  • Assume leadership roles as an educator, administrator or advanced clinician
  • Demonstrate accountability in nursing standards defined under patient care
  • Use advanced skills in the planning of health management
  • Analyze critical indicators in a healthcare system or provide multidisciplinary leadership
  • Understand research findings and translate them into practice

CNOs who pursue a DNP reap the benefits of a deep and challenging experience that includes new theories, new applications, experienced professors and peer mentors, according to JONA: Journal of Nursing Administration. They also can benefit from increased confidence and expanded peer networks.

Broadened Opportunity for Leadership Roles

Fewer than 1 percent of American nurses have a doctoral degree, according to NursingLink, a nurses’ career resource that’s part of The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) influential 2012 report, “The Future of Nursing,” called for more nurses to seek higher education and advanced degrees, particularly a DNP. To provide the most effective patient care, the IOM noted, the number of nurses with a doctorate would need to double by 2020.

As more nurses follow the IOM’s recommendation and pursue additional degrees, landing a position as a CNO will become more competitive. A DNP from a respected program can give a candidate an edge over those without the degree.

About Duquesne University’s Online DNP Program

Duquesne University’s online DNP program offers students the knowledge that can help them position themselves for leadership roles in the healthcare community. CNOs with a DNP degree use their clinical experience and gain insight necessary to identify issues and effect change in practice delivery.

DU’s online DNP program provides the convenience of online learning so nurses can study while meeting their professional and family obligations. For more information, visit DU’s online DNP program website.



CNOs Gearing Up While Many Are Winding Down: The Late Career DNP: Lippincott NursingCenter

Chief Nursing Officers’ Perceptions of the Doctorate of Nursing Practice Degree: Research Gate

The Unique Contributions DNP-Prepared Nurses Bring to Executive Leadership:

The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice: AACN

Health System Chief Nurse Executive: Is a DNP the Degree of Choice? NursingCenter

Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP):

5 Reasons to get a PhD/DNP: NursingLink

The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health Recommendation: Institute of Medicine of the National Academies