How to become a chief nursing information officer (with skills)

Updated 19 February 2023

If you have a passion for both nursing and information technology (IT), a role as a chief nursing information officer (CNIO) is a great career choice. CNIOs act as a connection between IT and medical staff, such as doctors, nurses and clinical managers, to ensure that an organisation's IT meets the needs of its clinical personnel. If a career as a CNIO interests you, learning more about what it takes to succeed in this field can help you secure your ideal job. In this article, we discuss what a CNIO is, explain how to become one in seven steps and share some important skills for this role.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

What is a chief nursing information officer?

A CNIO helps in the design, implementation and adjustment of clinically used digital systems. They train new users and assess the potential risks and governance associated with IT systems. Although this role may differ depending on the needs of the clinical teams they work with, CNIOs typically have the following duties:

Integrate new technologies

One of the main responsibilities of a CNIO involves smoothly integrating new, useful technologies into existing medical environments. This integration creates more efficient medical IT systems, which lead to effective clinical environments for both staff and patients. To integrate new systems, CNIOs may study existing IT systems, research how to improve them and identify how to seamlessly introduce new technology into the workplace.

Related: What is a CIO vs CTO (including definitions & skills)

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Train medical staff

CNIOs also train on-site medical staff after integrating new IT systems to ensure they know how to properly utilise every system feature. Healthcare facilities require thorough and clear staff training on new systems to minimise disruption to day-to-day activities. Training also includes following up with clinical staff once the system is in use to gain feedback on its overall functionality and understand how to further improve it.

Conduct regular testing of integrated IT systems

CNIOs conduct regular tests and audits of pre-existing and newly integrated IT systems. These tests ensure that all IT systems work safely and effectively and conform to industry guidance and compliance rules. This testing process also involves creating new policies that outline the safe use and maintenance of these systems to ensure that they're stable between tests or audits.

How to become a chief nursing information officer

Learning how to become a chief nursing information officer can help you to decide whether this career is for you. It's important to know what practical steps you can take to become a CNIO because this role is specialised and complex. The following are seven steps you can take to start your career as a CNIO:

1. Acquire a bachelor's degree in nursing

The first step to becoming a CNIO is to earn an undergraduate degree in nursing from a certified nursing institution, such as a university. As the role often requires further education, such as a master's degree or PhD, an undergraduate certification is often necessary. There are many different nursing specialisations, from adult nursing to mental health. You may also study dual degrees. These specialisations may influence the areas in which you choose to focus your CNIO career.

There are alternative ways to start a career in nursing other than studying for a traditional degree. For example, you can complete a registered nurse degree apprenticeship, where you spend time at both the university and at a nursing work placement. You may also decide to become a nursing associate, working alongside registered nurses and support workers, before progressing to become a fully registered nurse.

Related: Levels of nursing training (with careers and salaries)

2. Register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council

Once you've completed your training to become a nurse, register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to legitimise your career path. This council acts as the professional regulatory body for all practising nurses in the country and sets the standards of behaviour and clinical practice. To receive this certification, you take a competency test and an English language examination.

3. Gain further nursing experience and continue your education

Next, build your clinical experience and educational training to become as specialised as necessary for this role. For example, you may choose to work in a hospital or clinic in your area of expertise to gain valuable hands-on experience and to familiarise yourself with current IT structures. This experience can help you better understand current medical IT models and prepare for the types of IT needs you may address in a CNIO role.

Continuing your education is an important part of your career progression. Many employers require CNIOs to hold at least a master's degree, usually in nursing leadership or healthcare administration. You may consider achieving a dual master's degree to distinguish yourself from other candidates. For example, you may pursue a healthcare administration specialisation with a related field such as business administration.

Related: How to become a chief information officer (plus duties)

4. Achieve relevant certifications

Next, consider achieving relevant CNIO certifications to advance your career. Although there are no specific CNIO certifications, there are several certifications related to administration, management and leadership in the healthcare sector that may be useful for this role. Some examples of valuable certifications include a post-master's certificate in nurse executive leadership or a clinical nurse leader certificate.

5. Apply for entry-level roles

Aspiring CNIOs build their knowledge and experience within a clinical setting before progressing to a full CNIO role. Applying for jobs in clinical management positions, for example, can help them gain an understanding of the needs a clinic has for its IT systems and areas for future improvement. Some examples of clinical management positions include clinical leader, department manager and nursing manager.

Related: Common non-nursing jobs for nurses changing careers

6. Enrol in a doctoral nursing programme

Although it's not a requirement, some employers prefer to hire CNIOs who hold a PhD. As this is such a highly specialised role, a doctoral degree in nursing or informatics can give candidates the leverage they require to become true experts in the field. Some doctoral programmes that are relevant to this vocation include a doctor of education in nursing, a doctor of nursing practice or a doctor of philosophy in nursing.

7. Apply for roles as a chief nursing information officer

Once you've achieved the relevant educational and clinical experience, you can apply for roles as a CNIO. As many specialise in one aspect of nursing, it's helpful to draw on all your previous, specific experience in nursing and IT when searching for a job. Demonstrating the unique qualities and experiences you've gained throughout your career journey can show employers your dedication to the role.

Related: 35 tough nursing leadership interview questions & examples

Skills for chief nursing information officers

It's integral for chief nursing information officers to have a wide range of specialised skills to succeed in their roles. Some important skills for CNIOs to have include the following:

  • Teamwork: To deliver the best medical IT results for the clinics they work for, CNIOs require the ability to work collaboratively with senior management and teammates at all levels of an organisation.

  • Technical knowledge: CNIOs require technical knowledge of not just nursing but also of the information systems that deliver the best results to both doctors and their patients. This requires CNIOs to have an advanced knowledge of clinical workflow and its applications.

  • Project management: CNIOs require the ability to successfully manage teams of specialists in different areas, motivating them to work to deadlines and deliver outcomes as agreed.

  • Problem-solving: CNIOs require the ability to analyse and detect complex issues with current IT models and use their knowledge to resolve these problems.


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