In Case You Missed It: Working as a Chief Nursing Officer

“Working as a Chief Nursing Officer” is the forty-third episode of The College Handoff. The episode features Dr. Kevin McEwan, the chief nursing officer (CNO) for Madison Memorial Hospital in Idaho.

There are dozens of professions within the nursing field, including leadership and administrative positions. One of these positions is being a CNO. In principle, the chief nurse is overall clinical practice, policy, and meeting regulatory responsibilities for the organization at a hospital,” Kevin explains. While this may seem like a tremendous and overwhelming job for a single person, he assures us that the role of a CNO comes with a support system that helps him manage everything. “Most chief nursing officers have a cadre of directors that report to them, that oversee areas like outpatient services, ambulatory clinics, inpatient services, mom-baby, ERs, ORs, all of those kinds of things. And then in smaller hospitals–like I’m in Rexburg, Idaho at Madison Memorial–I have responsibilities outside of just nursing for all clinical services, such as laboratory, imaging, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and the likes that job kind of changes. But in most cases, chief nurses have a team of directors of nursing that oversee those service lines that report directly to them. And so, in a small hospital like mine, I’ve got five directors who oversee all of those service lines. And in those service lines, there are over 250 nurses.”

One of the core responsibilities of being a CNO is providing care and support for patients and staff members. In an industry plagued by burnout and compassion fatigue, Kevin emphasizes finding ways to care for his nurses and retain them as valuable members of the hospital community. “I think the best retention programs are making sure that staff is cared for and caring for themselves. Many organizations use social workers, not just around on patients, but to take care of staff and make sure that they’re doing well for the day. We do that as nursing leaders, making sure that the staff has the resources and support they need. That’s always a challenging environment right now,” he says. “And then making sure that new nurses and experienced nurses have mechanisms within their outdoor life that give them balance. So whatever it is that they do to manage their well-being, we highly encourage those things. And so, for me, it’s even asking staff, how are you doing? What are you doing outside of work to recenter yourself? Whether that’s just taking good care of their physical well being through diet, exercise, and sleep, or talking to somebody, a trusted friend, mentor, counselor, somebody that they can just kind of vent to, because they’re dealing with a lot of traumatic experiences and exposure right now and they need to have a good sounding board to make that happen. And like I said, internally in the hospitals, we’re making sure we’ve got teams rounding on staff to ensure they’re doing okay. So it’s far more than just making sure that they have the appropriate PPE or staff support. Sometimes it’s permitting them to take a day off, to take a weekend off, to get away and take a vacation because we do need them at their best when they’re here at work.”

Kevin also left the podcast with some advice for nursing students who are unsure of what area they want to pursue. “I think it’s always difficult in nursing to find your passion. Many students enter a nursing program thinking that they want to be a specific type of nurse when they get out, and many do stick with that, and they are focused on that ambition. But many of our students are trying to figure that out, even up to the last semester and in their first years of practice. And so I do think that it’s important to find your passion. And wherever that is, apply yourself and get the training, certification, and education you need to do that. And so, for me, it was early on in my practice that I saw nurse leaders, who I started to aspire to be like. I had some strong mentors early in my career in nursing leadership positions that I didn’t even know existed. And they showed a path for executive nursing and nursing leadership,” Kevin explains. “And so I think that’s what I advise to new grads and student nurses is to seek out those opportunities and discover what your passion is. If it’s leadership, find a mentor in that arena, and they’ll guide you and give you direction. Suppose that passion is in women’s services, oncology, ambulatory services, cardiac services, you name it. In that case, there are plenty of employment opportunities, but I think one of the best things I would tell people to do is find a mentor in that area and have them coach you and help you develop. I still have a couple of mentors that anytime I’m at a point of making a decision, whether it’s a career move or a position to be held within nursing leadership, I reach out to these folks and say, is this a good thing? What do you advise me to do? What’s your direction? And over these thirty years, those same solid mentors have made a difference in advising me and encouraging me to do the right things.”


If you want to listen to Episode 43 of The College Handoff that features Dr. Kevin McEwan’s full interview with more insights into his career and philosophy, along with another interview that features Dr. Brandon Thatcher, a BYU nursing professor that gives an update on the #ThinkLikeANurse campaign, go to https://thecollegehandoff.podbean.com/e/working-as-a-chief-nursing-officer/ or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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