In the past two decades, the role of the CNO has continued to expand as a result of service integration and hospital reengineering initiatives. In surveys conducted in 1993 and 1995 of nurse leaders in VHA, Inc. (a nationwide network of community-owned health care systems) and nurse executives and managers who were members of the AONE, 80 percent of all respondents reported changes in their role. Nearly all of these respondents identified expanded responsibilities as a major feature of their role change. The proportion of respondents holding positions whose title included the word “nursing” (e.g., director of nursing or vice president of nursing) declined from 55 to 24 percent, while the proportion holding positions whose title did not explicitly mention nursing (e.g., vice president of patient care, vice president of operations, and chief operating officer) increased from 35 to 53 percent. The new, expanded roles of these hospital nurse leaders included responsibilities for radiology departments, surgery, emergency departments, cardiology, nursing homes, outpatient services, admitting, and infection control units (Gelinas and Manthey, 1997). A more recent, 1997–1998 study of hospital restructuring in 29 university teaching hospitals found that the CNE position had been transformed into a “patient care” executive position in 97 percent of the institutions surveyed (Sovie and Jawad, 2001).
Even as CNOs have increasingly assumed these expanded managerial duties, they also have retained responsibility for managing nursing services. Research is needed on whether the expanded role of the CNO has beneficial or adverse effects on patients (Clifford, 1998). Some assert that expanding the CNO role increases senior nurse executives’ influence in desirable ways. Others express concern that the expansion of the CNO’s areas of responsibility beyond those directly associated with clinical nursing takes attention away from nursing care and hinders the development of strong nursing leadership for nursing practice in the hospital. What is agreed upon is that as the roles of nurse leaders have expanded, so have the demands of balancing two, often competing, sets of responsibilities as senior administrative staff and leader of nursing staff. As senior executive, the CNO must help the hospital meet its strategic goals, which are often financially focused. As leader of nursing staff, the CNO is responsible for providing clinical leadership. Concern has also been expressed that the attempt to meet both sets of responsibilities has resulted in the potential loss of a common voice for nursing staff and a weakening of clinical leadership.
A 1996 qualitative study of the changing role of hospital CNOs in the not-for-profit flagship hospitals of three urban integrated delivery systems chosen by a panel of experts as being “at the forefront of change” found