Viewpoint: Why CEO searches should focus on CNOs

Hospital and health system CEO searches often span state borders in an effort to find the next leader to take the reins, but failing to shift the focus inward could be what some searches are missing, according to the Community Hospital Corp., a Plano, Texas-based company that owns, consults with, and manages community hospitals nationally. 

Promoting a chief nursing officer to CEO from within a hospital organization, the company argues in a May 9 press release, would garner more respect from current employees and reduce training time since the chief nursing officer would already be aware of hospital procedures, policies and inner workings. 

"CNOs have transferable skills that allow them to lead at the highest level," Stephanie Atkins-Guidry, BSN, former chief nursing officer and current CEO at Bayou Bend Health System in Franklin, La., a Community Hospital Corp. facility, said in the release. 

Ms. Atkins-Guidry also holds a master's in business administration — something she says is key for any chief nursing officer who may want to step into CEO shoes.

"It's critical for nurse leaders seeking a CEO position to acquire both clinical experience and business acumen in order to run a hospital as effectively and efficiently as possible," Ms. Atkins-Guidry stated in the release.

When she herself stepped into the role of CEO from chief nursing officer, one of the challenges was also the biggest benefit: Being able to relate closely with clinicians. 

While it is these relationships and the respect from colleagues that have fueled her strength to lead as CEO, she says it's also a fine line to walk and can at times be tricky to balance the priorities of a CEO with needs and wants on a clinical level. 

"When I relinquished my CNO position to become a CEO, I felt it was necessary to offer clinical leaders the opportunity to maintain their authority in their practice areas," Ms. Atkins-Guidry said. "But they also understand that the CEO is responsible for making the final decisions impacting the hospital."

Transitioning from a patient-centric role as a chief nursing officer into a strategic role like CEO has helped her make adjustments and meaningful contributions to patient care in terms of impact care delivery, and a desire to help, which ultimately drives the work of both C-suite positions.

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