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Oliver Soriano was at the launch of a nursing leadership programme, when he was asked if he’d ever thought he’d become a chief nursing officer (CNO)?

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be able to become a CNO, or could even aim to be one,” he says.

Filipino, Black, Asian and ethnic minority colleagues are vastly underrepresented in senior posts within the NHS. In 2023, Oliver became the NHS’s first Filipino CNO. Now, he hopes his success will encourage nursing staff from underrepresented groups to push for top roles.

Despite those early reservations, Oliver always challenged himself. After graduating, he took on volunteering roles with the Philippine National Red Cross, which led to university teaching posts. In 1998, wanting to be reunited with his sister and nieces in the UK, he was part of the first cohort of Filipino nurses to work in the NHS.

Onwards and upwards

Many nurses feel stuck in their roles, but Oliver says it’s never too late to move up the career ladder. “I spent 12 years working as a band 6 nurse in acute adult mental health, when most nurses progress in 5 years,” he says.

I never thought I'd be able to become a CNO, or could even aim to be one

It was partly because he enjoyed the role and partly because he wasn’t sure how to make the next move. “I progressed by asking other nurses about their roles and the training they’d done,” he recalls. “I’d go through RCN diaries to see what training or events I could attend.”

Once Oliver took on a band 7 role, his career at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust went from strength to strength. He moved from matron to general manager to head of nursing, then associate director of nursing. When he relocated to Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust in 2022, he was ready to take on multiple senior posts.

“Here in the UK, there are so many pathways in nursing. If you grow your knowledge, you can apply for that next post,” he says.

Career tips from a CNO

Oliver Soriano, the NHS’s first Filipino CNO, shares his advice.

Ask yourself questions 
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Do you want to stay in your current position? Are you interested in nursing quality? Does an operations role appeal to you? Or would you prefer to focus on academia or research? 

Start conversations
If you see someone doing a role that interests you, speak to them. 

Tap into the power of a good sponsor 
A mentor can guide you and help you reach your goals, and they’ll have knowledge of opportunities you might not know about.  

Don’t underestimate how much you are already doing
Find a job description for a role you're interested in – you might be more ready than you realise to take the next step. 

Believe in yourself and build a support network
I’ve climbed this ladder with the help of so many people who've believed in me. I now have an amazing support network, including my husband and other nurses, who continue to keep me grounded. 

Set goals 
Create a vision board to help you focus on what you'd like to achieve. If you don’t reach those goals, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. 

Take time to reflect 
Learn from your mistakes, it changes you for the better.

Join a union 
I’ve been an RCN member for 25 years, so I always emphasise the importance of signing up to a union. Find out how a union can help you achieve your goals and support you throughout your career. 

Oliver says he’s been incredibly lucky to have Vanessa Smith, current CNO at his former trust, in his corner since 2012. “She made me recognise the value of having a mentor and how much they can help prepare you for your next career move.” 

Vanessa put him forward for an aspiring directors of nursing programme, sent him on courses and coaching sessions, and even encouraged him to apply for his current CNO post. 

Paying it forward

Not everyone is lucky enough to find a mentor. That’s one thing Oliver’s changing for Filipino nursing staff in the UK. As president of the Philippine Nursing Association (PNAUK), he’s in prime position to advise them on professional development.

Oliver Soriano CNO
Oliver is chief nurse and quality officer at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust

He’s also an expert representative in older adult mental health for the RCN and he’s closely involved in the Jababli Men’s Network, supporting senior male nurses from African, Asian and Caribbean backgrounds. And he’s paying it forward, working with 4 colleagues as part of NHS England’s National Mentoring Scheme.  

“I hope I can encourage people to push themselves and to know there are people around them who can offer guidance and support,” he says. 

Overcoming obstacles 

Oliver’s success hasn’t come without its challenges. He’s tackled imposter syndrome by expanding his skills and knowledge, and when he’s experienced racism from patients or staff, he’s turned it into an opportunity to educate them.

I hope I can encourage people to push themselves and to know there are people who can offer guidance and support

Whenever he faces adversity, he reflects on why he became a nurse.
“I remember I’m here for patients, their families and the community I serve. I’m in this position to make sure every patient gets the care that they deserve.”

He thinks this resilience comes from his grandmother, who influenced his career path: “She built in us this attitude of remaining humble, to treat people with respect – no matter what that situation – and to always help others.”

Paving the way

Since he was announced as CNO, Oliver’s been inundated with messages from nursing staff around the world, expressing how he’s given them hope. These messages “were the highlight of 2023”, he says.

Becoming the NHS’s first Filipino CNO still feels surreal to him, but becoming a role model is not a responsibility he takes lightly. That’s why he’s determined to remain visible within his new role, so colleagues can reach out to him.

He says: “I feel humbled. I hope people see me and realise they can do it too.”


Words by Claire McKinson

Career support

If you're looking to progress your career or move into a more senior position, explore our career resources page.

From career coaching to help with CV writing and interview skills, our careers team can support you at every stage of your nursing career.

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