Nurses comprise a good portion of the healthcare staff around the country. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of 2019 registered nurses comprised over 30% of hospital staff around the country. At the time, the figures say that there were 1.8 million nursing jobs that needed to be filled. Nurses play not only an important role in healthcare delivery, but they have a significant role in hospital culture as well. With this being the case, healthcare organizations have recognized the need to establish roles where nurses are in the lead, thus creating another role in healthcare — the nursing leader.
With so many nurses in just the hospital setting, creating opportunities to make a positive impact on hospital culture is one of the reasons that nursing leadership is necessary. More than creating a comfortable work environment for nurses, those in nursing leadership play a significant role in determining the type of care patients receive. Some experts believe these professionals can make or break good patient care.
Nurses are one of the first healthcare providers a patient sees upon entering a hospital or center. While their presence is valued, the pandemic illustrated the increasing impact that nurse leaders can have on an organization. Short-staffed and lacking resources, nurse leaders came up with new ways to deliver healthcare to patients. Some of these new approaches included establishing new models of care and maximizing technology (telemedicine and videoconferencing). Furthermore, they found ways to get around supply and equipment shortages. Ultimately, from the pandemic experience, these nurse leaders have shaped today’s healthcare policy.
What exactly is nursing leadership?
By loose definition, nurse leaders are those who inspire other nurses to grow in their career through encouragement and support. However, by a more practical definition, nurse leaders are those within nursing that represent the nursing profession. They typically work in four roles in the healthcare setting and have a myriad of roles, such as:
- Clinical nurse manager
When nurses move up the career ladder, the first stop is the clinical nurse manager. While they are involved with bedside care, they also create the nursing schedule, resolve conflicts, troubleshoot, take on organizational roles, and collaborate with departments to improve patient care. Those who work in this leadership role also have a strong clinical nursing background.
- Director of nursing
The next rung on the nursing career ladder is the director of nursing position, which is usually found in a healthcare center or a hospital. The director of nursing’s primary role is to make sure patients receive quality care through the unit, department, or center. They also are involved in planning the department’s healthcare strategy, leading teams in delivering healthcare, and ensuring the teams comply with state and federal laws.
- Chief nursing officer
Also known as the CNO, the chief nursing officer is an organization’s head nurse. In this role, the nurse leader budgets nursing-related line items and strictly enforces all policies and procedures. They are also involved with making sure nurses meet training requirements and seek out training opportunities for nursing subordinates.
- Healthcare administrator
Healthcare administrators are often at the helm of organizational change in a center. They play a role in impacting point-of-care coordination, patient experience, public and community health, and health impacts. Because these roles do not require the nurse leader to work in the clinical setting, having clinical experience is not a requirement.
Nurse leadership requirements
As nursing evolves and nurses take on more leadership roles, academia has recognized the demand (and need) to train nurses to take on these leadership roles. Once completing a bachelor’s and master’s program, academic programs such as the one at Baylor University Online offer mid-career nurses the chance to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) if they meet entry requirements. These programs provide nurses with foundational concepts needed to supervise staff, oversee budgets, and create an optimal work culture.
Soft and hard skills needed in nursing leadership
Academic credentials give the nurse the content knowledge, and in some cases, the practical experience in leading teams. However, nurse leaders must also possess soft skills. Regardless of the role they fill, nurse leaders must have excellent interpersonal skills. They must create a positive work culture that motivates nurses to work diligently to provide patients with quality care. Nurse leaders not only have to be grounded in conflict resolution, but they also must know how to bring teams together to collaborate and drive innovation within the healthcare setting.
Nursing leaders must have the ability to adapt quickly to an ever-changing environment. Some of the changes that those in nursing leadership might face include changes in regulatory standards, changes in treatment modalities and practices, and changes in the technologies used administratively or used to provide care. They also must stay abreast of the latest research on best practices.
Skills directly related to the job include understanding healthcare systems, policy, and advocacy. Nursing leaders must also know how to strategically manage teams and create opportunities for professional development. They must also be informed on human resource management, finance, and business.
The nursing profession offers professionals a myriad of career paths. Some nurses decide that working in the clinical setting is enough for them, which provides numerous opportunities for career growth as well. However, mid-career professionals can move into administration. At the top of the nursing profession, nurses can aspire to lead healthcare organizations, and today, they have a lot of support in terms of educational opportunities.
These programs prepare nurses for dealing with the challenges in nursing and prepare them to fill all the other roles in nursing leadership, like mentorship, for example. For today’s nurses, educational programs offer courses that will allow students to achieve their career goals. Fortunately, some of these programs are offered online, which allows mid-career professionals to earn their degrees while remaining employed.