It’s no secret that nurses are the backbone of healthcare. Nurses are the ones who build connections with patients and, in doing so, gain valuable insights that positively impact their care journey. As the industry evolves at a rapid pace, it’s only through strong leadership that nurses can shape a smarter healthcare delivery system for the future.
So how do we develop, manage, and retain nurse leaders?
It starts with effective nursing leadership.
Why Is Nurse Leadership Development Important?
Strong nursing leadership is fundamental to creating a workplace that encourages professional autonomy and provides nurses with the information and resources to support their knowledge application. Here are three main reasons why nurse leader development is essential:
- Improved Patient Care and Outcomes – Effective nursing leadership plays a critical role in enhancing patient care and outcomes. Nurse leaders are equipped with the knowledge and skills to implement evidence-based practices, improve care protocols, and foster a culture of patient safety. They can lead their teams to deliver high-quality care, reduce medical errors, and enhance the patient’s experience.
- Enhanced Organizational Performance – Nurse leaders contribute significantly to the overall performance of healthcare organizations. Their leadership abilities enable them to streamline operations, optimize resource allocation, and improve efficiency. They can lead interprofessional teams effectively, promoting collaboration and synergy among various healthcare professionals, leading to better overall organizational performance.
- Nurse Retention and Satisfaction – Investing in nursing leadership development positively impacts nurse retention, engagement, and joy in their professional practice. When nurses have opportunities for career growth and development, they are more likely to stay committed to their organization and profession. Leadership development programs provide nurses with a sense of empowerment and autonomy, fostering a positive professional practice environment and reducing burnout rates.
Nurse leadership, when supported and performed effectively, improves almost every aspect of a care team’s functions. Investing in nurse leaders yields significant benefits for patients, healthcare organizations, and nursing as a whole. Despite a myriad of benefits, nurses remain underrepresented in hospital leadership.
How Can We Reduce Barriers to Nurse Leadership?
According to a survey of the nearly 700 members of the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst Insights Council, nurses only make up 25 percent of leadership roles. One barrier to nursing leadership development is a lack of access to leadership development programs. Many nurses face limited access to formal leadership development programs or resources.
Budget constraints, lack of time, and inadequate organizational support can hinder nurses from participating in relevant training and education. Another is limited role models, access to an executive coach, and mentorship opportunities. The absence of visible role models, access to an executive coach, and limited mentorship opportunities can be discouraging for nurses aspiring to leadership roles. Without guidance and support from experienced leaders, nurses may struggle to navigate their leadership development path effectively.
To reduce these barriers and promote nursing leadership development, we can take the following steps:
- Expand Access to Leadership Development Programs – Healthcare organizations should prioritize and invest in leadership development programs for nurses at all levels. This includes offering workshops, seminars, webinars, and online courses tailored to develop leadership competencies. Creating flexible and accessible learning opportunities can help accommodate nurses’ busy schedules. Practicing Excellence, through the Nursing Experience Project, provides a full library of development for nurses at all levels pushed to them weekly. The consistency helps hardwire the learning into their professional practice.
- Establish Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs and Access to an Executive Coach – Developing formal mentorship and sponsorship programs and having access to an executive coach can provide nurses with valuable guidance and support as they pursue leadership positions. Seasoned leaders can serve as mentors, offering advice, sharing experiences, and advocating for their mentees’ career advancement. Sponsorship involves more active advocacy and can open doors to opportunities and visibility.
- Promote Leadership Education and Training – Encourage nurses to pursue higher education and advanced degrees in leadership-related fields. Healthcare organizations can provide financial assistance, scholarships, or tuition reimbursement programs to support nurses in obtaining relevant qualifications.
- Promote Leadership Opportunities at All Levels – Create a culture that values leadership qualities at every level of nursing practice. Leadership is not limited to formal titles; it can be demonstrated through leading projects, initiatives, or committees. Recognizing and rewarding leadership behaviors can motivate nurses to further develop their leadership skills. The American Organization for Nursing Leadership established a “Driving Force” recognizing every nurse as a leader.
- Support Work-Life Balance – Organizations should strive to create a supportive professional practice environment that values work-life balance. This can be achieved through flexible scheduling, offering paid time off for leadership development activities, and ensuring equitable workloads. By addressing these barriers and implementing supportive measures, healthcare institutions can nurture a strong pipeline of nurse leaders, promote diversity in leadership positions, and ensure the continued growth and success of nursing leadership development.
What Does Nurse Leadership Look Like in the Future?
The future of nurse leadership is dynamic and transformative, driven by advancements in technology, a focus on patient-centered care, and a commitment to promoting the well-being of patients and healthcare providers alike. Nurse leaders will continue to be at the forefront of shaping healthcare policies, driving innovation, and leading interprofessional teams to provide high-quality, compassionate, and equitable care for patients around the world.
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Dr. Bob Dent is an award-winning healthcare executive with more than three decades of experience in acute care, long term care, academia, and professional associations, including work as former president of the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL). He currently serves as a Senior Advisor to the Nursing Experience Project (NEP), a skill-building solution created by nurses, for nurses to enhance skills in critical areas such as well-being, patient connection, and leadership. He is also the Chief Nursing Officer at Emory Healthcare.