We know it—nurse managers are the linchpin in making health care hum. Nurses will always care for their patients and perform what is expected of them day in, day out. However, it’s often easy to overlook the vital role that nurse managers play in bringing out the best in nursing practice.
Study after study demonstrate the powerful impact that nurse managers have on the satisfaction and well-being of nurses, improving staff engagement and reducing turnover. And study after study emphasize the importance of nurse managers in creating a positive work environment, including promoting autonomy, creating team cohesion, and advancing professional development in order to achieve both nurse satisfaction and quality of patient outcomes.
So, as I think about addressing the many challenges facing our profession—from burnout to declining HCAHPS scores—if I had to double down on any one area, it would be the support, growth, and development of frontline nurse managers.
Yet, for decades and even today, we promote clinical nurses to entry-level management positions with little to no training or nurse development. While we invest heavily in new nurse graduates–often offering a year-long residency program—a few years later, we commonly move these same nurses into leadership roles with minimal to no support. Just as a week-long orientation program is insufficient for onboarding a new graduate, sending a new nurse manager to a week-long course without ongoing coaching is entirely insufficient for learning and growth.
Certainly, it is a wise organizational investment to better develop those individuals who serve as nurse managers in light of the profound effect they have on the functioning of the organization. Professional development in leadership enables nurse managers to:
- Develop nurse leaders that influence and lead in a way that lifts others
- Create a practice environment that engages professional nurses and supports excellence in practice
- Develop collaborative intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary teams
- Foster well-being in the workplace, in conjunction with nurse development
- Respond to the complexities in healthcare with more confidence and mastery
- Role model professionalism, resilience, and joy in the workplace
We must usher in a new era where ongoing support, coaching, and development of novice managers is available and accessible to elicit nuanced skills that will support the whole health care team. Imagine a world where nurse managers and nurse leaders themselves are humming with expertise and energy and how that will transform not only nursing practice, but all of health care.
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Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a registered nurse and former CEO of the American Nurses Association. Currently, she serves as the senior advisor for Practicing Excellence’s Nursing Experience Project (NEP), an app-based skill-building solution created by nurses, for nurses.