May is National Nurses Month and to recognize the critical role that nurses play in the health ecosystem, we’re continuing to explore the impact of nurse leaders on patients, health systems, and the entire industry and demonstrating why it is so important to invest in nurse leadership, engagement, and empowerment strategies.
In this “Making The Case” blog, we’re sharing the important perspectives of our clients, colleagues, and faculty who are nurse leaders, and those who support nurse leaders, on the impact of nurse leadership on patient satisfaction and team engagement. We asked leaders in our network to share their insights on what makes nurses great leaders, how the role of nurse leaders has changed throughout their careers, and recommendations for the most impactful investments for developing nurse leaders.
Why nurses as leaders?
We asked our network to share why nurses are inherently strong leaders. Kimberly McNally, MN, RN, BCC, TLD Group Senior Consultant, explained that the rigor of a nursing education, which combines both science and liberal arts, produces graduates with a holistic worldview.
“Being a nurse requires intellectual curiosity, critical thinking, ethical decision-making, emotional intelligence, compassion, dedication, adaptability, and integrity,” McNally said. “These foundational qualities and leadership competencies create the scaffolding for nurse leaders to be able to set an aspirational vision, engage others to execute clinical and business goals, and advance cultures of wellness and belonging where nurses and other team members are empowered to deliver positive outcomes for patients and the community.”
Katie Boston-Leary, PhD, MBA, MHA, RN, NEA-BC, CCTP, TLD Group Senior Consultant, similarly explained that the deep emotional intelligence required to be a nurse also helps make nurses great leaders.
“Nurses are at the sharpest end of care and understand the needs of patients and communities they serve,” Boston-Leary said. “They constantly innovate and explore new ways to deliver care, and they have the ability to be high tech and hi touch. Strength and fortitude are required to excel as a nursing leader today, but nurse leaders also have soft underbellies to connect with patients and never lose sight of what’s important — the patients they serve.”
The Evolving Role of the Nurse Leader
While answers about how exactly the role of the nurse leader has shifted varied, each nurse leader who we spoke to agreed that the role has grown significantly over the past few years.
“Their role has changed to take on a much larger scope in healthcare delivery – becoming full partners with physicians, executive teams, and all healthcare providers,” Deborah Straka, RN, MNA, TLD Group Senior Consultant, said. “They now must be a scientist, business partner, innovator, advocate, and a dynamic change agent who is flexible and able to adapt to be a ‘cutting edge’ leader.”
Executive Coach Marsha Hughes-Rease, MSN, MSOD, PCC, also noted that nurse leaders must not only be competent as clinicians, but exceptional leaders who are ready to make changes in care delivery across the continuum of care.
“Nursing leadership is not only a recognized career path with requisite professional development expectations and credentials, but there is an expectation that nurse executives are key members of the executive team since their scope of responsibility may extend beyond nursing,” Hughes-Rease said. “As members of the boardroom and C-suite, nurse executives can participate in strategic decision-making that impacts patient outcomes, stakeholder satisfaction, financial performance, and productivity.”
Lorie Shoemaker, DHA, RN, MSN, NEA-BC, Interim Vice President & Chief Nursing Executive at Northeast Georgia Health System, defined this dual role of being a clinician and member of the executive team as being “bi-lingual.”
“In order for a nurse leader to be truly effective in a senior role today, they must be able to speak the language of quality and finance,” Shoemaker said. “Nursing leaders must be able to put together and deliver the business case for any changes they would like to make in the delivery of patient care and services.”
Additionally, since 2020, the role of nurses has shifted to also focus on their teams’ mental health and ability to live out their values at work, Boston-Leary said.
“There’s a new requirement for leaders from the teams they lead to be socially conscious and to be more intentional about demonstrating their values,” Boston-Leary said. “It’s not enough to have an open door. Leaders need to become the ‘door’ for their teams to have healthy work environments and do all they can for their teams to feel seen, safe, and supported.”
Investments in Developing Nurse Leaders
As the role of nurse leaders expands, it’s essential for the individuals who are filling these positions to receive the education, training, and support necessary to succeed. This support for nurse development must start at the top of an organization, Shoemaker said.
“The CEO sets the tone for a learning organization and if you are fortunate to work for one that believes in leadership development, the sky is the limit on your career,” Shoemaker said. “Under one such CEO, I was given the opportunity to attend the Wharton School for Nurse Executives intensive program and supported to achieve my Doctor of Health Administration. Both of these programs were life changing for me.”
According to Hughes-Rease, it is essential to create an “evidence-based approach to transforming healthcare cultures” to improve the quality of nurse leadership and influence an entire organizational culture.
“Many hospitals and ambulatory care facilities have pursued Magnet Recognition or Pathway to Excellence designation to guide their journey to nursing excellence,” Hughes-Rease said. “Investing in creating an organizational culture where nurses are empowered to be innovative, professionally autonomous, and have a seat at the strategic decision-making table can result in better patient outcomes and satisfaction, lower costs of treatment and care, and greater interprofessional collaboration.”
In Our Consultant’s Words: Recommendations for Developing Nurse Leaders
In addition to further education and designations for high-quality nursing programs, Straka shared the impact of implementing a three-part leadership development strategy for nurses’ growth and development. Here’s her strategy:
- Identify new leadership competencies and use them to recruit, develop, and retain.
- Provide individual coaching for high performers to not only enhance and support their growth, but also to recognize and retain strong leaders.
- Implement Dyad Partnerships between operational leaders and physicians to intentionally create formal collaboration and relationship building to fast track outcomes that enhance the patient care experience.
“Now more than ever is the time to realize the “full potential” of nurse leaders,” Straka said. “They must be poised and prepared to play a critical role in the future of the medical system.”