As the U.S. population ages, the need for skilled nurses increases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that at least 1.1 million new nurses are needed to avoid exacerbating an existing nursing shortage. Leadership in health care will become all the more important as qualified, trained professionals are needed to oversee and incorporate new workers into the staff and to navigate the challenges of managing the operational and business aspects of a health care organization.
To tackle these challenges and become leaders in health care, nurses need discipline and determination to gain the strategic skills to advance their careers. Pursuing an advanced nursing degree can allow professionals the opportunity to develop a combination of operational and soft skills, preparing them to become forward-thinking leaders. Through a range of management and executive positions, nurse leaders use their expertise to ensure their organizations run smoothly, improve patient outcomes, and create positive changes in the lives of others.
Why Is Leadership Important in Health Care?
The success of a health care organization depends on strong leadership. The dynamics in health care settings differ from most organizations providing customer service in that nurses assist people with pressing health needs, typically in delicate or even volatile situations. This requires nursing leaders to develop a varied set of skills that merge an understanding of patient needs with a business-minded approach for managing the daily functions of their organization.
Responsibilities for those in leadership nursing roles go beyond providing individualized care as nurse practitioners. They provide broader oversight for nursing units and create strategic plans that they can implement into financially-sustainable operations. Tasks involve supervising nurses, reporting to senior officials, and guiding staff to create a cohesive and an effective nursing unit. Nursing leaders also coach new nurses on the finer points of patient care and administrative duties, passing on valuable knowledge and promoting teamwork and communication in the name of improving quality of care.
The Key Skills for Effective Nurse Leadership
Leadership is important in health care for many reasons, especially in mentoring the nursing staff. Focused on meeting the needs of both patients and the organization, they must multi-task to adequately address needs. To successfully perform their responsibilities requires several operational and soft skills.
Operational Skills Needed
Confident leadership stems from experience in the nursing field as well as a mastery of nursing and health care systems topics. The Healthcare Systems Leadership concentration in the Norwich University Master of Science in Nursing program focuses on the health care organization as a whole, developing student skills through coursework in strategic planning and innovation. The concentration also instructs students on managing a nonprofit health care system, and how they differ from for-profit organizations.
- Administrative responsibilities. From managing team schedules to tracking patient e-health records, modern health care administration relies on a thorough knowledge of the technology behind the systems that run the department. Nursing administration is more than just systems management; leaders also help hire and train new staff members, make budgetary recommendations, and monitor equipment and resource levels.
- Finance and business management. Leadership involves more than managing employees; it includes consideration of the total needs of an organization. Budgetary management, health care expense planning and patient care costs are competencies required of nursing leaders. Additionally, nursing leaders need working knowledge of the computer science systems designed to maintain the financial processes of running healthcare organizations.
- Entrepreneurship. An innovative spirit for business helps health care leaders know when old processes must change. In these instances, the instincts of an entrepreneur fortify the resolve and guidance necessary for transformative change.
Soft Skills of Nursing Leaders
Leadership in health care also involves the application of soft skills that a graduate degree can either foster in students with those natural talents or help develop in students who need more practice. The following personal characteristics are necessary for nursing leaders to ensure quality patient care.
- Critical thinking. Nursing leaders must produce solutions to address unexpected hurdles. For instance, if a scheduling system is temporarily down, a workaround must be found and implemented for uninterrupted patient care. That responsibility falls on the leader in charge.
- Communication. A nursing leader must communicate with everyone, from chief executives and senior hospital management, to nursing staff and patients. A clear, confident, compassionate approach is needed.
- Cultural awareness. Top-quality health systems require different individuals to work in harmony. Sensitivity to diverse backgrounds and cultures supports a nursing leader’s ability to facilitate teamwork. Additionally, nurses cognizant of their patients’ background can provide more sensitive care.
- Attention to detail. Precision matters in every aspect of patient care, from reviewing a patient’s chart to work-flow processes. Furthermore, a nursing leader must understand and convey their organization’s strategies for implementing innovative administrative measures or systems, such as new billing software.
Leadership Opportunities for Nurses
Nurses that choose to pursue leadership opportunities can choose from a variety of positions with different levels of responsibility. A Master of Science in Nursing from Norwich University can provide the foundation for many possible career paths, including the following:
Nurse director. A director of nursing is responsible for supervising other nursing staff, ensuring the highest standards of care while overseeing the day-to-day management of medical records and patient data. Directors of nursing interact with nurses, doctors, patients, and patients’ family members. They also oversee nursing department budgets and report to high-level leaders. According to PayScale data from August 2019, nursing directors earn an average annual salary of around $84,000 with top earners making as much as $87,000.
Nurse administrator. Nurse administrators have a broad range of job responsibilities. They may be responsible for the needs of a small team or of an entire health care organization. The design and implementation of health care services for patients as well as ensuring compliance with laws and regulations are part of the role's duties. The average annual nurse administrator salary is around $86,000, according to an August 2019 PayScale report.
Chief nursing officer. A chief nursing officer (CNO) is an executive leadership role and the highest-ranking administrative position among nurses working in health care organizations. CNOs are responsible for hiring and training new nurses, making recommendations to system executives regarding procedures and policies, and presenting reports to senior officials. They also remain current on the latest products, technologies, and procedural developments. For all top executives across all industries, the BLS projects an 8% growth rate from 2016 to 2026. According to PayScale data from August 2019, CNOs earn an average annual salary of around $127,000, with potential augmentation through bonus and profit-sharing.
Become a Nurse Leader
Those interested in developing the skills necessary to provide leadership in health care should consider the online Master of Science in Nursing program at Norwich University, with a concentration in Health Systems Leadership. The program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, ensuring that students receive a quality education. Students pursuing this program will develop a deeper understanding of organizational leadership in health care and strengthen a range of skills for advancing their careers.
What to Expect from the MSN Curriculum at Norwich University
Six Nurse Leadership Opportunities for Master of Science Nursing Graduates
The Growing Demand for Experienced Nurse Educators
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