Nurses are instrumental in the healthcare industry. Not only is their role in the delivery of patient care critical, their insights can also help shape nursing best practices, patient services and even legislation. Across the nation, healthcare systems need more nursing leaders at every level in order to help organizations navigate the industry’s evolving challenges.
Why Is Nurse Leadership Important?
Healthcare has undergone a tremendous transformation over the past few years and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Between the influx of newly insured patients due to the Affordable Care Act and the shift from quantity to quality of care and value-based reimbursement, nurses are integral to ensuring a successful transition every step of the way.
With 3.5 million nurses in the United States and counting, according to data from the American Nurses Association, nurses are absolutely vital to the delivery of patient-centered care. In addition, their education, experience and insights may hold the key to solving the issues facing the health system. Since nurses are largely underrepresented in some of the highest levels that can influence policy and legislation — including nonprofit boards and executive management — it is imperative that more nurses develop leadership skills and gain access to these positions.
In 2010, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — which changed its name to the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in 2015 — published a report titled The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Due to the dynamic shifts occurring in healthcare, the IOM recommended that organizations rely heavily on the expertise of the nation’s nurses in order to improve quality of care and access to care.
Specifically, the report stated that “nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other healthcare professionals, in redesigning healthcare in the United States.” The report urges nurses to continue seeking advanced education and gaining experience and to also “practice to the full extent of their education and training.”
Because of these recommendations, other organizations have emerged to help lead the way. For example, the Campaign for Action, a cooperative initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the AARP, recognizes the valuable impact that nurse leaders can have on the healthcare system and the improvement of patient care. Together with 19 other national nursing organizations, they formed the Nurses on Boards Coalition in November 2014. The coalition’s goal is to see at least 10,000 nurses join boards of directors by 2020.
Who Hires Nurse Leaders?
All healthcare organizations and facilities need knowledgeable and experienced nurses to fill leadership roles. These positions may be wide-ranging since the goal is nursing leaders at all levels involving patient care decisions. Many organizations can benefit from nurses’ unique perspectives including the following:
- Public and private hospitals.
- Government hospitals and medical centers.
- Nursing homes.
- Rehabilitation centers.
- Outpatient centers.
- Physician practices.
- Home health care organizations.
- Universities, colleges and junior colleges.
Interestingly, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has integrated more nurse leaders at their medical centers, and they have seen remarkable outcomes. Committing to just one small change — employing clinical nurse leaders (CNL) at each facility — has resulted in significant improvement in patient outcomes as well as career satisfaction among nurses. The VA has recognized the value that nurses with advanced education and experience can offer when given the opportunity to lead. Ultimately, the emergence of nursing leadership roles at every level of the healthcare system will instigate even greater change.
How Can Nurses Prepare for Leadership Roles?
As the IOM report indicated, nurses should continue to pursue advanced education and seek opportunities for nurse leadership. The report established a goal of 80 percent of nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree by 2020.
While the report also suggested doubling the number of nurses with a doctorate degree by 2020, BSN-prepared nurses frequently pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree first. With popular MSN concentrations such as nursing education or nursing administration, the MSN can serve as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree as well as other specializations.
Leading the Way
Due to the current and future challenges facing healthcare providers and organizations, nurse leaders are in more demand than ever before. With their unique perspective and educational backgrounds, nurses in leadership roles may be the catalyst to successfully redesign the delivery of healthcare. With advanced education and practical experience, nurses can prepare for these leadership opportunities.
Learn more about the UTRGV online MSN — Administration program.
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