Hospital Impact: 4 steps to empower nurse leaders who drive better outcomes

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It can be challenging to enable nurses to reach their optimal leadership potential in order to drive positive changes within an organization.

Healthcare is an ever-changing field, especially within the current political climate. Leadership faces the challenge of having to improve patient outcomes while still keeping operating costs as low as possible. While healthcare leaders often have a medical or business background, there is much to be gained by seeking the input of nursing leadership within any healthcare organization.

Nursing leadership is a broad term that encompasses nurses from every scope of practice, and it is important to note that nurses are capable of making great contributions. Even nurses not currently in designated leadership positions have potential insight that can be paramount in shaping the future of healthcare. Still, it can be challenging to enable nurses to reach their optimal leadership potential in order to drive positive changes within an organization. The following strategies can help nursing leaders emerge and reach their maximum potential.

Clearly define autonomy

Nurses act within a scope of practice defined by their state. Their professional responsibilities and limitations on practice are determined by this document. Organizations seeking to develop nursing leaders should empower them from the moment they enter the profession. Developing policies and procedures that specifically guide nurses in their everyday practice helps them to act autonomously while empowering them with confidence in their role. Should nurses run into a roadblock in providing care, they will have the tools to decide what steps can and should be taken next. In addition to outlining these policies, they should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated with input from the nursing leaders who enforce them among their staff.

Enhance competence in practice

Myriad resources are available to nurses that offer up-to-date information regarding best practices and current research. Offering all nurses free access to these resources, as well as incorporating them into yearly competency demonstrations, is essential to empowering nurses with a strong knowledge base. When nurses have the most current information at their fingertips, not only will they be better able to provide optimal care to patients (thus improving outcomes and cutting back on costly readmissions), but they will also be able to use this knowledge when an organization is trying to decide the best course of action to reverse areas of greatest expense or inefficiency.

Another facet of enhancing competence is to support nurses in pursuing further education. This includes advanced degrees, continuing education credits or even certification in specialty areas of practice. While there is an initial cost associated with providing this benefit, the payback will be significant when nurses are better able to drive positive change due to their increased education.

When considering the impact of education on improving outcomes and cutting costs, studies have noted that bachelor-degreed nurses have lower patient mortality rates, and their patients have lower incidences of deep vein thromboses, pulmonary emboli, decubitus ulcers, and overall shorter length of stays than associate-degreed nurses’ patients. “In the great scheme of things, investing in the continuing education of nurses is actually an investment in better patient outcomes and, therefore, less extraneous healthcare spending,” Andrei Zakhareuski, the founder of Nurse.Plus, told me.

Allow nurses of all experience levels to participate

This concept is unique, as the hierarchy of leadership can vary from one organization to another. The idea of this strategy is to ensure that all levels of nursing are represented within the administrative tier. Some organizations have developed a council for each individual unit that meets monthly, during which administrative issues are presented to the staff nurses and the nurses can respond with suggestions to improve practice. Other organizations have designated one nurse per unit to accompany administration to meetings as a means of representing all nurses on the unit. Nurses are more motivated to adhere to policies when they feel that they are part of the decision-making process, leading to greater satisfaction and improved outcomes, according to a study from the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing.

Ensure that nursing leadership is visible and accessible to staff

The best way to empower nursing leaders is for organizational leadership to be visible and invested in the nursing workforce. Make weekly rounds on a hospital unit on each shift to let the nursing staff and leadership feel that they are being heard. Be open to speaking with individual nurses about issues that concern them. Ask them about the day-to-day operations of the unit and inquire about the challenges they are facing that limit their ability to provide good care.

If possible, upper management should consider creating a small task force with emerging nurse leaders (or those seeking a leadership role in the future) to develop an action plan to circumvent the challenges they are facing. One excellent example of this is the “Transforming Care at the Bedside” initiative, established by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The cost-cutting advantage of this type of initiative is the identification of small barriers to providing care that would otherwise go unnoticed by administration.

By employing these strategies, healthcare organizations can empower nurses in current leadership positions while also motivating novice nurses to aspire to leadership. When nurses are given a sense of importance and provided with the tools needed to increase their knowledge and competence, they are capable of making great strides in improving patient outcomes and reducing costs within any healthcare organization.

Marina Matsiukhova is an educator who works for the Nurse Plus Academy, which specializes in creating free NCLEX-RN practice tests and provides another resource called cna.plus, which helps certified nursing assistants prepare for certification.