In most professions, strong leadership is essential to success. In a 2017 Survey of Registered Nurses, eight in 10 respondents said more nurse leaders are needed in healthcare. High demand for medical and health services managers makes leadership development a priority.
Higher-level nurse leadership roles require earning a master's or doctorate. Clinical experience is also essential.
The Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Administrative Leadership in Nursing online program at Northeastern State University (NSU) allows RNs to continue working while building leadership competencies. RNs can graduate in as few as 12 months, prepared for roles such as director of nursing, chief nursing officer, nursing supervisor and department manager.
Aspiring nurse leaders can get a head start by considering some leadership challenges. A look at four areas for attention follows.
Engaging Millennial Nurses
People often blame differences in attitudes and behaviors on "the generation gap." Nurse leaders in hospitals and other healthcare organizations may be dealing with gaps across four generations of RNs:
- Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
- Generation X (1965-1979)
- Millennials (1980-1994)
- Generation Z (1995-2012)
RNs make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), they also provide most of the patient care in hospitals. Notably, nearly 50% of those RNs are Millennials.
The Brookings Institution notes that Millennials bring fresh perspectives to the workplace — including healthcare organizations. In addition, the 2017 RN survey shows that Millennial RNs:
- Are significantly more interested than other generations in moving into leadership positions
- Plan to pursue higher levels of education
- Worry that their job is affecting their health
Minorities account for 44% of Millennials in the nursing workforce. According to a public health report on the topic, minority nurses in leadership roles may be better able to influence recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce: "Preparing racial/ethnic minority individuals to assume greater leadership roles should remain a high priority."
Mentoring and Coaching
At an organizational level, building a leadership pipeline is important across all areas of healthcare leadership to close gaps during periods of transition. In nursing, programs to mentor and train future leaders can serve a similar purpose.
A Becker's Hospital Review article on healthcare leadership trends notes that more organizations are implementing coaching initiatives. These coaching or mentoring relationships create built-in workplace support, which in turn can boost employee retention and success.
Increased mentoring of new nurses can go a long way in improving confidence, along with job satisfaction and retention. Of course, mentees may continue the cycle as mentors themselves. This can also help reverse the notion that "nurses eat their young."
Improving Nurse Retention
Nurse turnover is a persistent problem, and it comes at a high cost. Failure to retain nurses creates workplace stress. Inadequate staffing levels may force RNs to work overtime. Turnover affects continuity, quality and safety. Retention issues also impact an organization's bottom line. According to a national RN staffing report:
- It takes an average of three months to hire a RN.
- The average cost of turnover for a bedside RN is $52,100, which adds up to a $5.7M loss per calendar year for the average hospital.
- Hiring travel and agency nurses to address staffing shortages is an expensive, temporary solution. For every 20 travel RNs eliminated, hospitals can save an average of $1,435,000 per calendar year.
Improving staffing levels means finding creative ways to attract new nurses and keep existing RNs happy where they are. For example, what would it take to reduce nurse turnover when one in five new RNs leave a first job within the first year?
Supporting Nurse Managers
Nurse managers hold a complex and critical role in the hands-on leadership of their units. Taking on nurse manager positions gives RNs a chance to build plenty of leadership skills. A day in the life of a nurse manager includes:
- Promoting staff satisfaction
- Improving patient safety
- Meeting budget targets
- Managing staffing and overseeing performance and development
- Implementing quality improvement activities
- Collaborating on complex cases
- Following up on patient complaints
The nurse manager role is an important step toward higher-level leadership roles, including executive positions. But retention of nurse managers may be challenging. One study of nurse manager job satisfaction found that 72% of nurse managers were planning to leave their positions within five years. Burnout was a common reason.
Just as nurse managers are responsible for creating a safe, healthy environment for their staff, upper-level leadership needs to take steps to attract and retain nurse managers.
Demand for RNs is growing at a rapid rate. With a nursing shortage affecting access to healthcare, it becomes increasingly important to attract and retain nurse leaders who can, in turn, attract and retain nursing staff. Incentives for pursuing a nurse leadership path include higher salaries and, as the Campaign for Action reports, job satisfaction and joy.
Learn more about NSU's MSN in Administrative Leadership in Nursing online program.
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