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With an aging population and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) making healthcare accessible to more people, there has been an associated increase in demand on the healthcare system. This has led to a call for more nurses to fill leadership roles.

There has long been a call for nurses to be full partners with physicians and other healthcare providers in redesigning healthcare in the United States. To meet this call, nurses are transitioning from their traditional roles to focus on executive leadership and management. This means there is a demand for a higher level of education.

Nurses with bachelor’s degrees will be enrolling in master’s programs, and nurses with master’s degrees will be seeking doctoral degrees. Ambitious nurses will be leading the way as they assume leadership and management positions within the healthcare system.

How Nurses Can Lead the Way

Nurses play a key role in improving the quality of patient care and safety. Nurses must have a seat at the executive table for healthcare to improve, as they are the ones with firsthand knowledge of patient needs and how the staff can best meet those needs.

This means that strong nurse leadership is required. Nurse leaders are needed in clinical settings as well as in administrative and managerial roles. The most important skill for nurse leaders may be the willingness to learn new skills necessary to their success as leaders.

nurse leader needs to perform well under pressure, face daily challenges of staffing shortages, budget constraints, patient care issues, staff development, and more. One thing all leaders have in common: “Their ability to confidently assess situations and offer solutions.”

The following are some common nurse leadership roles:

  • Clinical Nurse. A clinical nurse leader moves from direct bedside patient care to supervising nurses who take over bedside care. They need to first have a strong clinical background before moving to the leadership position, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
  • Director of Nursing. This is the next step up from being a clinical nurse manager. The director is in charge of teams of nurses and develops a strategy for the nursing department. The director’s focus is on ensuring excellence in patient care and making sure that team members comply with all state and federal rules and regulations. This role generally requires a master’s degree in nursing.
  • Chief Nursing Officer (CNO). This is the highest level nursing position within a healthcare organization. This nurse oversees all things related to the nursing staff, including policies and procedures and staff development. A minimum of a master’s degree in nursing is required.
  • Healthcare Administrator. This is a nonclinical role, but nurses with a clinical background are sought out for these positions since they understand the patient experience and health outcomes. A minimum of a master’s degree is required.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Nurse Executive

Nurse executives are the senior administrators in a nursing organization. They lead the nursing team, make executive decisions, and are responsible for overseeing the management side of patient care services. A nurse executive manages teams, handles finances, and creates new policies.

They work in a wide variety of healthcare settings and consulting firms. Nurse executives need a strong clinical background and a minimum of a master’s degree in nursing. A DNP executive leadership degree could increase career opportunities for nurses seeking executive positions within the healthcare field.

Similarities Between Nurse Leaders and Managers

Nurse leaders and nurse managers are both leaders within the healthcare field.

Nurse leaders and nurse managers both require a high level of knowledge within the nursing field since they each have a direct impact on patient outcomes. Both managers and leaders must be skilled at:

  • Communication with staff
  • Delegating work
  • Making decisions
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Encouraging teamwork
  • Teaching others

There are some key differences in the roles. Nurse managers often work behind the scenes and are involved in daily operations whereas nurse leaders are more involved in directing patient care.

The Nurse Leader Versus the Nurse Manager

Nurse leaders oversee a team of nurses and directs them on improving patient outcomes. Nurse leaders are expected to have strong problem-solving skills and excel in critical thinking. They oversee and execute new care policies and have a less hands-on approach than nursing managers.

nurse leader is involved in strategic planning while the nurse manager implements the new strategies with patients. The nurse leader works toward “fulfilling an organization’s vision, mission and long-term objectives.”

Just a few of the leader’s tasks include:

  • Staying updated on healthcare research
  • Finding ways to reduce healthcare costs by improving patient care and reducing time spent in the hospital
  • Developing more efficient and effective treatment plans
  • Developing programs to increase nurse retention
  • Addressing public health problems like disease prevention
  • Ordering and reviewing diagnostic tests

Nurse managers can be involved in direct patient care. They direct other nurses in their performance of nursing procedures, treatments, and record-keeping. They oversee hiring and staffing, and are responsible for implementing the policies and procedures introduced by the nursing leaders.

How to Become a Nurse Leader

Nurses are natural leaders. No matter what level they are at, they make important decisions every day. They take charge of patient care and implement policies of the organization where they work.

The best way to climb the ladder of leadership is to continue their education. Registered nurses can earn their bachelor’s degrees. Nurses with a bachelor’s can earn a master’s degrees, and those with master’s can earn doctorate degrees.

Earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a Professional or Executive Leadership Specialization is one way to become a sought-after nurse leaderDNP leadership programs online are an ideal way for the busy nurse leader to receive the advanced degree necessary to secure a leadership position. This degree is offered online by American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Science at Post University.

If you are looking into advanced degrees in nursing, please contact American Sentinel College of Nursing & Health Sciences at Post University to get more information. Our school offers multiple nursing degree programs, including an RN to BSN program, an MSN with several available specializations, and an online DNP program in executive leadership.

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