Michael Dowling: 7 reasons organizations should be cultivating future nurse leaders

During their day-to-day work, nurses gain unparalleled knowledge of the nuances of patient care, making them ideal candidates for leadership positions. Hospitals and health systems thrive by making a dedicated effort to give nurses the resources they need to transcend their frontline responsibilities. In today's environment, this is not a choice but an obligation. Healthcare organizations are short-changing themselves by not nurturing their nursing talent.

Here are seven reasons why nurses make exceptional leaders.

1. Nurses have an unbelievably detailed expertise in the day-to-day operations of clinical delivery. They have extensive clinical knowledge and their bedside experience gives them an intricate understanding of diseases and their diagnoses. Providers will always respect a leader who can bring clinical proficiency to their position, and nurses have no shortage of that knowledge.

2. Their experience at the point of care gives nurses a better understanding than most clinicians of the patient experience and the dynamics between patients, their families and their providers. One of the most undervalued components of the care delivery process is the human aspect. Patients rarely make decisions by themselves and are usually surrounded by family members. Nurses have vast experience with family dynamics and know how poor communication between providers and patients' families can impact care.

3. Nurses understand physicians better than most physicians do. They not only understand the pressures and rigors of the position, but also how physicians operate and what separates the good physicians from the ineffective ones. Nurses are often the liaisons between patients and physicians. They have to master the art of communication more than anyone in the hospital, which serves them well as they move into leadership roles and are tasked with communicating organizational decisions to their teams.

4. Nurses recognize that the quality of a patient's experience is based on the efficacy of clinical care, but also know there are many other defining factors that influence their overall satisfaction, such as service. Few other clinicians have a better and broader understanding of quality than nurses, who are typically on the receiving end of patient feedback.

5. The ability to be a good mentor is an invaluable skill in a leader — and it is an unwritten job description of most nurses. It takes patience and a genuine determination for individuals to become effective mentors, and it is part of every nurse's on-the-job training to teach their younger colleagues. This sensitivity to the interests and needs of others is part of the inherent make-up of any good nurse, which can be quickly transitioned to a leadership role.

6. Most providers in a hospital are nurses, and most have great respect for their fellow nurses. When nurses assume a leadership position, it unleashes a mutual level of respect among their colleagues. The frontline staff pays greater heed to the opinions of a leader who has gone through similar experiences. At the same time, my experience has been that nursing leaders have greater empathy for the needs of their employees.

7. Perhaps because of the ever-changing environment in which they work, I find nurses to be more open to change than other clinicians. In the fast-paced world of nursing, there is no time to become stuck in your ways. Nurses are always looking for ways to make care more effective and efficient on a day-to-day basis. Nurses in leadership positions have a transformative mindset and this inherent adaptability serves them well.

Here at Northwell, we have a number of nursing leadership and training programs, but one of the most important aspects of our curriculum is collaboration. Our nurses are never train in isolation. Interdisciplinary training is essential to knocking down the silos that plague many facets of our industry. Nursing leadership programs help health systems and hospitals attract and retain talent at a time when many providers are struggling to fill jobs. Nurses are attracted to organizations that provide opportunities for growth and development, especially if they see evidence of nurse leaders who have gained influence and stature. At Northwell, nurses lead five of our hospitals and hold several of our key leadership positions, including the chief learning officer of our corporate university.

The role of nurses and nursing leadership development will only grow more pronounced as providers continue to expand beyond the walls of the hospital into outpatient practices. Ambulatory environments tend to be more customer focused than traditional hospitals, attracting patients who are better educated and have higher expectations. That makes it all the more important for providers to recruit, retain and promote high-quality nursing leaders who will help ensure the delivery of high-quality, well-rounded care. 

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