How advanced qualifications help prepare nurses for leadership roles


There is no question that, as a profession, nursing has never been more demanding. Not only are resources scarce and the pressure to perform as high as ever, but staff have also had to face a pandemic and fast-paced technological changes in the last few years. So what path can nurses take if they want to best face up to these challenges and provide vital leadership in the workplace?

In this article, we look at the role that advanced qualifications can play in helping to positively shape a nurse’s career by providing the tools to prepare for leadership roles and drive positive change in the workplace. In addition, we will also examine the qualities needed to become a successful leader, the value of experience, and how lifelong learning is crucial to forging a successful career in nursing.

Preparing for leadership

Nurse leaders are typically responsible for managing other nursing staff, helping maintain organizations’ structures, delivering a high level of patient care, and developing and improving nursing processes and procedures. Though many nurse leaders work in hospitals and clinics that provide primary patient care, others may be employed in more specialized areas, including psychiatric institutions, drug treatment centers, and home healthcare services.

Whatever area of healthcare they operate in, nurse leaders are sure to be faced with a new set of challenges that go beyond general nursing work. Though sometimes nurses may be pushed unexpectedly into a leadership role, many forward-thinking nurses look to advanced qualifications to prepare them for this situation, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). In addition to providing a signal of their commitment to learning and evolving as nurses, an advanced qualification can also help them develop the skills, knowledge, and theoretical background to guide and manage others.

Teamwork, strategy, and morale

One of the most critical tasks of any nurse leader is to inspire their colleagues. As role models, they should always look to set a good example and provide encouragement in difficult situations. This was particularly important in the recent pandemic, of course, when medical professionals were faced with an almost-unprecedented situation, with the very strictest epidemiological measures imposed, significant numbers of people becoming sick, severe staff shortages, and morale often at a low ebb.

In this kind of extreme situation, where uncertainty, stress, and pressure are rife, nurse leaders that are capable of maintaining their composure, continuing to perform their everyday tasks, and ensuring that others do the same is worth weight in gold. Naturally, they also require a great deal of empathy to help provide valuable support for others struggling with such difficult situations. In this case, an advanced qualification such as a DNP can help provide nurse leaders with specific strategies and techniques that will help them better manage their colleagues and react positively to adverse situations.

Building bridges

In addition, nurse leaders often act as a bridge between nursing staff, physicians, and administrators. If, for example, the nurses in a given health institution have a particular issue with their working conditions, would like additional technical training, or are unhappy with or unsure about a specific procedure, a nurse leader might be responsible for discussing the issue with doctors and management and working toward a positive solution. Similarly, if there is a dispute between different departments in a medical facility or a greater need for better communication, the nurse leader may again be asked to liaise with the relevant staff to reach an understanding. Here, an advanced qualification will help provide nurse leaders with a broader view of healthcare institutions and a profound experience of the interaction between different processes, as well as strategies for managing any conflict and working toward building a more cohesive team.

Nurse leaders may also be involved in shaping and implementing the strategy of the given institution. In this case, they are often part of a multidisciplinary team that assesses the facility from various perspectives – including medical, financial, social, and patient care ­– before concluding how best to proceed. In most cases, nurse leaders and other staff are then also asked to help monitor progress, report back on developments, and offer their opinions and suggestions on adjustments and further improvements to be made. An advanced qualification may also provide nurse leaders with strategies related to offering recognition to staff members, soliciting relevant feedback, and analyzing any results.

Better patient care

This is perhaps the most essential part of being a nurse leader: working hard to ensure the highest possible level of patient care. Naturally, the most critical aspect of providing high-quality patient care is to help ensure that staff members work as a highly motivated and cohesive team capable of dealing effectively and efficiently with any issues the patient may have. An advanced qualification such as a DNP will also provide nurse leaders with the tools needed to truly understand the needs of the patients and how best to meet them in the context of the challenging and demanding healthcare environment.

Because nurses are, in almost all cases, the closest point of contact for patients, with typically more one-on-one time than anyone else, they play a crucial role in conveying information, helping build up a broad medical picture, and ensuring that any treatment plan is properly carried out. In addition, nurses are often well-placed to receive feedback and discuss issues with patients. This is another reason why strong nurse leaders are so crucial – encouraging fellow nurses to speak to patients can help the institution gain valuable insights into the wants and needs of patients.

Increasing efficiency

Another critical area in which nurse leaders can play a crucial role in increasing the efficiency of the institution and the level of nursing care in particular. Generally speaking, nurse leaders can contribute to greater efficiency by ensuring that the nursing staff operate at an optimum level and perform all assigned tasks accurately. This can mean anything from completing all relevant paperwork to performing thorough medical examinations, ensuring treatment plans are followed to the letter, and managing appointments. Again, an advanced qualification will help nurse leaders understand the importance of efficiency and give them a more detailed overview of the various factors that can influence it.

Naturally, technology is also crucial to managing the efficiency of modern healthcare facilities. In addition to making sure they are comfortable with the technology used themselves – be it patient management software, monitoring systems, or diagnostic equipment – nurse leaders must also be capable of assisting others in using it. And if, as can happen, the institution may be reluctant to invest in a particular piece of technology that might help improve everyday effectiveness, the nurse leader may be required to advocate for the needed changes.

Keeping on top of things

In addition to these factors, many nurse leaders at smaller institutions are also responsible for managing the budget, or in the case of more extensive facilities, they will still be tasked with keeping an eye on financial matters in their specific department. They may also be allocated other administrative tasks, including scheduling shifts, negotiating nurse pay, and monitoring attendance and information related to sick leave.

In addition, compliance with regulatory requirements is often another crucial part of the job description. In this case, nurse leaders may be responsible for ensuring that all rules are followed, monitoring compliance, and staying up to date with what is required. In a DNP course, nurses are typically instructed on the general compliance authorities. They are introduced to the best strategies, technology, and techniques to ensure the team is clear about the most important regulations and always adhere to them.

The right package

Given the complexities outlined above, we can say that a good nurse leader needs to have excellent interpersonal skills so that they can adequately manage any staff that works under them while also communicating well with other people involved in the healthcare process, from physicians and technicians to administrative staff and, of course, the patients themselves. In addition, they should also have a creative, innovative, open mindset to react to and drive change in the workplace. They should display the ability to delegate to others while taking responsibility.

While these people skills are all essential qualities of a nurse leader, being equipped with the right skills and knowledge also helps ensure the highest decision-making level. By completing a Doctor of Nursing Practice at an institution like Walsh University, for example, prospective nurse leaders will have the chance to develop leadership and advocacy skills, improve their critical thinking abilities to help improve the quality of care in their place of work and heighten their expertise in terms of organizational and healthcare systems. These kinds of courses pay particular attention to the importance and the challenges of leadership, and they also offer clinical experience to ensure that graduates will be fully prepared for a leadership role in the future.

A never-ending story

Of course, in addition to advanced qualifications, experience is also a vital part of the armory of any nurse leader. After all, it is one thing to understand and absorb relevant knowledge and theory. Still, putting them into practice in a clinical setting is even more important. Experience is a crucial part of this, which is why most nurse leaders have several years of nursing experience behind them and often look to specialize in a particular branch of healthcare.

Lifelong learning is also another crucial aspect of being a good leader. After all, both the nursing profession in particular and the world of healthcare as a whole are in a constant state of flux, with each passing year bringing ever-evolving challenges, from innovative technology and new regulations to changing social norms, new medicine and treatment options, and even brand-new healthcare models. In this fast-paced environment, it is essential to be open and willing to try and learn new things to be an effective leader. In addition, many nurse leaders may also play a crucial role in offering mentoring for others, initiating mentoring programs, and potentially encouraging and organizing training sessions and courses for critical work areas.

Driving change in healthcare

Overall, we can say that the best nurse leaders play a crucial role in healthcare. In addition to encouraging and building good teamwork and greater collaboration, they are also responsible for supporting their fellow nurses and other healthcare staff and working hard to create close cooperation between different healthcare professionals and departments. They must also ensure the highest level of patient care by listening to patient needs, increasing efficiency through relevant measures, and ensuring full compliance with the applicable rules and regulations.

To carry out this highly complex and demanding job, nurse leaders need not only the requisite soft skills and experience but will also benefit from advanced nursing qualifications that can provide them with the theoretical background and complete skillset necessary to help them work to the best of their ability. The challenges may be significant, but any nurse leader who can combine these abilities and know-how to deliver high-quality care and drive change in the workplace will thrive in their role and be a credit to the nursing profession.