Preparing the Next Generation of Nursing Leaders

September 28, 2016


SNHS Dean Judy Beal and Patricia Reid Ponte of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham & Women's Hospital on why nurses excel at all levels of healthcare leadership

SNHS Dean Judy Beal and Patricia Reid Ponte, Chief Nursing Officer and Senior VP of Patient Care Services at DFCI and Executive Director, of Oncology Nursing & Clinical Services at BWH, are collaborating with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to develop an intensive Strategic Management and Decision Making program for top-level nurse executives. They shared what makes nurses so vital to healthcare leadership teams:

Many people see a nurse’s primary role as being part of a care team. Why is it critical that nurses also seek leadership positions?

Nurses have assumed leadership roles since the time of Florence Nightingale. Nurses have consistently played a critical role in the business of healthcare organizations and in the quality and safety of care delivery.

The 2010 IOM Report on the Future of Nursing positions nurses in key roles of leadership necessary to transform healthcare delivery with the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Baccalaureate and Master’s level nursing programs have always prepared their graduates as leaders. Even as a novice staff nurse, a professional nurse is a leader for the delivery of quality and safe care to patients. In this informal leadership role, nurses step up to the plate every day to deliver exceptional quality care. As they mature in their roles, nurses assume more formal leadership roles on their units, in their organizations, and in professional associations. 

Nurses are prepared in their educational programs to lead collaboratively and inclusively. They are taught to partner with others – patients, families and colleagues. The onset of the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree has further advanced the intention to assure that nurses lead effectively and collaboratively. Leadership programs like the one that Simmons and the CHANS HSPH are partnering to develop provides evidenced based leadership development for experienced leaders who are self reflective, know they have more to learn and desire to have opportunities to network and further develop themselves as leaders

Do those with a nursing background tend to excel at any particular roles within hospital and health system management?

Nurses assume formal roles as team leaders, nurse managers, clinical and staff development directors, associate vice presidents, chief nurse, vice president of patient care services, system CNO, just to name a few nurses create their own businesses, they are deans, provosts, presidents of universities, they are CEOs, COOs of health care systems, they are partners in law firms, they are principals of consulting firms. Nurses lead major public health and community programs at the local, national and global arenas. Nurses are policy makers and scientists. Nurses lead in big and small ways.

What complementary skills does a nurse need to master to become a successful executive?

According to the IOM (2004), a successful nurse executive needs skills in:

  • Implementing evidence based management
  • Balancing tensions between efficiency and reliability
  • Creating and sustaining trust
  • Actively managing the change process through communication, feedback, training, sustained effort and attention and worker involvement
  • Creating a learning environment
  • Being mindful and holistic in balancing professional and personal lives and being role models for others in doing so
  • Being an effective collaborator – the importance of the whole being more important than one discipline perspective
  • Balancing strategy and operations
  • Creating a practice/work environment of inclusivity, trust and transparency
  • Humility
  • Leadership = Love (Jean Watson)

The AONE 2005 nurse executive competencies include skill in five domains:

  • Communication and relationship building
  • Leadership
  • Business skills and principles
  • Knowledge of the healthcare delivery system
  • Professionalism

The 5 core competencies taught in the Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellowship Program include:

  • Self-Knowledge
  • Strategic Vision
  • Risk Taking and Creativity
  • Interpersonal and Communication Effectiveness
  • Inspiring and Leading Change

In what ways does Simmons prepare our undergraduate and graduate student nurses to be future healthcare leaders?

Principles of leadership are integrated throughout the curriculum at all levels in the classroom and clinical experiences. 

 We also have specific leadership programs:

Advances in technology, access to better nutrition and wellness opportunities and changes in healthcare policy continue to alter the landscape of the healthcare system. What can today's nurses do to keep ahead of a rapidly changing environment and help improve outcomes for their patients and organizations?

Nurses must constantly keep up with the evidence base for their practice as well as scanning the health care and political arenas for the latest trends. A nurse who is a passionate learner with an insatiable sense of curiosity learns from her patients and other leaders, keeps the profession alive and fresh, and advances not only herself but others and the profession. Being involved in professional association leadership is critical to success.

Do you have any tips for nurses who want to take the next step toward a management role?

In addition to pursuing advanced education think about:

  • Subscribing to a professional journal that excites you
  • Joining a professional organization -- and becoming actively involved. Assume leadership roles over time
  • Joining a committee at your place of employment
  • Writing about nursing for a newsletter at your organization
  • Finding a mentor
  • Introducing yourself to leaders in your organization 
  • Networking with like-minded, passionate Individuals
  • Stretching yourself; take risks! 
  • Taking time to reflect on who you are and what you’re doing with your career
  • Becoming increasingly self-aware. Look for blind spots, use a coach and/or mentors, and ask for feedback
  • Actively participating in your community. Know your legislators at the city, state and federal levels
  • Cultivating and maintaining a mindful attitude in all you do

What are some professional organizations that support nursing leaders?

The role of nurses as leaders has been supported by: The Institute of Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Recognition Program, the American Organization of Nurse Leaders, and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

(Left: SNHS Dean Judy Beal, Right: Patricia Ponte Reid, Chief Nursing Officer and SrVP of Patient Care Services at DFCI and Executive Director, of Oncology Nursing & Clinical Services at BWH)