The undeniably important, complex, sometimes overwhelming, and all-consuming role of the nurse manager can't be accomplished in a vacuum. Regardless of your level of leadership expertise and experiences, you need outside resources, influences, ideas, knowledge, and support to achieve success in your role. These come to you through a variety of venues:
- graduate school
- targeted education (online, conferences, and meetings)
- reading (journals, blogs, newsletters, and e-mail blasts)
- Internet sites that reveal evidence-based nursing practices
- professional nursing organizations.
Today's environment of healthcare delivery is ever-changing at a pace none of us ever imagined possible. Complexities related to reimbursements, regulatory requirements, a multigenerational workforce, and high patient satisfaction expectations require a level of leadership that's well prepared to meet these challenges. Some of the decisions you make regarding advancing your education and overall leadership knowledge may be directed through your organization, as in requirements to obtain a graduate degree in your field. As important as this step is in your success as a leader, don't assume that it replaces the ongoing benefits of networking and continuing to build your foundation knowledge.
The Mayo Clinic developed a model to enhance leadership skills for the clinical nurse transitioning to a leadership role. The success of its program was in the extensive 6-month period of education and observational experiences where participants could relate leadership principles to the “real world” of leadership. In its retrospective study, it was noted that participants practiced at a higher level of professionalism and were more involved on an organizational level.
If your organization offers a similar program, or even segments of leadership development, it's essential that you make time to participate. The time invested up front in this type of education will save you time down the road as you deal with conflict, delegation, and many other facets of your role. With so many options available to the nurse manager outside of his or her organization, it's important to develop a personal plan for how you'll develop in your new role. Make an appointment with your manager to review your plan and be open to his or her insight about other opportunities that may be available to you, which will enhance your ability to lead. Consider the following questions and assess what resources are best suited to enhancing your leadership skills.
What's your highest level of education that's directly related to your current role? Does this comply with the degree required in your job description? Does your organization plan on requiring all nurse managers to hold a minimum college level degree, and, if so, does it have to be in nursing?
Making the decision to go back to school for a degree is a major undertaking from a time, financial, and family impact perspective. At first thought, it may seem easy to select which degree you want to obtain. However, you need to consider the role you have now and what your goals are in the next 3 to 5 years. With so many facets of a master's of science in nursing (MSN) degree to be had, make the time to be sure your decision suits you. To help with this decision, talk with other leaders and listen to their stories about how they made their decision. For example, the thought of attaining an MSN with a role as an NP may sound exciting and inviting until you consider what you really want to do. If you want to work primarily as a manager/leader and won't have time for direct patient care and maintaining skills in X-ray interpretation, prescriptive authority, and so on, this may not be the best choice for you. This certainly doesn't mean you can't do both, as some nurses do so and quite successfully. However, you must consider family and other obligations, and be realistic about what you can do versus what you may wish you could do.
Reflect on the following as part of your decision making:
- Are you willing to refocus your life while you're going back to school?
- Can you balance family, friends, your job, outside interests, and school?
- Are financial obligations related to going back to school going to disrupt you/your family's financial security?
- What do you want from the graduate program?
- Are you self-motivated enough to participate in an online curriculum?
- Is this a degree for a job today or the hope/promise of a job tomorrow?
- Can you study and learn independently for a long period of time?
- Are you eligible for financial support?
- What type of targeted education best suits your learning needs, as well as time away from work/home and financial investments?
- Does your organization provide any budgeted funds for nurse leaders to participate in ongoing education? (See Table 1.)
Did you think you were going to pull off this role by yourself? Don't overlook the importance of networking. Who do you network with now, is it only peers from within your organization? Have you ever met with a manager who holds a role similar to yours at another organization? How many connections do you have now that you could call or e-mail to get advice? How many different specialty nurse managers do you connect with regularly to share forms, policies, and so on? (See Table 2.)
Read, reread, and read some more
Organizing your week to allow time for reading is a necessary part of your job. Do you currently plan for this time? How much time per week do you dedicate to this? Do you have a filing system on your computer/desk files that allows you to route items of interest to a dedicated area? How do you currently decide what to keep, trash, or file for a later time? Do you have an effective retrieval system that allows you to go back and easily find a previous item? What sources do you currently use to obtain your reading materials?
How do you currently engage staff in evidence-based nursing? Do you have the most current resources, or know where to access these? If you don't have your BSN or MSN, this may be a knowledge gap for you. Do you know where you can get information on the fundamentals of evidence-based medication?
One example is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which has numerous resources and tools related to implementing evidence into practice. An entire handbook for nurses can be downloaded free of charge.
Professional nursing organizations
Are you a member of any professional nursing organizations? If not, why not? Is it because of finances or lack of interest? Can you name three things your state/national nursing professional organization did to improve the workplace for nurses and promoting patient safety? Do you know the differences between the initiatives coming from your nurse specialty organization versus the American Nurses Association? Do you know what initiatives are of a collaborative nature?
Joining a professional nursing organization has many benefits, including a subscription to its journal as part of membership dues and maintaining credibility through the most current information related to healthcare delivery. If you're interested in joining an organization, but tight on money, see if your manager would be willing to include the membership fee to one professional nursing organization as part of your benefits package.
The power of many
When you realize the power of many, the rewards go beyond you as a nurse manager and your departments. Benefits are realized through your participation in organizational committees and other initiatives that work with the mission in mind. There's great reward in having a 360-degree view of the needs of staff members, patients, their caregivers, and the overall organization—all of which are revealed when you enhance your leadership skills.