The American Nurses Credentialing Center's Pathway to Excellence® Program (Pathway) and Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing (Sigma) are harnessing their collective impact to grow in value and benefit nursing worldwide. Both organizations recognize the importance of striving for positive practice environments and creating a sustained culture of excellence by supporting individual nurses along their professional journey. One way to support nurses as they seek career growth is through professional branding.
Several organizations have chosen to enhance their brand by embarking on the Pathway journey and living the Pathway Standards. Being Pathway-designated demonstrates an unwavering dedication to nursing excellence and positive practice environments, giving them a competitive edge and validating that their organization is among the best places to work. Along with this is the reality that every individual nurse, no matter their title, also has a brand that reflects on the organization and the department in which they're employed. Professional Development, the sixth Pathway Standard, remains integral to elevating nursing within the department and the entire organization.
Aligning in purpose
Aligned in vision, Sigma and Pathway continue to bring exemplary leadership, professional development, and positive practice environments to the forefront. Both partners understand the power of a collective voice to propel these topics forward.
Sigma, an international nursing honor society, recognizes nurses who demonstrate excellence in scholarship and exhibit exceptional achievements in the profession. Sigma offers its more than 130,000 members recognition for their academic and professional achievements, professional development resources, and connection to other nurses worldwide. Sigma provides unique opportunities for nurses to disseminate their research and evidence-based practice work by publishing abstracts and research in the Sigma Repository, presenting at in-person and virtual international events, authoring online courses, contributing journal articles, and authoring Sigma-published books. Sigma also directly supports research by awarding US $350,000 annually for research grants, evidence-based practice projects, and leadership development. Its annual event, Creating Healthy Work Environments, creates a space for nurses to disseminate their research and evidence-based practice works related to this topic. Clearly, there's much work to be done to establish a healthy work environment to ensure excellent care of patients, families, and the workforce. Sigma believes that uniting with the common goal of building a healthier workplace will continue to bring solutions to the forefront.
Positive practice environments are as significant as any personal protective equipment because they provide an invisible structure that safeguards the well-being of nurses and fosters staff resiliency as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in an already stressed workforce. Healthcare has been bombarded with a multitude of challenges that seem to have lingered, causing moral anguish, stress, and burnout, as many nurses have verbalized. Even more troubling is how numerous others have left the profession altogether. Healthcare organizations, therefore, must examine the current and desired state of their respective work environments.
Pathway, the premier global credential for positive practice environments, provides a free self-assessment tool that allows organizations to do just that, capturing a snapshot of their current culture. Pathway assists healthcare organizations in creating and sustaining a healthy workplace for nurses and other healthcare professionals.
What comprises a positive work environment is multifactorial and seemingly challenging to measure.1 However, Pathway provides a framework consisting of six evidence-based standards (Shared Decision-Making, Leadership, Safety, Quality, Well-Being, and Professional Development) that nurses and researchers have found to be essential in creating a positive practice environment (see Figure 1). The program recognizes healthcare organizations that demonstrate a commitment to establishing the foundation of a healthy workplace for healthcare professionals.
An organizational brand has been defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.”2 Simply stated, it's a company's promise. Arguably, industries dependent on their employees to provide their services must consider that their employees represent them and are ambassadors of their corporate brand, including the brand equity employees offer.
Brand equity, simplified, is the value added to a product or service by consumers' associations and perceptions of a particular brand name.3 This includes financial differentials and consumer response. In layperson's terms, a brand is worth more when consumers have positive opinions of it. Employees of any organization contribute to its overall value. The crux, especially in service industries, is that employees are a critical part of an organization's brand equity or added value.
Employee brand equity is built both explicitly and implicitly. Explicit information is often delivered via employee handbooks provided by human resources during orientation. Implicit information is the employee's experience with an organization's brand.4 Organizations must ensure alignment of the explicitly stated mission, vision, and values with employees' implicit, perceived experience to build brand equity. Healthcare organizations strive to build their brand equity for many reasons, such as attracting and retaining talent, acquiring customers, increasing quality of services, and more, and they should realize the pivotal importance of investing in and committing to nursing professional development, well-being, and healthy work environments.
Personal professional branding
The concept of personal professional brands has been growing in popularity. Beyond celebrities and social media influencers, professionals also possess a brand. A professional brand is “what you are known for, what you mean to people, and the expectation people can have when they interact with you.”5 Professionals create and bring brand equity, or added value, to committees, projects, roles, interactions, and other endeavors.
To an observer, a person's professional brand is partially defined by the activities they pursue and how they spend their time. For example, if a professional nurse is a youth sports coach, a mentor through their specialty nursing association, and regularly volunteers to precept nursing students, their brand may be contributing to the growth of others. People can expect this professional nurse to take others under their wing and act as a guide.
Although many nurses may not realize they have a professional brand, that brand exists nonetheless. The choice becomes whether and how you decide to manage your professional brand. Sigma and Pathway urge nurses to realize they can manage their personal professional brand to benefit both themselves and their organizations.
Nurses should take some time to write out their personal mission, vision, and core values, which can serve as their personal professional brand foundation. This helps them create a lens through which to evaluate potential endeavors. For example, it has often been said that nurses must learn to say “no” when necessary. Viewed through the lens of mission, vision, and values, perhaps a slight pivot on this view is needed. Learn how to say “no” to endeavors that don't align with your brand, so you have the capacity to say “yes” to the ones that do. Helping nurses to formalize a professional brand is an unrealized tool for nurses' professional development as well as organizational brand equity.
Nurses are an extension of their employer, both in the service they provide to patients and families and other potential healthcare employees. Sigma and Pathway remain synergistic in terms of developing nurse leaders and elevating nursing. Coming together to help advance healthcare is a shared vision for both organizations. As nurse leaders, nurse advocates, and mentors to the future leaders of healthcare, we must work together to move the needle on positive practice environments, nurse well-being, and the value of professional development. Upon being considered for Pathway designation, the organization automatically elevates its brand in the community. Moreover, positive practice environments arise as soon as the Pathway Standards are enculturated throughout the organization. Such a positive culture then trickles down to the healthcare team, further elevating the brand of individual nurses and that of the entire organization.
1. Maassen SM, van Oostveen C, Vermeulen H, Weggelaar AM. Defining a positive work environment for hospital healthcare professionals: a Delphi study. PLoS One
2. Keller KL. Brand synthesis: the multidimensionality of brand knowledge. J Consum Res
3. Chaudhuri A. Brand equity or double jeopardy. J Prod Brand Manage
4. Erkmen E. Managing your brand for employees: understanding the role of organizational processes in cultivating employee brand equity. Adm Sci
5. Gray SE. Using social media to develop, augment, and propel your career. In: Marshall LS, ed. Take Charge of Your Nursing Career
. 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Sigma Theta Tau International; 2022.