You’ve been working as a shift nurse for a few years. You love it, and you love caring for patients. But there’s always been something else calling to you: leadership.
How do you start? What steps should you take? Do you need more education?
Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.
Making the Shift to Leadership
“Think about how you want to influence the health care system at large,” says Rachel Neill, MSN, RN, CPPS, Founder of InnovatRN Consulting, Chief Clinical Advisor for HealthEdGlobal, and a Clinician Advocate at Vivian Health. “Leadership roles often provide opportunities to affect change at higher levels and support health care teams across disciplines.”
If you’re not certain that leadership is for you, Ophelia M. Byers, DNP, APRN, WHNP-BC, NEA-BC, CPXP, CDE, Chief Nursing Office, Overlook Medical Center, and Associate Chief Nurse Executive, Atlantic Health System says “it’s important to gain knowledge that will inform decision-making.” Read nurse leadership textbooks, journal articles, and books by or including nurse leaders. She suggests Fast Facts for Making the Most of Your Career in Nursing, edited by Dr. Rhoda Redulla.
Once you’ve decided to move to leadership, Byers says you need to determine your track. “There are two formal leadership roles: supervisory/managerial and non-supervisory/functional. In supervisory or managerial leadership, the leader has direct and indirect reports that comprise a team and is responsible for the care of those people and the operation, e.g., staff on a clinical unit. In non-supervisory or functional leadership, the leader does not have any reporting team members but rather is responsible for overseeing a specific function (e.g., Nurse Educator) or program (e.g., Magnet Program Director),” she explains.
Find a mentor, says Desiree Hodges, MBA, RN, CCRN, NE-BC, The Vice President of Care Services at the ALS Association North Carolina. “Having someone in your corner is truly key. I recommend having a trusted source give you a 360 evaluation, taking personality surveys, etc. We all have blind spots when it comes to communication, which allows you to recognize your bias,” she explains.
Know about the tasks you may be doing that you aren’t doing now. “You may oversee budgets, organize staff training, and otherwise ensure that nurses follow the right procedures and protocols,” advises Kelly Conklin, MSN, CENP, SVP, Chief Clinical Officer for PerfectServe.
If you don’t have that experience, you may need to earn a higher degree than the one you hold and/or obtain certifications. “Know your organization’s requirements, reach out to your current leader and discuss your plans to obtain the necessary degrees or certifications,” says Hodges. “The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses has an online course designed just for nurses new to leadership roles that cover the basics of finance, human resources, safety, and quality, as well as the leadership skills to be successful in the role of nurse manager.”
Trust your instincts as well, Neill says. And don’t forget your experiences as a nurse at patients’ bedsides. “When moving into a leadership role, it is important to have a direct leader and health care system that will support you as you navigate this transition. In addition, the nurse leader serves as the first-line advocate for the nurses doing the daily work. You cannot support the nurses adequately without a team/system to support you as a leader,” she says.
Conklin says that no matter what you choose to do, “Don’t cut yourself off from opportunities—whatever they may be—that challenge your thinking and bring you to a higher knowledge.”