The healthcare industry is undergoing change, technological evolution and constant transformation. In this evolving environment, nurse leaders must ensure their healthcare teams are agile enough to adapt to health system developments and technological advancements. By doing this, they can ensure their teams can implement evidence-based best practices, provide effective patient care and drive positive change.
For nurse leaders to accomplish all three of these aims, they must work towards enhancing team wellbeing as well as prioritizing self-care among their staff and improving overall morale. Nursing is a demanding field and it is not uncommon for nurses to encounter significant wellness challenges. These challenges range from working long shifts and performing multiple tasks under time pressure, to working without breaks and dealing with patient discomfort.
Continually dealing with these challenges can affect a nurse's physical, emotional and mental health. This ultimately has an impact on how they treat patients and deliver care. Nurse leaders must implement strategies to overcome these obstacles in order to enhance team wellbeing and drive positive organizational change. After all, successful change management puts the needs of employees first.
What is a nurse leader?
Nurse leaders inspire and influence others to achieve their maximum potential and contribute to positive changes in an organization. They communicate expectations to their teams and urge them to achieve established goals. With innovative treatments, changing regulatory laws, fluctuating payment methods and technological changes, nurses need a whole range of critical skills to become effective leaders.
Nurse leaders must be adept at communicating with many different medical professionals, from primary care providers to nursing teams. This allows them to reduce miscommunication, encourage shared decision-making and provide a sense of working together towards common goals.
Collaboration and team-building skills
Nurse leaders must collaborate with all healthcare team members, both to prevent medication errors and to improve the patient experience. While some conflicts are inevitable, effective collaboration skills empower nurse leaders to navigate complex situations and focus on working together to resolve issues while creating a sense of community.
Nurse leaders must divide and assign tasks to their team members effectively to enhance efficiency. This means understanding the strengths, weaknesses and specialisms of each nurse. Knowing the skills of their staff enables nurse leaders to distribute duties wisely in order to enhance patient care and ensure team members are happy by encouraging them to use their strongest skills.
Critical thinking skills
Nurse leaders encounter new challenges daily, requiring immediate attention and decisions. They consequently need to think critically under pressure to make the right decisions quickly. The increasing desire for autonomy in nursing also makes critical thinking a valuable skill for aspiring nurse leaders. When nurse leaders are able to think critically under pressure, they can communicate more effectively about patient care to ensure providers understand unique client needs as well as their treatment status and requirements.
Nurse leaders must be emotionally intelligent in order to manage the challenges they face in healthcare settings. Emotional intelligence allows them to offer support during difficult situations and prevent staff from becoming emotionally exhausted or burned out. When nurse leaders employ emotional intelligence in their interactions with their patients and colleagues, they can bring empathy and awareness as well as the ability to understand and communicate with a diverse group of people in different situations.
How to become a nurse leader?
While many people may be suited to nursing, only some are cut out to be nurse leaders. Some future nurse leaders make a conscious decision to work in nursing management and leadership, while others can be put in a position to deal with health care issues such as the growing baby boomer population and the mental health crisis.
Complete an advanced nursing degree
At a minimum, nurse leaders are required to complete an undergraduate nursing degree program. However, enrolling in an advanced nursing degree, such as those offered by Walsh University, is paramount in expanding your nursing knowledge, enhancing your professional credibility and demonstrating a depth of clinical management experience. While working towards an advanced nursing degree, you will learn about health care issues, including governance, strategy, policies and economics as part of enhancing your knowledge of today's healthcare environment.
Earn nursing leadership certifications
After completing an advanced nursing degree, you may want to gain more credibility in your field by earning leadership and management certifications from accredited nursing organizations. Certifications can give you a strategic edge when seeking a leadership or executive position. Some industry certifications you may want to gain include becoming a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality or a Certified Healthcare Administrative Professional, or gaining an Executive and Professional Certification from the American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management. Requirements for earning these certifications vary but include gaining a master's degree, industry work experience and sometimes membership of the certifying organization.
Seek volunteer leadership positions
Taking on leadership responsibilities at the unit level can be an excellent place to start in terms of practicing and implementing your skills. It is important to remember that being a leader in nursing does not require being a nurse manager or a chief nursing officer. Seeking volunteer leadership positions will help you test out your skills and find ways to improve your ability to lead a nursing team.
Essential strategies nurse leaders use to improve team morale and wellbeing
Once you've worked towards becoming a nurse leader, the next step is implementing the skills you have learned and generating strategies that improve team morale and wellbeing. When team morale and wellbeing are prioritized, nurse leaders increase staff engagement, reduce errors and improve patient care.
Create a collaborative environment
Enhancing team wellbeing can be as easy as creating a collaborative working environment with nursing staff working together with other healthcare teams. When teams collaborate, the results can be more innovation, projects which run more successfully, and happier staff. This is because effective collaboration can reduce stress and keep workloads manageable, with employees feeling happier because they work collaboratively.
When nursing team members collaborate, it can help in getting everyone involved in decision-making. This can only be a good thing for driving positive organizational change as it increases the opportunity for innovation and resolving issues more quickly. Of course, like any other process, boosting nursing teamwork and collaboration is easier said than done, given that healthcare environments are extraordinarily complex.
Nurse leaders can navigate through these complexities and create a collaborative working environment by promoting flexibility and identifying team objectives. Establishing objectives gives everyone on the team a clear goal. This ultimately promotes team cohesion and allows for feedback. Nurses can share their ideas and suggestions for enhancing patient care as well as improving their workplace environment.
Such feedback can clarify expectations and help nurses learn from their mistakes while building confidence. When nurse leaders clarify any points raised, they can ensure their team can move towards clearer understanding, avoiding conflict and establishing common ground as well as agreement around any issues. Providing clarification also prevents nurses from making decisions based on assumptions or executing tasks without a clear direction. Clarification can consequently result in increased efficiency and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Implement employee mental health programs
Given the complexity and life-or-death nature of their jobs, nurses need to function at the highest level. However, several factors, such as a lack of appropriate resources and on-the-job stress, can have an adverse impact on a nurse's ability to perform tasks. Such stressors can also negatively impact their mental health. This can ultimately lead to poor job performance, which can contribute to poor patient outcomes, decreased patient satisfaction and increased mortality rates.
Although mental health issues for nurses have always been important, they took on greater significance during the coronavirus pandemic. A Mental Health America survey reveals that roughly 86% of nurses reported experiencing anxiety, while another 76% said they were burned out and exhausted. Given these numbers, nurse leaders need to create a culture that values and promotes good mental health to empower nurses to cope with professional and personal challenges.
Implementing a comprehensive employee mental health program is an excellent way of creating that culture. With mental health programs in place, nurse leaders can address anxiety and depression disorders, improve employee morale and reduce the financial impact of mental health issues. Since cognitive health disorders cost the global economy roughly $1 trillion in productivity annually, implementing these programs can ensure that nursing organizations can handle increasing workloads without undermining patient care.
One way nurse leaders can focus on mental health is by ensuring their nursing teams can access an employee assistance program. These assistance programs provide nurses with referrals to mental health professionals and other services to improve their wellbeing while maintaining strict confidentiality standards. Nurse leaders can develop wellness programs built around specific risk areas if needed and, in that way, provide their nurses with the best working environment possible and defuse a potentially serious situation.
Encourage staff to exercise regularly
The importance of exercise in nurses is too hard to ignore. Unfortunately, exercise often goes out the window, especially with the profession's high physical and time demands. A study revealed roughly 46% of nurses do not engage in regular physical activity despite the active nature of their role. This can prove catastrophic and result in musculoskeletal disorders considering nurses spend most of their shift walking or standing for long hours.
One way for nurse leaders to reduce the likelihood of these disorders and enhance team wellbeing is to encourage their staff to exercise regularly. Through exercise, nurses can release feel-good chemicals in their brains, such as dopamine and serotonin, which work together to increase happiness and reduce anxiety, stress and depression. Regular physical activity can also improve immunity, sleep quality and bone health, as well as contribute to weight loss and maintenance, and pain management.
However, encouraging nurses to allocate time for additional physical activity can be difficult. With a shifting work schedule and high physical demands, most nurses head to bed after work to make time for lost sleep. Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is essential, but it is only the first step towards assisting your nursing teams to increase their exercise.
Be creative and initiate a company-wide challenge that gets your staff moving out of their chairs or provides time off for physical activity. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula, adults may benefit from clocking in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity weekly. You may also want to offer workout classes for nurses during their lunch breaks or after work. This could allow nurses to use structured workouts to develop specific physical strengths.
Organize social activities
Social interaction and engagement are essential in helping nurses deal with physical, emotional and psychological work demands. While the profession is filled with interaction and engagement, providing nurses with social activities outside work is important in helping them manage work demands and achieve wellbeing.
It might be challenging to organize a social event for your staff since nurses work different schedules, but doing so has several advantages. These include improved employee experience, increased happiness and productivity, as well as less stress. A Forbes report reveals a strong social connection can reduce an employee's risk of suffering significant health problems including depression. The same report adds that social connection is one of the most significant predictors of happiness.
One way for nurse leaders to foster social connection in the workplace is to organize group activities. Some ideas include fundraising drives, weekly competitions, workplace awards and theme days. Getting everyone involved creates cohesion in the workplace and increases the ability of nurses to work together.
Departments are often siloed in many healthcare organizations. Nurses can break down barriers between departments through workplace social activities, and place everyone on an equal footing. This allows nurses to feel more comfortable in communicating and collaborating with employees from other departments.
Starting a meaningful career as a nurse leader
Strong leaders in nursing are essential in helping teams navigate the continuous changes in healthcare. Through practical and meaningful leadership, nurse leaders can assess productivity, maintain patient and staff satisfaction, and influence healthcare organizations in many ways.