Everyone knows that nurses are under a great deal of pressure. Between intense and long working hours, the high intensity of the role, many patients needing care, and important medical decisions made daily, and occasionally changeable staffing, nursing is not an easy profession. It can, however, be an incredibly rewarding professional calling that requires skill, knowledge, patience, and leadership.
A patient’s recovery is directly related to the competency, professionalism, and leadership abilities within a facility’s nursing department. There are a several factors that influence the recovery of a patient, as well as influencing the performance of a certain facility. One of these factors includes trusted and qualified nurses who maximize patient comfort, keep patients motivated and in high spirits, and lead the entire nursing department in striving for greater results and medical excellence. Excellent nurses, and nurse leaders, are those who strive to provide the best care for their patients, as well as pioneering great teams who can sustain high quality performance and good health for their patients across their clinical field.
Why the nurse-patient relationship matters
A nurse practitioner’s responsibilities go far beyond helping to heal physical ailments of patients. A nurse could end up playing many roles for just one patient – whether that is caring, being a confidant, or being an advocate for the right care. Providing comfort, establishing trust, advocating for the best medical course of action, providing feedback based on experience and medical knowledge, and easing the emotional burden carried by a patient’s loved ones are all tasks included in the role of a successful nurse, and one who is appreciated by the patients.
Establishing healthy, positive, and trusting patient relationships is not only beneficial for recovery, but also has a positive impact on the mental and emotional well-being of nurses. Positive patient relationships help nurses feel fulfilled and motivated in highly demanding professional environments. While empathy and compassion are essential, the nurse practitioner must also establish emotional boundaries and maintain professionalism. As mentioned above, the role of a nurse is very challenging – not just physically, and in terms of knowledge, but also with the emotional toll that the job can take on people.
Nurses can reduce recovery time and improve patient outcomes by:
- maintaining regular and meaningful interactions with patients
- creating safe spaces where patients feel comforted and protected
- helping patients remain in high spirits
- contributing towards important medical decisions
However, it is also important to note that nurses do not need to become involved in a patient’s personal life. They are there to provide care, in an effective way.
Qualities of a nurse leader
There is not a specific list of qualifications that make someone a nurse leader, but this type of individual is generally recognized through prominent leadership qualities, that set them apart from colleagues. Nurse leaders strive daily to inspire, motivate, and achieve high levels of nursing excellence that help create successful medical environments for all.
Some qualities nurse leaders embody include:
- efficient communication and collaboration
- continued professional development and learning
- creation of safe and healthy environments
- effective resource optimization and allocation
- healthy balance of professionalism and compassion
- strong code of ethics
Nurse leaders do more than positively impact patient outcomes; their influence has the potential to reach the highest levels of the medical hierarchy, and not just in the teams that are closest to them. Effective nursing leadership has the power to drive change in healthcare legislature, uplift working environments, and advocate for the rights and best interests of both patients and medical practitioners. If a nurse hears of someone doing good elsewhere in their region, it could inspire them to do the same, and therefore spread the high level of attention to the role.
What is a DNP?
To begin a career as a nurse leader, aspiring nurses need to pursue advanced qualifications, such as the DNP from Spring Arbor University. What is a DNP? It’s a comprehensive and holistic program that combines both rigorous theoretical coursework and practical opportunities. The DNP – or Doctor of Nursing Practice – is tertiary education that requires three to five years of full-time study and ultimately equips healthcare professionals with the highest possible level of nursing expertise and practice. Spring Arbor offers such a program, which can be completed flexibly and online. This type of course can greatly benefit nurses who want to pursue further education, as it means that they are not halted in their careers and are able to continue working alongside their studies.
Focused on patient outcomes, the coursework is less research-heavy than other degrees and aims to teach high levels of theoretical nursing knowledge that can be implemented in practical environments. Following graduation, nurse leaders are equipped with real life experience and 1,000 post-baccalaureate hours of practice. Part of this experience includes receiving feedback and engaging in opportunities for professional reflection.
Coursework is divided into three components, defined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) as the Domains of Nursing. The first component – also known as General Practice Coursework – includes subjects such as person-centered care, interprofessional partnerships, and healthcare technologies. The second component – Concepts for Nursing Practice – explores topics such as ethics, communication, health policy, diversity, equity, and inclusivity. The third component focuses on furthering students’ general learning through individual specialties.
While a DNP is not yet mandatory to pursue a career in nursing, it does help aspiring nurses establish themselves as nursing leaders. It is possible that the DNP may soon become the required qualification for all nursing practitioners. A DNP can also open doors to greater career opportunities, as it equips students with the knowledge and expertise required to pursue high-level leadership roles within the medical industry. It places nurse practitioners on equal footing with doctors, pharmacists, and other graduates, giving them greater leverage in important decision-making processes.
The DNP vs. the Ph.D.
While a DNP focuses on in-clinic practice and implementation, a Ph.D. furthers one’s healthcare knowledge through research-based learning. In-depth research helps prepare for future challenges in healthcare industries, find holistic solutions that benefit communities and populations, advance equity, and innovate methodologies. Those who graduate with a Ph.D. can also pursue academic roles.
While both Ph.D. and DNP holders play vital roles in the healthcare industry and may be in fair demand in terms of job openings, there are distinct differences in their teachings and the opportunities allowed to their graduates.
Practitioners who graduate with a DNP translate their working knowledge in the field and often work in a hands-on environment in which they interact directly with patients. They may also work in positions in which they manage and lead other nurses within their departments.
Ph.D. holders focus on conducting useful research that may lead to the improvement of systems or the development of medical theories. They may be better suited to working in research facilities of prestigious universities or healthcare organizations or educating the next generation of healthcare practitioners in nursing programs.
Both roles are important in combating nursing shortages and advancing the field of nursing and healthcare. When deciding whether to pursue a DNP, candidates should remember that there is not an ideal template for a DNP student. Innovative leadership, effective communication, and detailed analysis skills, however, are qualities that are beneficial to candidates.
Different styles of nurse leadership
Various styles of nurse leadership can impact patients and their recovery. Each style has the potential to be successful and make a meaningful difference to patients.
Transactional nurse leaders lead their nursing departments through supervision and rewarding positive group performance. They pay close attention to how their nurses perform various tasks to find areas of excellence and evaluate those areas in need of improvement.
Transformational nurse leaders lead by example and aim to inspire and uplift their subordinates by going above and beyond whenever possible. They do not place particular importance on tradition; they opt to find innovative ways of relating to their nurses and discover what individually motivates them.
Democratic nurse leaders encourage two-way communication and open-door policies, always valuing staff participation in important decisions. They are happy to give added responsibility to their nurses and work with them primarily using trust-based relationships.
Authoritarian nurse leaders make decisions with little input from those they lead, and there is little tolerance for mistakes. This style of leadership can be quite traditional and slow to adapt to change.
Finally, laissez-faire nurse leaders sit at the opposite end of the spectrum from authoritarian nurse leaders; they lead with little supervision and are sometimes criticized for being too relaxed and informal. They may prefer a more hands-off approach, putting great trust in their nurses but providing little guidance.
Several key studies show evidence that transformational nurse leadership is the most successful nursing style in positively impacting patient outcomes, with fewer instances of medical error and lower rates of patient mortality. The most effective leadership style in individual cases, however, depends largely on the nursing department and the individual leader.
Is nursing for you?
The COVID-19 global pandemic showed the harrowing daily experiences of nurses working in the field during a health crisis and caused many to reconsider their roles in healthcare.
While it is true that working as a nurse and nurse leader can be incredibly difficult and often emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding, they are also highly rewarding careers that contribute to leading fulfilled and joyful lives.
As with any career, careful consideration needs to be given before making this monumental decision: is nursing the best path for you?
Ask yourself whether helping people is a driving force in your life and if it adds value to your daily endeavors. Many successful nurse leaders are driven by the emotional fulfillment they receive from being able to assist, advocate, and protect others who are vulnerable and in need.
Nursing candidates also need to be prepared for long hours of physically intense work. While technological advancements and better equipment have made the workload lighter for nurses, a nurse’s role is still busy, and you will work at optimal mental and emotional capacity for many hours per shift. Not only will you endure long hours, but they may be irregular, causing you to miss important events and appointments.
As a nurse, it is important that you handle stressful and emotional situations with professionalism and clarity of mind. When working as a nurse, every day is different, and you need to be prepared for challenges that may arise and be able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.
When pursuing a DNP, an aspiring nurse leader should be prepared for a dynamic, engaging, and highly demanding career. When approached with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a passion for helping others, nursing can be a rewarding and fulfilling professional endeavor. Impacting patient outcomes and successful recoveries is just the first step, albeit a vital one – in the lifelong journey of a nurse.