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Establishing Yourself as a Leader in Nursing

by Carson-Newman … on September 22, 2020
Doctor consulting with a nurse

Learn more about Carson-Newman's online BSN to FNP program.

In 2011, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for more leadership in nursing. Its landmark report, The Future of Nursing, argued the nursing profession must produce more leaders to transform health care.

Nursing organizations believe all nurses should develop their leadership ability. Whether you serve at the bedside or in the boardroom, you can make extraordinary contributions to health care.

This blog will explain how to take the first steps in establishing yourself as a leader in healthcare. Read on to explore the meaning and significance of leadership in nursing and why you must grow as a leader.

You'll also learn how earning a master's degree, such as Carson-Newman University's online MSN-FNP program can help you become a nurse leader.

What Is Leadership in Nursing?

Leadership is not merely giving direction and expecting others to follow. IOM describes leadership in nursing as working in full partnership with other health professionals. Such partnership requires mutual respect and collaboration.

Evidence shows that collaboration among healthcare leaders, and particularly, the development of the nurse's leadership role in this partnership, has advantages for patients and nurses alike, as well as for the field of health care.

Patients benefit from better health outcomes, shorter hospital stays, and cost savings. Nurses enjoy greater job satisfaction, higher retention, and improved teamwork.

To bolster your leadership in nursing, you'll need to develop specific knowledge and skills. IOM identified the following as the key competencies for nurse leaders:

  • Knowledge of the care delivery system
  • Teamwork skills
  • Ability to collaborate within and across disciplines
  • Understanding of the basic tenets of ethical care
  • Patient advocacy
  • Theories of innovation
  • Foundations for quality and safety improvement

Growing proficiency in these areas will equip you to lead and implement change at every level of nursing. From improving processes and creating new practice models to influencing policy, you can provide leadership in nursing in many ways that will lead to better patient outcomes and transformations in health care.

doctor walking with nurse in hospital hallway

How Can I Gain More Leadership in Nursing?

The IOM report suggested three ways for RNs to prepare for greater leadership in nursing: mentorship, political engagement, and formal education and training.


Forming a mentoring relationship will prepare you for increased leadership in nursing. A mentor can provide guidance that improves your ability to lead and influence.

For example, your mentor may help you expand your clinical skills, navigate interprofessional collaboration, or hone your communication.

There are many ways to find a mentor. Consider a colleague you admire or a past preceptor from a clinical rotation in your nurse practitioner training.

Health care organizations also run mentoring programs, including the:

Political Engagement

Another way to pursue greater leadership in nursing is to participate in policy making.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) believes advocacy is a crucial component of the nursing profession. By advocating for health care legislation, you will advance both patient care and the profession.

Here are a few ways to become more politically engaged:

  • Vote: Express your positions on health care by voting in local, state, and national elections.
  • Connect with Policymakers: Advocate for your views by interacting with elected officials. Attend their community events, call, or write to them.
  • Run for Office: Put yourself forward for a government position, an industry board, or a workplace committee. These roles will give you the platform to drive change.
  • Follow RN Action: RN Action is the advocacy arm of the ANA. You can sign up to receive governmental affairs updates and news about how to participate in advocacy campaigns.

Graduate Programs

Completing a formal education or training program will also develop the competencies you need to become a nurse leader. Organizations in health care and nursing offer a variety of options.

Another option for BSN-prepared nurses is to earn a master's degree.

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) encourages all nurses to build on their nursing education. Earning a master's degree will enhance your ability to provide high-quality care. It will also prepare you for leadership roles in administration, direct care, and beyond.

Master's degree programs expand on undergraduate learning. They also develop broad knowledge and skills in a particular area, such as advanced practice nursing.

nursing students using tablets

How Does a Master's Degree Build Leadership in Nursing?

According to AACN, the purpose of a master's degree is to prepare candidates for leadership in nursing.

The curricula enhance RN preparation by delivering a fuller understanding of nursing. As a result, graduates can practice at a higher level across our complex and dynamic health care system.

Master's program curricula have three components. Together, they teach the knowledge and skills to increase your leadership in nursing.

You'll learn to:

  • Lead change for quality improvement
  • Advance a culture of excellence
  • Build and lead interprofessional teams
  • Navigate and integrate care
  • Design innovative nursing practices
  • Translate evidence into practice

Let's explore each component of a master's-level nursing education.

Graduate Nursing Core

This part of the curricula covers nine areas that AACN has deemed essential for all master's-level nurses.

  1. Background for Practice from Sciences and Humanities: Continually improve nursing care across diverse settings by integrating scientific findings from nursing, biopsychosocial fields, genetics, and more.
  2. Organizational and Systems Leadership: Promote high quality and safe patient care by developing organizational and systems leadership skills. These include ethical and critical decision-making and collaboration.
  3. Quality Improvement and Safety: Understand the elements of quality improvement – including the methods, tools, and performance measures – and how to apply quality principles.
  4. Translating and Integrating Scholarship into Practice: Know how to apply research outcomes, resolve practice problems, serve as a change agent, and disseminate results.
  5. Informatics and Health Care Technologies: Learn how to use patient-care and communication technologies to deliver, enhance, integrate, and coordinate care.
  6. Health Policy and Advocacy: Engage in the policy development process to intervene at the system level, and influence health care by employing advocacy strategies.
  7. Interprofessional Collaboration for Improving Patient and Population Health Outcomes: Learn how to communicate, collaborate, and consult with health professionals to manage and coordinate care.
  8. Clinical Prevention and Population Health for Improving Health: Apply and integrate broad, organizational, client-centered, and culturally appropriate concepts to plan, deliver, manage, and evaluate evidence-based clinical prevention and population care.
  9. Master's Level Nursing Practice: Gain an advanced understanding of nursing and relevant sciences and understand how to integrate this knowledge into practice.

Direct Care Core

The coursework in this component teaches candidates how to provide direct care at an advanced level. For example, a master's degree program might focus on one of the four advanced practice registered nursing (APRN) roles, such as a nurse practitioner (NP).

You'll learn about physiology/pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. You may also take other courses that accreditation agencies require for licensure.

Functional Area Content

Master's degree programs also feature clinical experiences. They allow candidates to apply their learning, preparing them for specific nursing roles.

two nurses review a chart

Why Strive for Leadership in Nursing?

By striving for leadership in nursing, you'll contribute to the greater good and create a fulfilling career path for yourself. For example, let's examine these outcomes for graduates of an MSN – FNP program, such as Carson-Newman's.

Transform Health Care

Nurses who advance their education beyond the RN level can significantly improve patient outcomes. Higher levels of nursing education have been associated with:

  • Reduced mortality rates
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Lower health care costs

The outcomes are similar for NPs. By earning a master's degree and advancing to this APRN role, you can make a positive impact on patient care.

Evidence shows that NP care is safe, effective, and efficient. Studies showed that compared to patients of doctors, NP patients have:

  • Higher satisfaction
  • Fewer unnecessary hospital readmissions
  • Fewer potentially preventable hospitalizations
  • Fewer unnecessary emergency room visits

NPs are also positioned to transform health care by addressing the demand for primary care doctors.

By 2032, the Association of American Medical Colleges expects a shortage of between 21,100 and 55,200 primary care physicians.

FNPs are trained in primary care and can provide many of the same services as primary care doctors. As a result, they're equipped to fill the gap in primary care.

If you pursue leadership in nursing as an FNP, you can help deliver primary care to the growing number of Americans who need it.

smiling nurse talks to patients

Create a Fulfilling Career

Another reason to strive for leadership in nursing is that it can lead to a fulfilling career. That's because more nursing education equates to greater career opportunities, according to AACN.

A master's-level education will prepare you for several influential roles, including:

  • Providing direct patient care at an advanced level
  • Conducting research
  • Impacting public policy
  • Leading health systems
  • Consulting with corporations
  • Implementing evidence-based solutions

Becoming an FNP can provide a gratifying path to leadership in nursing.

U.S. News & World Report ranked NP as the fourth best job in health care and the fifth-best job in STEM as well as all jobs in the nation overall. NP received high ratings for the job market, future growth, and salary.

From 2018 to 2028, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of NPs to grow by 28%. That's over five times the national average.

FNPs will especially benefit from a bright job outlook. They're qualified to work in various health care settings, so they can apply for jobs in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and many more settings.

Wherever FNPs choose to practice, they're busy. The typical full-time FNP sees approximately 18 patients per day.

As an APRN, FNPs also take home an impressive salary. The mean annual wage of all NPs is $110,030.

smiling nurse in lab coat with stethoscope

Take the First Step Toward Leadership in Nursing

If you're ready for the next step in your nursing career, consider the online Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner offered by Carson-Newman University. If you already have an MSN, consider pursuing a Post-Master's FNP Certificate to enjoy all the leadership opportunities, job satisfaction and autonomy of a family primary care provider.

Carson-Newman's online MSN-FNP prepares graduates with the skills necessary to define their futures as holistic and confident FNPs. For MSN degree holders, Carson-Newman's Post-Master's FNP Certificate will enable you to widen your scope of practice and lead as an FNP.

Broaden your influence, gain independence, and help address the growing needs of primary care as an FNP in your community.

Read why our MSN-FNP students have decided to become NPs and what impact they aim to have on nursing.

Learn more about Carson-Newman's online MSN-FNP program or Post-Master's FNP Certificate program.

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