If you ask a group of nurses why they decided to go into nursing, the overwhelming response will probably be, “Because I wanted to help others.” Helping patients through direct clinical care is what many nurses want to focus on ─ management may not be a planned career choice, but a thing they step into due to seniority or employee turnover.

Depending on their licensure and degree of education, nurses spend many years gaining the formal education and clinical experience they need to become a great nurse. However, despite the years spent in college and graduate school excelling in organic chemistry and clinical rotations, nurses are often given little to no formal education to help them transition from a staff nurse to a nurse manager. So how can healthcare organizations help their nurses become great nursing leaders?

First, healthcare organizations have to recognize that being a “great nurse manager” requires an entirely different skill set than being a “great nurse.” A nurse may exceed all expectations in terms of facilitating patient-centered care, pain management, and medication administration, but do they know how to retain their nursing staff? Do they know how to hold employees accountable and set employee goals that align with your healthcare organization’s mission, vision, and values? Are they comfortable with budgetary data and policies? Do they know how their team contributes to HCAHPS scores? The average staff nurse promoted to a management position may never have been exposed to these areas of management expertise. 

Why does this matter? 

It’s critical that nurse managers constantly strive for leadership excellence in order to prevent turnover. Promoting staff into leadership positions when they are unprepared can end up costing the organization revenue when those managers and their staff leave the organization. Carole Stacy, MA, MSN, RN and Director at the Michigan Center for Nursing, shared her story on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Human Capital Blog and said, “ On one of our nursing surveys, one of the questions was: ‘If you’ve left a nursing job in the past two years, what was the reason?’ Over the course of several surveys we kept seeing that people were choosing ‘difficulty with nurse manager or administration.’ We found that we were not doing a very good job of preparing people to be in nursing management. Just because they’re a good nurse, we assume they’ll have the skills needed to be a good manager — and that’s frequently not the case.”

Healthcare organizations can better prepare their current and prospective nursing leaders for management positions with the right education. Here are three ways you can prepare nurses for leadership roles:

1. Offer employee training and educational opportunities approved and endorsed by national associations 

Provide training through courses developed and endorsed by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE), such as the Essentials of Nurse Manager Orientation or What it Means to be a Manager. Your eLearning courses need to include standard management topics, such as time management, team building, conflict management, motivating employees, mentoring employees and communication, as well as healthcare specific topics such as nurse staffing assessment, working with unions, and inter-disciplinary relationships.   

2. Create an internal support system to support relationship building opportunities.

The educational resources you offer your nursing teams should focus on building internal relationships. The way that leaders and managers “get things done” is through relationships with others in an organization. New managers could fail because they don’t realize this or they don’t have those relationships. To help build relationships among peers, consider creating networking opportunities for new nursing leaders who can learn together, share stories, and develop those crucial relationships. 

3. Offer healthcare specific educational content and assess your leaders

It’s really important to offer healthcare specific education because healthcare is different from other industries. For example, a typical new nurse manager could be responsible for up to 100 nurses who are providing coverage 24 hours a day. According to Pamela Klauer Triolo, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, Chief Nursing Officer of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who was quoted in a Gallup Business Journal article, “The nurse manager is the accountable person24/7 on the front lines of care with patients and families, with staff and administration.” It’s difficult to imagine another industry where an entry-level manager has such a large responsibility. Nurse managers also have to be aware of the risk of litigation, regulatory and payment rules that affect purchasing, staffing, education, documentation, and varied types of employment and employee relationships—such as union/non-union employees, clinicians who are not employees but are licensed to practice, per diem/agency staff employees, and student nurses. Healthcare organizations should offer healthcare specific education to ensure their nurses are knowledgeable within the areas that really matter in healthcare management.  

However, while it’s imperative to educate your current nursing staff who are preparing to become leaders or improve as leaders, healthcare organizations must also ensure that they’re assessing their staff nurses prior to promotion. For example, consider using behavioral assessment software to evaluate nurse critical thinking, specifically using a tool that allows you to assess critical thinking skills among the in-house nursing staff. Organizations can use behavioral assessment software to compare scores of an individual nurse against norms for other nurses by licensure: LPNs, RNs, BSNs, and MSNs. The assessment should also provide prescriptive suggestions and an individual development plan that suggests on-the-job activities and training resources.

A recent study by Accenture says that 31% of employees voluntarily quit their jobs due to their manager. So if your organization’s nurse managers don’t have the inherent behavioral competencies and the right education to be a leader, it could result in high turnover of leadership and high turnover of staff, which costs your organization time and money. In order to be successful in their role, new nurse managers need the right development and educational opportunities and an internal support system.

For more insight into how talent and learning management impacts nursing excellence, download our white paper: Journey to Magnet Excellence®: How Talent Management Influences Nursing Distinction!

About Meghan Doherty

Meghan Doherty is a content marketing professional based in the Greater Boston area. She has more than five years of experience creating and managing content for SaaS companies in the healthcare and talent management spaces.