develop nurse leadership skills in your workforce

Nurses make up the largest segment of our nation’s healthcare workforce — 4.1 million nurses are currently active in the U.S., according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Still, healthcare organizations face challenges in developing nurse leadership skills and filling nurse leadership roles.

Nurses need a way to gain the higher levels of education and training required to assume these more demanding leadership positions. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School in Boston, has risen to that challenge.

Administrators at BIDMC had long recognized the potential its nursing workforce, but its postings for nurse manager positions generally produced only a few applicants from among its ranks. So they took action.

BIDMC is now in its seventh year of a recently expanded academic partnership with nearby Simmons College School of Nursing and Health Sciences to develop its workforce’s nurse leadership skills. The objective was to “tap potential leaders on the shoulder” and suggest a career path they either hadn’t yet considered or didn’t imagine they could achieve

5 Tips for Developing Nurse Leadership Skills from BIDMC

BIDMC has been refining its program. Here are five ways to develop nurse leaders based on their learnings:

Tip #1: Identify and Encourage Nurse Leaders

Nurses may require some encouragement, says Marsha Maurer, BIDMC’s CNO and senior VP for patient care services. “Advice number-one is to really be on the alert for leadership potential in frontline nurses,” Maurer says. “Be aware of nurses who are stepping up and going above and beyond their roles, but who don’t necessarily identify themselves as leaders,” she urges.

Tip #2: Create the Curriculum

Partner with a nearby learning institution to develop a curriculum that meets your organization’s specific needs. Most healthcare organizations now require that in addition to experience providing bedside care, nurse managers must have at least a bachelor’s degree with knowledge in business and finance and administrative skills. BIDMC’s nurse leadership program creates a path of study that allows nurses to continue to work full-time while completing a master’s degree in nursing administration or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree. The curriculum includes coursework in nursing, economics, finance, and health policy.

Tip 3#: Iterate and Improve

Maurer also advises approaching your program with flexibility at the inception. Think of the first year “as a beta testing site, and be prepared to make adjustments to the curriculum as you go. You need to understand that if it’s new, it’s not going to be perfect out of the gate.”

Tip #4: Offer Incentives

While nurse leaders typically earn more than non-managers, the financial burden of going back to school can keep some candidates out of the game. BIDMC negotiated a reduced tuition rate with Simmons and offers a tuition reimbursement program that covers about half the cost for a full-time employee. The student pays the other half. Laurie Bloom, BIDMC’s associate chief nurse for professional development and research, said in the medical center’s newsletter, “We believe it’s important for students to take responsibility for a portion of the tuition, as it solidifies the idea of investing in one’s own future.”

Tip #5: Make It Possible

All parties involved in BIDMC’s nursing leadership program stress the importance of institutional support. As Denise Corbett-Carbonneau, one of the first to earn a master’s degree through the program, told the hospital: “It would have been very difficult to do this without the support we had from the hospital — understanding what the demands were, supporting the time needed to do the work, and providing the financial support.”

The Results?

BIDMC reports that of the 20 nurses who have completed the master’s program so far, 10 are in management roles and 10 are in other unit- or program-based leadership positions.

The first class of DNP students is scheduled to graduate in Spring 2018, more than doubling the cohort of nurse leaders prepared at the doctoral level.

Follow BIDMC’s lead to create a nurse leadership program that grows the ranks of nurse leaders in your healthcare organization. After all, your own workforce is “great, fertile ground for developing future leaders,” says Maurer.


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!

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Taylor Sisk

About Taylor Sisk

Taylor Sisk is a feature and enterprise writer who now specializes in healthcare issues. In his career, he’s interviewed ecologists, economists, undersea explorers, teenage philanthropists, sabermetricians, “Shark Tank” winners, hostage takers, Final Four champions, United Nations officials, radical priests, NASCAR legends, presidential candidates, and death-row inmates.