The Importance of Leadership in Nursing: 10 Reasons Why Nurse Leaders Are Essential

Nurse leader teaching nursing student how to measure blood pressure
Nurse leader teaching nursing student how to measure blood pressure

The importance of leadership in nursing is evident in the United States as the healthcare system changes at such a rapid pace. Before COVID-19, the healthcare system was facing numerous challenges including the aging baby boomer population, the shortage of physicians, the retirement of registered nurses and health care reform.

The global pandemic places increasing demands on the healthcare system that require fast responses from healthcare providers (HCP). Leadership in nursing is about encouraging nurses to step up into leadership roles and act as partners to physicians and other healthcare providers.

Education is the first step to empowering nurses to embrace the roles and responsibilities of a healthcare leader. An MSN-FNP program teaches students leadership and advocacy skills beyond day-to-day practice, such as how to influence healthcare policy development, regulation and finance systems and how to integrate ethical standards into care.

The importance of leadership in nursing continues to be top-of-mind as healthcare practitioners overcome unforeseen challenges and work on the frontlines to maintain the quality of care for millions of Americans.


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Exploring the Importance of Leadership in Nursing

Essential workers are heroes that continue to uphold the well-being of Americans as the nation fights to overcome COVID-19. As Americans and the rest of the world grapple with the changes spurred by COVID-19, the leadership in nursing becomes a differentiator between low and high-quality healthcare. There are ten primary reasons why nurse leaders are essential now more than ever.


Advocate for Quality Care

Nurse leaders don’t just deliver quality care, they become advocates for quality care. The article “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health” denotes that nurses should not operate as “functional doers” who blindly carry out the instruction of others, but rather, they must now be “thoughtful strategists”. Nurses who act as thoughtful strategists are “informed decision makers and whose independent actions are based on education, evidence, and experience.”

Nurse leaders can use their authority and leadership skills to advocate for higher quality care for patients. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), nursing is the nation's largest healthcare profession, with more than 3.8 million registered nurses (RNs) nationwide. Depending on the state, a single physician (MD) could supervise up to eight nurses.

The NP to MD ratio further supports the importance of leadership in nursing and how nurse leaders are responsible for making decisions that influence the quality of care when a physician is not available to do so.

Practices that recognize the importance of leadership in nursing encourage nurses to suggest strategies that could improve the quality of care and carry out these strategies within their teams.


Inspire Others As a Nurse Mentor

Nurses who embrace leadership positions and use advanced skills to influence change in the healthcare system become inspiring figures for other nurses. One study that supports the importance of leadership in nursing found that participation in a mentor program impacted the transition into practice and retention rates of new graduate nurses. The same study outlined that the minimum cost of implementing a mentorship program with new graduate nurses amounted to $10,000, while the cost of turnover for the hospital could reach $42,000 to $64,000.

Nurse leaders who act as mentors showcase the importance of leadership in nursing in their ability to improve retention rates of new nurses and help other nurses transition in the practice.


Gain Authority and Resources to Make Big Decisions

The rapid change occurring in the healthcare system demands that nurses become effective decision-makers. Healthcare organizations that focus on the importance of leadership in nursing will benefit from employing effective decision-makers.

Nurses must use decision-making models to arrive at conclusions that inform courses of action in a healthcare environment. Programs such as an MSN-FNP degree teach nurses critical thinking skills, cost-benefit analysis, cause-and-effect charts, and other evidence-informed decision-making (EBD) models to make big decisions.

A recent study found that using evidence-informed nursing practice (EBNP) creates better outcomes in nursing. EBNP in practice is “the ability to question practice, then search, appraise, and apply evidence acquired through education and experience in leadership.” The study supported the importance of leadership in nursing and stated that nurses can acquire this competency through higher education: “For the individual nurse leader, personal development may begin with the pursuit of further formal graduate education that will increase the depth of knowledge in EBNP and its application to management and leadership decision-making.” Formal education in nursing now focuses on the importance of leadership in nursing by teaching nursing students how to enact EBNP in their practice to improve care.


Help Prevent Burnout Among Staff

Nurse leaders are not just influencing patients in their practice, they’re influencing other HCPs in the work environment. Before COVID-19, HCPs often experienced burnout after working overtime to accommodate physicians and nursing shortages. Symptoms of burnout include mental and physical exhaustion, emotional fatigue, stress, cynicism and job dissatisfaction. Burnout among HCPs can create risks in patient safety and a reduction in the quality of care.

Nurses who have been trained in leadership skills can recognize warning signs of burnout, take the symptoms of themselves and their coworkers seriously and exert appropriate actions to prevent burnout. Healthcare institutions that recognize the importance of leadership in nursing may see reduced burnout among their nurse leaders and teams.


Understand Ethics in Nursing and Healthcare

The relationship between leadership and ethics in healthcare depends on the perceived importance of leadership in nursing. Nurse leaders must learn seven principles for public health ethics, including:

  • Non-maleficence: A commitment to do no harm.
  • Beneficence: The obligation to produce benefits for patients and clients.
  • Health maximization: The responsibility to maximize the health of the overall population.
  • Efficiency: The use of evidence-informed decision making to improve efficiency.
  • Respect for autonomy: The principle of respect for a patient’s freedom of choice.
  • Justice: Demanding equal opportunity and social justice in healthcare.
  • Proportionality: The balance of individual freedom and the wider good of public health.


Contribute to Organizational Change

Healthcare innovations and service delivery are changing rapidly and underpinning the importance of leadership in nursing. The introduction of telehealth technologies and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the healthcare industry in a big way. Effective leadership in nursing hinges on a nurse leader’s ability to adapt and respond to organizational change. A recent study found three major characteristics of successful changes in healthcare organizations:

  1. The opportunity to influence the change
  2. Being prepared for the change
  3. Valuing the change

The study found in the results, “Organizational changes in health care are more likely to succeed when health care professionals have the opportunity to influence the change, feel prepared for the change and recognize the value of the change, including perceiving the benefit of the change for patients.”

Nurse leaders are essential because they act with authority to influence needed organizational change. Nurse leaders are educated on how to make evidence-informed decisions that provide the best outcomes for patients and the organization at large.

Nurse leader teaching student how to draw blood from a patient


Be Proactive and Provide Preventative Care

What is proactive nursing? Proactive nursing is the focus on preventive healthcare rather than a sole focus on the treatment of illness and disease. Preventive approaches to healthcare define the future of the healthcare industry. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), care strategies focused on prevention can slow or stop the progression of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Chronic diseases affect approximately 40% of the population in America (133 million Americans) and consume 75% of total healthcare costs. The CDC stated that better leadership contributes to the actualization of proactive care: “Increasing uptake of preventive services requires multifaceted strategies, including but not limited to organizational leadership, education, measurement, and reimbursement.”

The CDC’s citation of organization leadership highlights the importance of leadership in nursing. The implementation of preventative strategies and the reduction of chronic diseases in America largely depends on the acknowledgment of the importance of leadership in nursing and the commitment to practicing proactive care.


Educate Other Team Members

Nurse leaders with higher education can act as a resource to other nurse practitioners. A leader is an individual who can guide and inspire others towards a path of change. One of the primary ways to guide others is through education.

The importance of leadership in nursing starts with knowledge transference and collaboration among team members. RNs and NPs are encouraged to engage in “interprofessional collaboration” which is defined as “the collective involvement of various professional healthcare providers working with patients, families, caregivers, and communities to consider and communicate each other’s unique perspective in delivering the highest quality of care.”

Healthcare providers bring a unique perspective from their work experience and education.

The dissemination of individual knowledge allows practicing nurses to continue to learn from each other, improve care and reinforce the importance of leadership in nursing.


Influence Healthcare Policies and Regulation

Nurse leaders are critical thinkers who have extensive knowledge about the healthcare system, policies and current regulations. Discussing the importance of leadership in nursing is especially relevant as healthcare providers navigate impactful policies in the United States. The introduction of healthcare programs, regulations and policies affect the following:

  • Controlling healthcare costs
  • Expanding access to care
  • Improving the quality and value of care
  • Mitigating physician and nursing shortages

The regulation of new technologies like telehealth also affects nurses and patients. A new concept called “nursing telepractice” has accompanied the introduction of telehealth and instructs nurses on how to interact with patients in a virtual setting, how to uphold privacy and confidentiality, how to abide by ethical and legal obligations and more.

Given that policies impact resource allocation and the delivery of care, nurse leaders should play a vital role in formulating policy. Nurse leaders can influence healthcare policies in the following ways:

  • Identify policies and regulations you want to influence
  • Obtain education and resources regarding policies
  • Contact nursing organizations to participate in policy making
  • Explore health policy agenda and contact local legislators
  • Volunteer in policy meetings
  • Inform policy decision-makers and stakeholders


Participate in Financial and Business Decisions

Healthcare management personnel often handle the financial and business decisions related to a healthcare organization. However, nurse leaders should also have a say in these important decisions. For example, imagine a hospital is making a purchasing decision about whether or not to invest in an expensive medical device. Nurses working at the hospital should be interviewed to determine if the product will be used to justify the return on investment (ROI).

Health Tech Magazine interviewed Patricia Sengstack, an associate professor of nursing, who said, “You need to have the people who are going to be using the system directly involved with decision-making regarding selection and design, or you’ll have a hard time being successful.”

Leadership in nursing doesn’t just apply to care delivery. Nurses occupy the nation's largest healthcare profession and they should have a say at every level, from delivery of care to resource allocation. Educated nurse leaders understand healthcare systems and can apply this knowledge to make informed recommendations to healthcare management regarding financial and business decisions.


Start Your Nursing Career at Marymount University

The entry-level option for students with non-nursing undergraduate degrees is the Online ABSN. In just 16 months, Online ABSN students complete the following requirements in preparation for RN careers:

  • An on-campus residency
  • Clinical placements in Virginia
  • 100% online courses on topics like Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Marymount’s ABSN is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Nursing courses at Marymount are taught by practicing APRNs who can speak with authority about the profession. The university’s stellar reputation is confirmed by top U.S. News & World Report rankings in its National Universities and Nursing categories. 

If you want to become an RN, contact one of our student advisors to discuss if this program is right for you.


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