Traditionally, clinical skills and the principles of nursing practice are the focus of most nursing programs. But many nurses leave the bedside and rise to positions at the management or executive level, and it’s important that they have the leadership aptitudes to do so.
Unfortunately, too many nurses feel powerless in their jobs, “voiceless” in the policies that affect them and ill-equipped to demonstrate leadership when it is most important. Nurse engagement/empowerment is a top concern of many nurse leaders, in fact. This of course creates job dissatisfaction, stress, and burnout. It can lead to ineffective nursing management that compromises patient safety. And it’s incompatible with today’s increasing emphasis on multi-disciplinary care, where collaboration is key.
What Does Empowerment Look Like in the Nursing Profession?
In theory, nurses who have advanced to management positions have acquired, either through education or experience, a sense of personal empowerment.
Yet, research suggests we might still have a long way to go. A 2011 study found that nurses in middle management in an acute care hospital setting did not feel fully empowered. A more recent study, published in 2014 in the Journal of Nursing Administration, found only moderate levels of empowerment among 140 clinical nurse managers at one large healthcare system in the northeast.
Clearly, we need nurse leaders who not only feel empowered themselves but have the skills to empower the nurses they supervise. Empowered nurses benefit in many ways:
- They demonstrate autonomy.
- They are more likely to have independent decision-making skills.
- They can perform well without constant feedback.
- They feel like stakeholders in the whole care delivery system.
Nurses are more likely to develop a sense of empowerment when they work at an organization that values structural empowerment – for example, by including nursing representatives in the process of creating policies. This gives nurses some influence in areas that have traditionally been governed by executive-level hospital administrators, and it is known to help promote the highest level of nursing excellence.
Bottom line: empowered nurses are most likely to speak up about hospital policies and areas that need improvement.
Why Nurse Empowerment Matters
There are many reasons why nurses should make their voices heard:
- As frontline care providers, nurses have the most direct knowledge of the practices that drive patient satisfaction and well-being. They need to be able to articulate these insights to administrators that may lack such firsthand data.
- Because healthcare resources are limited and because there is waste in the system, nurses must be good stewards of existing resources – including medical supplies, human resources, and capital equipment. Nurses can, and should, help shape evidence-based practice where resources are concerned – even when it’s as simple as suggesting simple procedural changes that can save time and steps.
- The ANA’s Nursing Code of Ethics specifically states that nurses are responsible for continuously enhancing the quality and effectiveness of nursing practice. In other words, it is not ethical for nurses not to speak up with suggestions or concerns.
Better Patient Outcomes
Nurses who are empowered feel supported. This Nursing Management article, “Encouraging clinical nurse empowerment,” explains that structural empowerment has a positive effect on individual nurse empowerment, which has a motivating effect, raises job satisfaction, creates an empowered team, and more. In addition, an empowered team can do more than just influence staff morale and productivity. It can enhance patient care and quality as well as patient safety.
Improved Job Satisfaction
Empowerment helps nurses increase their job satisfaction overall, which is important for many reasons. In today’s current nursing shortage, hospitals must work harder than ever to hold onto qualified and experienced nurses. When nurses feel empowered, they are happier and less likely to want to leave their jobs sooner.
Read more about the dangers of nursing turnover in our blog post.
How Nurse Leaders Can Empower Those Around Them
For many reasons, empowerment is important. So how can leaders empower those around them? A few tips:
- Offer a clear vision of the future. That helps leaders get buy-in and develop a strategy around their vision that can bring about change.
- Encourage nurses to become comfortable with change. Change is a certainty in the healthcare environment. The more leaders help nurses learn to manage change, the more adept they will be in their jobs.
- Give nurses a voice. Leaders should hold daily and weekly meetings where staff has the opportunity to share concerns, ask questions, and share their patient experiences and challenges. It’s vital to design a system where nurses are seen and heard.
Last and certainly not least, leaders should help nurses advance their education, which allows them to enhance their leadership skills and find ways to further their impact as nurses.
American Sentinel has forged a commitment to empowering nurses through leadership-oriented education. The online MSN, management and organizational leadership specialization degree is designed for experienced nurse professional who seek to develop both management and leadership skills. Explore our management programs today (MBA Healthcare, MSN Management and Organizational Leadership and the Doctor of Nursing Practice Executive Leadership) and learn more by attending an open house.
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