A Step-By Step Guide
to Becoming a Nurse Leader
by Maggie Hammond

nursingPhoto by CDC on Unsplash

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One of the overarching beauties of a career in the medical profession and in the field of healthcare is that there is a myriad of different professional routes you can take to further your career, both as you would like to and at any point you feel is the right time.

Furthermore, when it comes to the nursing profession, if you are someone who is interested in furthering your nursing career at the same as moving into a more leadership role, then there is indeed a way to combine both these disciplines.

So, with that being said, here for your information and of course reading pleasure, is a step-by-step guide to becoming a nurse leader.

1. Seek More Responsibility

As in any job, especially one which involves not only working with a variety of different people from all walks of life, but dealing with members of the public consistently on a day-to-day basis, the more responsibility you actively seek out in your role, the more necessary you become to the business.

When it comes to nurses who are looking to become a nurse leader, the first thing you should do is to ask to be the charge nurse and ask for feedback as you go, both from colleagues and superiors. Becoming the charge nurse, whether that be for a day, a week, a month or even longer, will demonstrate key skills needed for nurse leadership, including assertiveness and confidence, your aptitude at teamwork, and your organization and time management skills.

2. Challenge Yourself Academically

The next step for a working and qualified nurse who is looking to expand their career prospects and become a nurse leader is to enroll onto one of the established and reputable DNP executive leadership program which combine healthcare and nursing with business and leadership classes.

The added beauty of studying for your dnp online is that you are able to base your studies around your current professional commitments, as well as your personal responsibilities.

3. Take Additional Classes

Obviously, the professional working life of a nurse, regardless of where your particular job title sits on the hierarchical structure of the particular hospital or other medical establishment in which you are based, is already a hectic, challenging and sometimes more than a little stressful one.

However, if you are dedicated and committed to your pursuit of a career in nurse leadership, then it is incredibly important that you actively engage in ensuring that you are always kept abreast of the latest changes and innovations happening in nursing and healthcare.

One of the best ways to do this is to take additional classes alongside your professional working duties and it may well be the case that the hospital in which you work will support this internal development as part of your job role.

There is a wide plethora of different websites which can provide ‘extracurricular’ tutoring on the latest developments and changes in both nursing practice and nurse leadership, including Udacity, Edx, Coursera and Lynda.

4. Actively Self-Reflect

There is no feasible way that you can properly develop your nursing career and more specifically your skills relating to nurse leadership, without being able to step objectively away from your career and professional working life, and be able to engage in productive self-reflection.

Ask yourself some questions and answer them honestly, surrounding your commitment levels to your chosen career pathway and what your specific motivations are for becoming a nurse leader. It would be pertinent to point out, although highly unlikely, that if your sole motivations around becoming a nurse leader are to further your career in terms of promotional opportunities or salary benefits, then these are certainly not the right reasons.

Becoming a nurse leader is about wanting to change the nursing practices, systems, policies and procedures for the better, and more comprehensive treatment of the patients and for a better working life for the staff.

5. Source a Nursing Mentor

As in any area of modern life, one of the best ways to become better and generally more adept at a job, role or duty is to learn from those people who are already higher up the hierarchical structure than you are.

Seeking a nursing mentor is perhaps one of, if not the best ways of furthering your nursing knowledge, strengthening and expanding your connections, and generally making your career intentions known. Nursing mentors can not only advise on professional matters, but sometimes even become someone whom you can go to in times of crisis, such as when you are struggling with your current workload.

6. Start an Innovative Project on Your Ward

Nothing says potential leadership then the initiation of a brand new and innovative project, either patient-based or indeed staff-based, which offers a solution to a problem or issue that has previously remained unsolved for some time.

You could choose to actively search for a problem by asking members of staff, or chatting to patients, asking your ward manager for ideas and indeed resources access which you may need, or conducting questionnaires and surveys. Alternatively, you could start objectively looking at areas you have found need improvement, starting a project will show your willingness to become a nurse leader in a practical and beneficial way.

7. Consider Becoming Six Sigma Certified

Finally, one of the overarching main similarities between nurse leaders not only across the length and breadth of this country, but internationally as well, is that they have sought to become six sigma certified.

Essentially, becoming six sigma certified involves gaining a certification in project management and related methodologies which are used for quality improvement and training. The successful acquisition of a lean six sigma certification may well boost your overall chances of becoming a nurse leader in the future, either at your current hospital, or another.

There are essentially six different levels, or bands, within the six sigma certification model, which are, in order:

  1. White
  2. Yellow
  3. Green
  4. Black
  5. Black Belt Master
  6. Champion

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