Nurse leaders have long held positions of prominence, their work improving and saving lives and revolutionizing health and healthcare. However, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a number of factors are creating more opportunities than ever for nurses to move into executive leadership positions in hospitals, multi-facility hospital systems and integrated health systems where they can have the most influence on decisions that impact policy and nursing practice.
Increased access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act and the understanding that the roles, responsibilities, and scope of nursing must change to meet the needs of an evolving healthcare system are chief among these factors.
According to the RWJF, these events, building on decades of initiatives throughout the nursing community, are providing new opportunities for nurses to become healthcare executives, policy makers, government officials, and business leaders.
This shift towards placing more experienced nurses in high-level executive leadership roles and within increasingly complex healthcare environments demands a higher level of educational preparation—namely, the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). The DNP prepares nurses to serves as healthcare leaders and change agents during this time of reform as the nation moves toward providing better access to care, better quality of care, and more affordable care.
The Role of DNP-Educated Nurses in Executive Leadership
Although nurse executives and leaders are nothing new, DNP nurses today are moving beyond traditional leadership roles into broader and more senior executive-level positions, both in and outside of healthcare organizations and systems.
DNP nurses in administration and executive leadership positions are capable of promoting innovative approaches to problems in highly complex healthcare environments, exploring technologies that embrace efficiency, and overseeing patient safety, patient and staff satisfaction, and cost factors.
Through the close examination of leadership, evidence-based management practices, and collaboration, DNPs in executive leadership roles develop and promote competencies in:
- Leadership of teams and organizations
- Strategic planning and resource utilization
- Measurement and analysis of healthcare outcomes
- Information management and its utilization in decision-making
- Development and management of quality improvement initiatives
- Team building and interprofessional collaboration
- Critical evaluation and application of current research and best practice protocols
Unique Contributions DNP-Prepared Nurses Bring to Executive Leadership
The DNP builds on the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), allowing nurses to integrate specialized knowledge, theories, and research from nursing science and related disciplines into the practice of nursing.
This provides DNP graduates in executive leadership with the skills necessary to:
- Affect desired change by developing and implementing policies within the healthcare system and with different constituents
- Assume leadership roles as administrators, educators, and advanced clinicians,
- Demonstrate accountability in nursing practice according to accepted standards of patient care and safety
- Demonstrate advanced knowledge and skill in the planning and delivery of health management
- Provide multidisciplinary leadership by analyzing critical indicators within healthcare systems
- Use information technology to make sense of research findings and translate them into practice, both at the individual and health systems levels
DNP executive leaders effect healthcare change by:
- Developing and leading interdisciplinary teams
- Conducting evidence-based research
- Developing programs that improve healthcare outcomes
- Addressing national policy issues
- Advocating for healthcare change
Preparing Nurses for Executive Leadership Through a DNP Program
DNP preparation provides nurses with an opportunity to explore:
- Leadership theories
- Project management and evaluation techniques
- Evidence-based practices
- Change theories
A DNP program in executive leadership allows students to explore a number of areas:
- Leadership Style: DNP programs allow students to explore and compare leadership models, such as authoritarian leadership, Magnet certification leadership, and participative leadership.
- Evidence-Based Management Practices: DNP programs prepare graduates to embrace evidence-based practice and to adopt evidence-based management practices.
- Collaboration: One of the most important skills taught in a DNP program is collaboration, as it allows nurse executives to work within teams to achieve the goals of an organization. DNP programs also prepare nurse executives to transcend barriers to collaboration, such as work-related boundary concerns and competition. Deliberate collaboration can strengthen the relationship between colleagues and interdisciplinary teams and improve patient safety and staff satisfaction.
Many DNP programs provide extensive study in these areas:
- Working with vulnerable populations
- Fiscal and human resource management
- Quality Magnet achievement
- Emerging technology
- Organizational research in clinical issues
Even those DNP programs focused on other areas of advanced clinical nursing include coursework aimed at the development of strategic planning skills in an ever-changing healthcare environment. The AACN’s Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice places a strong emphasis on organizational and systems thinking as a way to balance productivity with quality of care. The DNP curriculum helps support the development of political, business, and financial acumen—all of which are required by nurse administrators and executives when analyzing the practice, quality, and cost aspects of operating an organization.
DNP programs in executive leadership emphasize systems thinking, preparing graduates with an understanding of everything from change management, to conflict resolution, to organizational behavior in the healthcare environment.