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A Career in Nursing Leadership

TOBY BRESSLER, PhD, RN, OCN
Director of Nursing for Professional Practice

Maimonides Medical Center       


How can I be a nurse leader, i.e. nurse manager, coordinator, clinical manager?

Leadership is not a title or a formalized position. From bedside to boardroom- we all lead. There is a nurse leader in every registered nurse. Be a leader, lead patient care, lead a project- inspire leadership: one person at a time. Lead by example and know that nothing happens in the dark. The notion of being the change you want to see in the world can happen- Leadership is not for the faint of heart! However, the capacity of influence as a leader is exponential. When pursing a formalized leadership role or leading your colleagues or classmates,  Be fearless! Be passionate! Equally as important is an understanding of professional matters and how they interplay with institutional and national policy in order to navigate the complexity of care delivery and the complicated ethical concerns we face as nurses. True nurse leaders have an appreciation of every nurse regardless of role or title: Appreciate what each nurse brings to the health care equation. As John Quincy Adams shared with the nation in the late 1700s’ “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

Staff Engagement: How do you engage your staff?

I engage with staff by being present. Rounding on the units, engaging with clinical staff and building relationships is of utmost importance. By building relationships and getting to know people as individuals, you foster a healthy work environment and can energize staff and developing them as individuals and within teams. I like to follow up formal or informal meetings with a note- that lets them know I am thinking about them. Every member of the team has professional dreams and goals, and as a leader, my role is to help nurture those goals to the best of my ability.

Why should I participate in unit initiatives?

A mentor of mine, the PhD program director at Molloy College would tell us, her PhD students “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu”. This adage is something I share with anyone who asks the question- why should I participate? By sitting at the table and being part of the decision making process- you become an active member of our community of nursing. If your interest is clinical issues or the development of policy or procedures, when you become an active participant in your unit initiatives- you have an active role in making a difference in the lives of your patients, their families and your colleagues!

Staff Development: Do you think I should participate in my organization clinical promotional opportunities such as a ladder?

Yes! If this is something that is in alignment with your personal and professional goals. Opportunities such as a clinical ladder afford an opportunity to build on your skills and continue to develop yourself, personally and professionally. It is imperative that our nurses and nurse leaders are reflective of the patients we serve. Leadership- should be across all nursing, in any field- academia, research, community, school nursing, clinical, or management- come to your clinical setting or work environment to be the leader in your particular specialty. Remember to have a global vision of where we as a profession are going and keeping in mind to move this force along. Passion, inspiration, and an internal compass together with external forces of events guide your career path. Setting an educational goal can be helpful to assist you in reaching your goals.  Gaining an understanding your own unique skill sets and being in touch with who you are as a person- helps guide and lead you in your career path. Whatever educational and academic route you choose will help determine future career…education, clinical, research, administration – whatever drives and inspires you will lead to success- doing your best at what inspires you.
This is the beauty of Nursing. You can begin your career at one point and transition to another-In Nursing you can do it all!

Patient Experience: Does my opinion and engagement make a difference in patient experience?

The patient and family experience, begins with the employee experience! Patient experiences are most influenced by human factors, such as relationship based care and family centeredness. Engaged employees that enjoy their work and feel valued, translates into better patient care. Making a difference in the patient experience is everyone’s responsibility. America rates nurses highest on honesty and ethical standards and is the most trusted profession according to the Gallup poll! Patients and their families trust us and we must continue to make that impact, one patient, one family at a time! As Maya Angelou famously said “people may forget that you have said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel”.                                                    

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