Nurse leaders who can design, direct and assess care are in high demand, but often further education is essential. Most RNs enter the field with two-year associate degrees, but employers increasingly prefer nurses with four-year degrees.
For many people, the word nurse is synonymous with bedside care. Most nurses do begin their career at the bedside, and many choose to stay there because they find deep satisfaction in direct patient care. Others eventually decide to move into leadership positions that allow them to shape clinical care and improve outcomes.
Honing One's Skills
Nurses can begin honing their leadership skills through participation on committees or in work groups. They can also volunteer to help with activities like heart walks and health fairs.
This practical experience is important. But education is also essential. Most RNs enter the field with two-year associate degrees, but employers increasingly prefer nurses with four-year degrees. And for many leadership roles, such as unit manager, a master's degree is often preferred.
Nurses who wish to complete a four-year degree can enroll in an "RN to bachelor's" or "BSN completion" program. Such programs are designed for registered nurses who want to upgrade their skills and prepare themselves for greater opportunities in healthcare. In some cases, health systems partner with local colleges to offer on-site courses for employees.
Preparing Nurse Leaders
The increased complexity of nursing practice has created a demand for nurse leaders who can design, direct and assess care. In 2005, the National Academy of Sciences (www.nasonline.org) called for a clinical doctorate to prepare these nurse leaders.
This led to the creation of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. The new degree prepares nurses for the highest level of practice and will eventually be required for advanced practice nursing.
It is likely that DNPs will take on leadership roles like chief nursing officer or executive, director of a primary care clinic or director of system-wide quality improvement.
For a list of DNP programs, visit the website of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing at www.aacn.nche.edu/dnp/dnpprogramlist.htm).