When you become a nurse, it’s not always the case that you have high aspirations. Perhaps you just want to care for people who are sick and feel that it would be a rewarding career. However, once qualified, it becomes more obvious that changes can be made to improve patient care or the functioning of the healthcare facility, but you are in no position to make such changes.
To go into an executive nurse leadership position certainly will catapult you into a place where you can have an impact on how nurses work within healthcare. This includes the planning and strategic decisions that alter the working life of nurses for the better.
For this article, we’ll be exploring how a qualified nurse who’s keen to get into upper management can approach it.
Where Are You in Your Career Now?
Assessing realistically where you are in your current career is the first step. While you may have designs on becoming an executive leader, it may not be the right time yet. Nonetheless, it’s possible to work towards getting to this level as a significant career milestone, so don’t get discouraged.
Are you a new RN with only a few months on the job? In this case, you should be thinking about gaining more experience on the wards and becoming better at your job. At a certain point, it will make sense to study for a Master’s in Nursing to open up a world of new nursing job opportunities before you. However, it’s still beneficial to get more of a general grounding in the profession before undertaking this if you’re a very new RN.
Working as a Nurse for 1-2 Years
If you’ve already been working as a nurse for a year or two, then you should have reached a certain level of knowledge and experience. Hopefully, junior managers like your direct report(s) have been providing opportunities for your personal and career growth along the way. At which point, it may be suggested to look at studying for masters.
Already a Junior Nurse Manager
Having reached a level where you’re managing new RNs that come into the profession and onto the ward, you’ll certainly be looking at what’s possible for you. Wanting more is perfectly natural, and so greater management and eventually, a senior leadership role within nursing should be a goal worthy of pursuit at this point.
Do You Understand What an Executive Nurse Does?
An executive nurse role is a complex, demanding one with long hours and requires an intensive focus. It involves looking at the big-picture view for the organization or nursing specifically and making strategic, often difficult decisions for the good of patient care, staff and the organization too.
Not only is a robust energy level required, but a passion for directly improving how the healthcare organization operates as it related to patients, nurses and other staff is beneficial too.
There are challenges within the role that are difficult to get your head around. For example, Medicare funding including unexpected cuts can change budgets and what level of care is possible. Now new medical equipment purchases may need to be delayed a year should uninsured patients be unable to cover their medical expenses, leaving the organization with a financial hole to fill.
Along with this, working to improve overall patient care levels with better medical outcomes is also a goal to pursue. Not losing sight of this goal in the middle of financial, managerial and organizational demands pulling you in different directions is tough.
Are you ready to handle it?
Where Are Your Academically?
From an academic standpoint, most of the time there are steppingstones, and it may require multiple steps to get from where you are to where you wish to be.
Sure, there are accelerated training programs to get you there faster, but it depends on what aspect of nursing that you’re interested in whether they’re relevant for you.
What is a Prerequisite to Study to Become an Executive Nurse Leader?
With nursing leadership courses, they will differ on what their requirements are. Certainly, with a DNP in Executive Nurse Leadership, there are higher requirements than a leadership-related degree at the master’s level.
Here are a few of the possible requirements to apply to study to become an executive nurse leader:
- Master’s degree in Nursing from an accredited Nursing school (different nursing masters may be applicable if they had a business or related focus).
- A GPA of 3.0 or higher.
- A valid RN license that doesn’t have any encumbrances.
- One or more years of working experience with financial budgets, the leadership of a team, planning strategically or similar.
Do You Lack Management Experience Currently?
Given that to study for a DNP in executive management requires a nurse to already have had a year or longer at a management level, what should you do if that’s not your situation?
We would suggest looking realistically at your working life as it stands today. Are you likely to be given these kinds of responsibilities in your current job? Can you apply for a more senior position in the same healthcare organization or elsewhere to gain this experience?
Certainly, you’ll probably require a master’s degree to be considered for management or leadership roles that provide relevance to a DNP degree application. If you don’t currently possess a masters, then that’s probably the next step. However, if you do, then it’s necessary to actively pursue advancement into management positions to gain the necessary experience. Then you can apply to study for the right DNP degree to advance again.
To reach the most senior level within nursing should be a long-term career goal for ambitious nurses. There’s nothing to be ashamed about by having this goal for yourself. Discuss it with your mentor (find one if you don’t already have one) but don’t necessarily share this information with every nurse your work with. It’s a competitive world in the nursing profession, so it pays to be a little guarded with whom you share lofty ambitions. Make a career plan and then take the steps necessary to attain the level you desire.