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What skills and attitudes are essential to a clinical nurse leader (CNL)?

Working as a clinical nurse leader is a challenging and varied role requiring a wide-ranging skillset. Some required skills for this role include leadership, organization, communication, and time management. As a natural career path for those looking for a rewarding role in a clinical setting, training as a clinical nurse leader develops the skills and attitudes required to excel in a career within the healthcare sector. A master of science in nursing helps develop these skills through a guided program of study tailored to the challenges leaders face in clinical settings.

A proactive, problem-solving attitude is required to excel as a clinical nurse leader. It is also essential to remain calm under pressure. It is possible to train as a clinical nurse leader without a background in nursing. Building on the skills developed in your chosen bachelor’s degree, a master’s in nursing bridges the gap to this challenging and rewarding leadership role. Whereas a clinical nurse will work more directly with patients, a clinical nurse leader’s role is focused on the broader system within a clinical setting. This means organizational and logistical planning is crucial.

Non-nurses can develop the skills required to become clinical nurse leaders by pursuing an online master’s of nursing such as Elmhurst University’s MENP for Non-Nurses. This accelerated program will help you build on skills learned in other fields to achieve your master of science in nursing. With 850 clinical hours over the course duration, this master’s program is tailored to building the foundational skills required in a clinical nurse leader’s dynamic and varied role. These clinical hours help to contextualize and give an understanding of this career’s practical organizational and logistical components.

For more information on the skill and attitude required to excel in a career as a clinical nurse leader, read more below.

Understanding the role and responsibilities of a CNL

Before embarking on training as a clinical nurse leader, it is important to understand the roles, responsibilities, and expectations. It is also important to understand where the role differs from the role of a clinical nurse. Clinical nurse leaders focus on the systems that coordinate the patient journey. This involves leading and communicating with a team throughout the process. The role also involves assessing opportunities for improvements using data to inform decision-making on a management level.

As a component of this leadership role, a CNL will mentor and guide team members throughout their department. The communication skills required in this role are also needed in interfacing with senior stakeholders throughout a hospital to achieve the best patient outcomes. Skills in data analytics and research are developed throughout training to ensure that best practices are implemented by a CNL’s team. Overall, a CNLs understanding of a healthcare setting as a system helps ensure that high standards of patient care are maintained throughout a department.

Strong leadership and communication skills

Strong leadership and communication skills are essential within this role to ensure that data-led decisions are effectively implemented. Distilling complex information into clear, actionable steps is crucial in this fast-paced setting. Listening effectively is equally important. In this leadership position, active listening helps CNLs understand the nuanced challenges of other professionals within a department, which is essential to making informed decisions. In an environment where vital decisions must be made quickly, setting the right tone in communication helps to engender a healthy environment where practitioners can make decisions effectively.

Communication requirements also extend to mentoring and teaching responsibilities. Understanding that different team members may prefer different learning methods is key. Working to ensure team members feel supported is also key to helping practitioners achieve their potential within a department. Many of the skills involved in working successfully as a clinical nurse leader are interconnected. For example, communicating that strategy to a team is equally important as developing a clinical care strategy. Strong verbal and written communication skills also play an essential part when liaising with senior managers within a hospital on topics that can often be complex and nuanced.

Ability to analyze and improve patient care systems

The relatively recent introduction of the role of clinical nurse leaders into healthcare settings is intended to facilitate improved patient care systems. Therefore, identifying opportunities for change in existing systems is central to the role. CNL training involves understanding the structure of healthcare systems. This understanding is contextualized through clinical rotations. Improving patient care systems could range from efficiency savings in budgeting to altering workflow within aspects of the patient journey. Approaches to analyzing systems are covered comprehensively in a master of science in nursing.

Analytical abilities in this role are multifaceted. Interpreting data is important to understand the wider picture in a clinical setting. Communicating with different stakeholders within an interdisciplinary team is also important to establish critical opportunities for improvement within a service. Clinical technology now forms a crucial facet of modern healthcare and understanding the intended role of different technology within a clinical setting is key to optimizing patient care systems. As the healthcare sector is constantly evolving, working on learning the merit of new approaches forms a consistent throughline in a clinical nurse leader’s career.

Knowledge of healthcare regulations and accreditation standards

A clear understanding of the regulatory landscape in healthcare helps inform clinical practice ensuring best practices are maintained. This relates to continued professional development, as maintaining a clear understanding of a changing regulatory landscape is central to understanding developments in practice within the healthcare sector. When new regulations are introduced, ensuring these are understood throughout a department and effectively implemented are both areas that CNLs contribute to.

The core healthcare regularity standards are covered in accredited courses required to become a clinical nurse or clinical nurse leader. In addition to knowledge of state and federal laws and regulations on healthcare, it is also crucial to clearly understand the policies and procedures of a hospital. As regulations change, hospitals will communicate with their teams to ensure these changes are implemented. Understanding regulations clearly is crucial, as clear understanding facilitates clear communication with a CNL’s wider team.

Financial management and budgeting skills

Effective financial management and budgeting skills amongst leadership figures in clinical settings help to improve efficiency and clinical outcomes throughout a hospital. As an organization’s financial goals change, CNLs may be required to identify cost-saving opportunities and areas where efficiency savings can be made. A CNL may also be responsible for identifying areas where increases in spending can lead to improved patient outcomes. This could relate to a wide range of areas, from tech-enabled healthcare to human resource management. The ability to interpret data efficiently and accurately is crucial to effective financial planning and budgeting.

The wide-ranging skill set required to succeed as a clinical nurse leader highlights the importance of programs such as the MENP for non-nurses offered by Elmhurst University. Many undergraduate programs in various subjects can provide skills that can be utilized in a career in healthcare when combined with a master’s entry program. For example, degrees with a numeracy component can be invaluable in financial management or budgeting responsibilities. A master’s entry nursing program will then provide the necessary training to work towards a leadership role in a clinical setting.

Project management and problem-solving abilities

The role of the clinical nurse leader is varied, requiring clear planning alongside a dynamic, problem-solving skill set. This skill set is invaluable in direct patient care and wider systems management. Effective project management will typically involve a collaborative approach with different stakeholders within an interdisciplinary team. Setting clear, measurable goals and targets is crucial in project management to evaluate the success of a project as well as opportunities for improvements.

Problem-solving abilities are an essential part of the role varying from conflict resolution strategies to resolving issues with patient care. Effective problem-solving is a core aspect of work as a healthcare professional, with a range of strategies offered in accredited training courses. The core aspects of most problem-solving strategies involve identifying the problem, evaluating potential resolutions, and implementing the best option in a timely manner. In a leadership role, this will also often involve clearly communicating expectations to different team members throughout.

Empathy and emotional intelligence

Empathy and emotional intelligence are crucial to informing decision-making within a hospital department. They are essential both in direct patient care and in communication with an interdisciplinary team. Demonstrating empathy and emotional intelligence is vital in direct patient care, ensuring that patients and their families have trust in the clinical process. Compassionate care is a key focus of nursing training courses, and in a leadership role, this involves creating and improving patient-centered systems within hospitals.

Strong mentorship and teaching skills

Identifying opportunities for learning, growth, and constructive feedback is key to the role of a CNL. Leadership roles in healthcare settings often involve distilling complex medical information into clear, actionable steps for interdisciplinary teams. Helping to ensure nursing students and medical students understand expectations and roles within a clinical setting is also important. Mentorship and teaching skills link to empathetic attitudes, as the way feedback is communicated can often have a significant impact on how it is taken on board by members of a clinical team.

Continued professional development

The clinical landscape is constantly evolving, so a commitment to continued learning and professional development is crucial for all healthcare practitioners. From a mentorship standpoint, working as a clinical nurse leader can also mean helping your team stay on top of continued professional development requirements. While core benchmarks for professional development are required throughout nursing, the approach taken to professional development will vary. As healthcare science progresses, continued professional development helps to ensure that standards of clinical care remain in line with the latest understanding of medicine.

While some clinical nurses may wish to progress to clinical nurse specialists (CNS) focusing on a specific field of nursing others, may want to build toward a career as a clinical nurse leader. Helping to ensure that your team is supported in their career goals can improve buy-in within a department, helping to ensure a team is fully invested in their contribution to a wider healthcare system. There is a range of different options when deciding on an enriching program of professional development. This could include conferences, workshops, research, and accredited courses. The approach will differ depending on an individual practitioner’s career focus.

Commitment to patient safety and quality improvement

A good attitude is equally important as the broad skillset required to become a clinical nurse leader. Considering the varied challenges that form a component of this role, a commitment to ensuring patient safety is the top priority. Ensuring that high-quality systems are implemented effectively is a key component of improved patient care. This will often involve helping team members understand the scope of their role and using data and clinical information to identify areas for improvement within existing systems.

Throughout the training, nursing students learn about evidence-based-care healthcare systems and best practices in a patient-centric approach. Gaining a clear understanding of the risks that are present is crucial for the leadership in a clinical setting to continue to develop approaches to risk mitigation. Understanding the rationale behind the different methodologies for improved clinical care is important to ensure that they can be implemented and communicated effectively within a clinical team.

Next steps

If you have completed a bachelor’s degree and aspire to a challenging, engaging, and rewarding leadership role in healthcare, a master’s entry nursing program could help you achieve your goal. Understanding the different programs of study available will help ensure you choose the best program of study to fit your educational approach.

Learning more about different roles within a healthcare setting is also crucial in ensuring you understand what is involved in your chosen profession before embarking on training. Clinical nurse leaders deliver a vital role within a healthcare setting, bridging the gap between direct patient care and systems management.  It is a career suited to people who enjoy working in a fast-paced environment, solving problems effectively, and using data to identify opportunities for improved outcomes.

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