What Type of Education Do I Need to Become a Nurse Leader?

Nurse leaders are generally not expected to handle tasks associated with administration or management in health care settings. Instead, a nurse leader’s role is to improve the patient experience and health care objectives and outcomes determined by individual organizations with direct relationship to the training and supervision of nursing care. To effectively lead nursing personnel from private clinical practice to hospital settings, nurse leaders must have the qualities, skills, experience, and education to make decisions, evaluate outcomes, and make determinations on improvements and successes.

The Role of a Nurse Leader

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing identified the need for nurse leaders in order to improve the care of patients across departments. In health care settings, nurse leaders are assigned to specific departments rather than overseeing entire organizations or practices. To accomplish this, nurse leaders handle the coordination of care and the supervision of nursing staff.

In order to be effective, nurse leaders must be prepared for a variety of tasks. Nurse leaders design and coordinate care, evaluate progress and success of care, and deliver care across various complex situations. By synthesizing data, nurse leaders are able to evaluate outcomes in order to reduce risk and improve results. Part of this process includes the knowledge and expertise to teach, mentor, and coach nursing staff and other professionals in health care utilizing various techniques.

For additional information on the role of clinical nurse leaders in various health care organizations, see the Clinical Nurse Leader frequently asked questions from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Education for the Nurse Leader Role

Nurse leaders need more than experience to be successful in leading nursing staff. A master’s education will help to prepare candidates in this field to lead health care professionals to reach set goals in nursing care. Programs in nurse leadership are becoming increasingly available across the United States.

Nurse leader master’s programs typically include advanced courses in care delivery, leadership, and health care issues and theory. Some courses that could be found in care delivery include advanced pharmacology and advanced pathophysiology. Leadership and management courses often include classes organizational leadership, data management, financial management, biostatistics, and interpersonal communication. Courses in health care issues and theory might include such classes as social justice and health care, social behavioral theories, health disparities, ethical issues in health care, and research methods in public health care.

In addition to a master’s level degree in nursing leadership, prospective nurse leaders complete the certification process for a Certified Nurse Leader (CNL) designation. The certification is overseen by the Commission on Nurse Certification, a division of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

The need for quality health care continues to increase, and health care organizations and associations strive to meet these expectations of quality and continually make improvements to health care outcomes. The implementation of the nurse leader role is a key factor in helping various health care organizations to reach these goals. With the right education, experienced nurses are able to step into the nurse leader role to assist organizations in the process.