Career pathways to healthcare leadership

Career pathways


Nurses are in an ever-changing landscape, so keeping on top of education is vital. Some nurses may take this education further to advance their career. They may want to study for a PhD, which prepares nurses for top leadership roles, conducting clinical research that advances the nursing profession, or becoming nurse educators for the next generation of nurses. Nursing leaders work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, medical laboratories, research facilities, universities, or nursing schools. Many healthcare facilities are looking to employ nursing professionals with higher degrees, and this demand will continue to grow.

An aspiring PhD nurse must have strong leadership skills, as many go on to manage nursing teams, whether they work in management, scientific research, or education. A PhD in nursing allows graduates to work in clinical practice or research. They have a wide range of applicable skills in many different nursing disciplines. They are highly skilled at discovering and translating scientific evidence related to nursing and healthcare. They are valued as healthcare professionals who can make an essential contribution and influence the future of healthcare.

Career progression

A PhD degree prepares nurses to conduct pioneering research that advances the science of nursing and patient care. The program includes coursework on data analysis, research methodologies, healthcare leadership, and policy, and students are required to complete original research and a dissertation.

Nurses who are interested in research and nursing leadership can take the online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Nursing at Wilkes University. This program is a degree for advanced practice nurses. The PhD in Nursing online is designed for part-time study and can run alongside work. It focuses on research and developing knowledge in nursing science.

Further education can often be advantageous when considering how to advance in any career, and it may be able to open more doors down the line.

Chief nursing officer (CNO)

CNOs provide leadership to nursing teams at healthcare organizations and take responsibility for staff engagement in the skills and behaviors that drive clinical excellence. They must understand the organizational culture and how to create a healthy work environment. Their work role includes developing and implementing operational strategies for nursing departments. CNOs ensure that nursing processes are efficient and smooth-running and do not hinder the delivery of quality patient care. Collaboration with top-level management ensures that a strategy works well with other departments.

All aspects of the healthcare environment are managed by CNOs, including nurse management, budgeting, hiring, training, and data analysis. The leadership skills used in this role include guiding nurses to achieve positive health outcomes, implementing policy, and monitoring patient care procedures. CNOs collect, analyze and report collected data and make reports available to executives. These professionals need technological proficiency and the ability to operate medical technology.

Leadership experience and five to six years working in nursing are typically required for this role. CNOs ensure quality patient care and implement policies that contribute to future organizational success. Responsibilities in this role cover healthcare and business and contribute to short-term and long-term success in healthcare organizations. CNOs are regarded as the public face of nursing for organizations and often give presentations to diverse groups of people.

A CNO usually reports to the organization’s president and chief executive officer. However, they report to a chief nurse executive (CNE) if there is one in the organization. The CNO works closely with nursing and health system leaders. They advance the delivery of high-quality healthcare based on an organization’s goals, laws, regulations, and professional nursing standards. Nurses who aspire to this role need to undertake relevant professional development, such as developing leadership and advanced practice nursing skills.

Nursing director

This high-level management position involves managing all administration for the nursing department at a hospital or healthcare organization. Responsibilities include administrative tasks, such as coordinating with senior staff, developing business plans, producing reports, and managing the budget and expenditures. A nursing director must also keep accurate records, ensuring that procedures meet the highest health standards and reflect the hospital’s regulations and policies.

Nursing directors supervise nursing staff and ensure that patients receive high-quality care. Professionals in this role can significantly impact all aspects of the nursing experience for patients and nurses. Essential aspects of the job are making sure that standards are met and advocating for nurses. They must guarantee quality patient care while ensuring regulatory compliance. They also need to manage risk and monitor and evaluate the quality improvement program.

A nursing director also gets involved in emergency situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to make decisions about staff COVID testing, when nurses should stay at home due to illness, and implementing vaccination programs.

Extensive education, experience and leadership skills are required for this challenging role. Besides advanced degrees and numerous years of nursing work, healthcare organizations typically look for candidates with administrative certifications and management and leadership experience.

Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN)

Advanced nursing practice is a field of nursing that furthers nursing knowledge, expands the limits of practice and advances the profession. APRNs provide leadership to other nursing staff and deliver healthcare services independently with minimal or no doctor supervision. Some of their duties include assessing patients, diagnosing, prescribing medication, and arranging tests. They also work to improve patient care and treatment plans in the healthcare setting. Through clinical training and advanced education, APRNs can deliver various preventive and acute healthcare services to people of all ages.

APRNs include nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists. They often work in primary care and provide disease prevention services to patients. Certified nurse midwives deliver primary, gynecological and reproductive healthcare. They can work independently, providing care and making decisions without supervision. They advocate for women and educate women so that they can make well-informed decisions about their health.

Clinical nurse specialists provide diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of healthcare for patients. They give expert support to nurses working with patients, ensuring the use of evidence-based care and best practices to achieve positive patient outcomes. They take responsibility for driving practice changes throughout the organization.

Nurse practitioners provide primary and specialty healthcare services and have more authority than registered nurses with similar responsibilities to a doctor. They typically focus their care on a specific group, such as families, children, or the elderly. Nurse practitioners are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, order, and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications. Their responsibilities depend on their specialism, such as family practice, pediatrics, women’s health, or mental health.

A nurse anesthetist’s specialty is administering anesthesia and managing pain during surgical and other medical procedures. They assess patients, develop an anesthesia plan, administer anesthesia, monitor patients during the procedure, and address any pain or discomfort afterwards. Their role is to provide quality care and ensure the safety of patients undergoing medical procedures.

Nurse education leaders

These nurse leaders specialize in teaching and training students, nurses, and other healthcare staff. They work in colleges, universities, hospitals, and healthcare organizations. They are clinical experts and role models for future generations of nurses. Their responsibilities include creating, delivering, and evaluating healthcare educational courses and programs. This role also involves staying up to date with advances in nursing and collaborating with other healthcare professionals to ensure that the programs align with patient needs and the objectives of the healthcare organization.

Nurse education leaders develop and update programs to align with current healthcare standards, evidence-based practices, and technological advancements. Educators use innovative teaching methods and modern technology to enhance their teaching methods. They play an essential role in overseeing clinical experiences and ensuring that students apply their theoretical knowledge in practical settings.

Educators are leaders and advocates for the nursing profession and inspire their students to become leaders. Their role is essential in making sure that nurses and other healthcare staff are competent to provide safe and effective care to patients. Nurse education leaders mentor aspiring nurses, providing invaluable guidance and support throughout their educational and professional journeys. They are leaders for nursing education, driving policy and practice changes, and participating in research and scholarship.

These professionals shape the future of nursing by providing high-quality education and by serving as mentors, advocates, and leaders. They therefore contribute to the overall development of the nursing profession. This multifaceted role requires substantial nursing experience and advanced nursing degrees.

Research director

Research directors are responsible for research and trials at healthcare organizations. They oversee trials and manage the teams of research scientists and nurses. The responsibilities associated with this role are often scientific, though there are also key administrative responsibilities. When managing new trials, they determine the goals, processes, and standards. They oversee regulatory and legal requirements, including authorized data use and patient safety. These professionals ensure adherence to food and drug regulations and oversee administration and clinical best practices. During trials, they monitor data collection and identify emerging trends.

Healthcare research seeks new ways to understand the spread of disease, prevent adverse health outcomes, and improve available treatments. Clinical research trials are an important way to achieve these goals. New or innovative interventions can be tested on patient volunteers. These trials aim to ensure that new clinical procedures are developed safely and effectively. Research directors communicate progress and results with stakeholders, including management in the organization. They play a significant role in ensuring that these trials are effective.

Research directors need competencies learned through working and education. Worthwhile experience can be gained by working in research settings and can lead to higher-level positions within healthcare research.

Public health leader

Public health leaders are responsible for managing public healthcare programs and organizations and working for local governments on a state or country-wide level. They plan, develop, and manage programs to improve a population’s wellbeing. This leadership role involves developing budgets, reviewing data and communicating with all of the stakeholders involved in providing healthcare.

These leaders manage and evaluate initiatives, engender policy action, and see that research and reporting take place. Other responsibilities include ensuring that state and federal laws are being adhered to, reporting to the public health board of directors, designing, and monitoring emergency response plans, and holding hearings on public health issues. They must liaise with governing boards and private or public community partners. They develop an understanding of healthcare requirements in the local population and acknowledge the different needs and difficulties of accessing healthcare within the community.

These professionals have many responsibilities within a health organization, such as making policy and financial decisions. To become a public health leader, it is necessary to have considerable working experience and an advanced education.

PhD nurses provide a valuable contribution

A PhD in nursing is a degree that can lead to high-level occupations or leadership roles with challenging and rewarding work. These leadership and specialist roles are essential to healthcare services and are in demand by employers, who value the contribution that such highly skilled and qualified nursing professionals can make. The future of healthcare is dependent on nurses who work their way through the ranks and are committed to quality patient care.

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