Level Up! 4 Steps in Creating an Effective Clinical Ladder Program
HealthAugust 30, 2018

Level up! 4 steps in creating an effective clinical ladder program

Since the 1970s, clinical ladder programs (CLPs) have been used by healthcare organizations large and small to encourage professional development and increase job satisfaction among staff nurses. Many facilities offer CLPs to facilitate the process of advancement from novice to expert nurse. While some organizations encourage voluntary enrollment in CLPs, others make nurse participation mandatory.

Your organization may already have an existing CLP, or you may be in the process of developing this type of program for the first time. Regardless of where you are in the process, creating an effective clinical ladder program that attracts staff nurse participation and support can be difficult. Developing an effective program starts with four simple steps that are easily adaptable to meet your facility’s needs and goals.

Secure support and participation from nursing leadership.

Almost nothing sinks a CLP faster than a lack of support from nursing leadership. From nurse managers on the unit to nurse administrators in top hospital roles, a CLP cannot function without thorough collaboration between individual managers, hospital administration, and Human Resources. This is essential because:

  • It’s important to come to a shared understanding of the financial implications of creating and maintaining a CLP.
  • Leadership support for a CLP helps increase nurse participation and better identifies inventive ways of revising or updating the program as appropriate.
  • Nurse managers and other leaders open and maintain lines of communication directly to staff nurses, explaining CLP expectations and requirements for advancement.
  • Organizational recognition of the accomplishments of nurses participating in the CLP leads to increased job satisfaction and continued professional development.

Listen to your stakeholders.

 Without staff nurse input in the development and maintenance of any CLP, it’s easy to miss the mark when it comes to structuring the program in a way that boosts participation. Ask your nurses which incentives drive them to engage in a CLP, and what, if any, barriers to participation exist that may be fixable.

To maximize program enrollment, start gathering input from staff nurses during the orientation phase of their training. Many facilities offer information about CLPs as a standard part of the orientation process. You may also consider holding formal educational sessions to discuss the CLP with novice nurses and spark their interest in completing the process.

Develop a rewards system for nurses participating in your CLP.

 It’s not enough to recognize nurses when they advance from one level of the CLP to another. To be most effective, be sure to recognize the accomplishments of staff nurses throughout the year, even if the accomplishment is minor. This can be achieved by:

  • Detailing nurses’ successes in a monthly, quarterly, or biannual newsletter that circulates throughout your organization.
  • Presenting nurses with certificates of accomplishment when they satisfy CLP requirements.
  • Holding special events, like luncheons, to recognize and celebrate the achievements of CLP participants.

Most CLPs link achievement with financial compensation. Research shows this is a key driver of program participation, but many nurses report that they will not participate in CLPs if monetary rewards aren’t sufficient. It can be hard to strike a balance between appropriate financial rewards and meeting the budgetary needs of your facility, but an open dialogue between staff nurses and nursing administration helps find solutions that work for everyone.

Don’t be afraid of change.

The most effective CLPs are those that grow and change over time. The needs of your facility are fluid, and your CLP should continuously evolve to meet the goals of both your healthcare organization and your staff nurses. An annual review of your program helps flag issues that could be fixed with program policy updates.

Additionally, CLPs that fail to change over time are often viewed as a barrier to professional growth and development. If your nurses aren’t convinced of the program’s benefit as a continuous opportunity to learn, participation in your CLP will naturally decline over time.

What experiences have you had with CLPs at your organization?  Leave us a comment, we'd love to hear from you!

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