HealthMay 03, 2024

New nurse leader titles and roles in a complex care environment

New nurse leadership roles and culture shifts present opportunities for professional growth and healthier work environments.

Nurse leaders are vital for improving nursing efficiencies and the quality of care that they provide patients. And the value of their positive leadership characteristics has never been more critical. Nurse leaders leverage their experience in caring for patients to improve their institutions’ processes, which ultimately result in operational excellence.

Over the last few years, nurse leaders have had to navigate strained financial and human resources while still ensuring high-quality patient care. They have had to be creative and innovative in how they approached the challenges presented by burned-out nursing staff, high acuity in the patient population, and new care delivery models. The changing healthcare landscape necessitated the formation of new job titles and expanded roles, as well as new skills that directly impacted the workforce – and institutions’ ability to attract and retain nurses.

The Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) is one role that’s been expanding over the last decade. CNOs straddle a few different roles, serving as members of the C-suite while working with frontline nursing staff to ensure the delivery of quality care and patient satisfaction. CNOs are now being tasked with “speaking business” more than ever before, creating the connection between employee satisfaction, operational excellence, and remarkable patient experiences – all of which impact the bottom line.

While CNOs have held executive C-suite roles for some time, new roles have emerged including Nursing Informatics Executive Leaders and, at the C-level, Chief Nursing Informatics Officers. Hybrid positions such as the Chief Clinical Operations Officer role are also emerging.

Nurse leaders have seen the need to become digital evangelists and patient/staff advocates, fostering a workplace cultural shift that puts the emphasis on valuing nursing’s contributions and collaborating across the care delivery team.

These new nurse leader roles and attitudes stand to have a positive impact on an industry that is still dealing with many of pandemic-related issues in addition to staff shortages and burnout.

COVID-19 profoundly negatively affected nursing and healthcare systems worldwide, accelerating many of the macro trends already underway well before the pandemic. Limited resources drove fresh creativity regarding nurses’ approaches to caregiving. Nurse leaders had to assess and adapt. And as they took on the challenge of ensuring high-quality patient care in a chaotic environment, new positions and roles emerged, and existing positions evolved. One of the most prominent roles to evolve was the CNO.

Because CNOs function as the voices of nurses to other senior executives, the onus is on CNOs to view nursing challenges and opportunities through a unique filter —¬ one that applies clinical knowledge to back up business, operational, or financial cases. CNOs must be able to “speak business” by articulating why nursing staff satisfaction, clinical and operational excellence, and positive patient experiences can directly affect the bottom line.

CNOs can be the bridges by helping both executives and frontline nurses understand broader concerns. Merging analytical and creative thinking with soft skills can help CNOs engage with both, which is key in a continuingly demanding healthcare industry. The pandemic may be over, but the issues of nursing shortages, burnout, and reduced resources remain.

Different practice models, new roles

Given all of that, some of the practice models that emerged out of necessity — such as telehealth, care on demand, and virtual nursing — have driven the creation of senior leadership roles such as nursing informatics executive leader and, at the C-level, chief nursing informatics officer. Technology will be instrumental in future care delivery, and determining which solutions to meaningfully integrate into patient care is a daunting task.

As the healthcare industry paradigm shifts from volume-based and fee-for-service healthcare to more-value-based healthcare, nursing informatics leaders set the strategies for the uses of technology, data, and evidence-based information systems to enhance processes and improve patient outcomes. Nursing informatics leaders’ clinical experience and technological know-how enable such leaders to interpret both nursing and informatics initiatives.

The rise of hybrid roles

The pandemic also drove the creation of more-hybrid C-suite roles such as chief clinical operations officer (CCOO), which is a blend of two more-traditional jobs: Chief Clinical Officer and Chief Operations Officer. CCOOs partner with frontline teams and operations to elevate patient care by means of a strategic focus on operational efficiency, service effectiveness, safety, and clinical performance transformation. Nurses fit naturally into this role, given their ability to straddle both worlds. In some cases, such facilities as Novant Health have merged the CCOO role with the CNO role.

Evolving workplace approach

There has also been an evolution in the way nurse leaders manage the workforce. Nurse leaders have always worn many hats — and now there are more hats for them to wear. Stress tester, digital evangelist, staff and patient advocate are but a few. Nurse leaders are embracing new practice models like team nursing and value-based medicine. In the quest to continue to drive performance, enhance safety, increase quality, and deliver better outcomes, nurse leaders are facilitating a shift in culture. They’re moving from a traditional hierarchical structure toward a more collaborative workplace that supports shared decision-making and open communication to provide a healthier, more inclusive environment.

As nurse leaders adapt to a dramatically different care delivery reality, new rules and new roles can help shape the future of care and create opportunities for enhanced job satisfaction and improved patient outcomes.

Find out more about how Lippincott® Solutions can support nurse leaders with the resources staff need to deliver quality care.

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