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HealthFebruary 15, 2021

Partnering with nursing staff: Thoughts for nurse leaders

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
As Covid-19 tests our healthcare system, nurse leaders are witness to the unflappable efforts of nursing staff on the front lines. Clinical nurses have been tireless in their work, providing top-notch care to patients even as the understanding and management of the novel coronavirus rapidly changes.

Nurse leaders can use this time as an opportunity to reflect on their own leadership styles—and explore the idea of creating partnerships with staff members to ultimately provide better care to all patients. This topic is the focus of a new article in the journal Nursing Management.1

Defining partnership

“Partnership” and “partnering” are often used as interchangeable terms, since both are considered acts of collaboration and cooperation involving two or more people working together. But people can partner together without actually being in a partnership.

Partnering is a means to achieve a commonly held goals or desired outcomes, usually through the sharing and negotiation of expectations, responsibilities, and accountability. These activities are also essential to the act of creating partnerships, which ultimately result from all parties being fully present while engaging and listening with interest and curiosity. Partnering also requires putting aside each individual’s position and honoring each other’s perspective.

Each person in a partnership has a stake in it; in situations like the Covid-19 pandemic, nursing staff and nurse leaders have partnered together to advance the goals and strategies of their healthcare organizations. But there is always room for improvement.

Building successful partnerships

Creating and maintaining successful partnerships isn’t easy. The effort requires engagement, clear communication, and dedication to accomplishing shared goals. For potential partners, it is unfortunately easy to fall into commonly held assumptions about these kind of relationships, such as:

  • We have the same priorities or goals
  • We each think exactly alike
  • We both know what we have to do to accomplish our goals
  • We both have the same level of commitment to our goals

However, creating a successful partnership depends on first engaging in a dialogue to clearly define goals, expectations, and strategies for success. Nurse leaders can use the answers to several questions to help shape and advance this dialogue. Leaders should ask questions like:

  • What do we want to create together?
  • How should we handle our differences and conflicts?
  • How can we support each other?
  • What do we expect from each other in this partnership?

It is also a good idea to first assess each participant’s readiness to build the partnership by managing thoughts, behaviors, and actions. Nurse leaders can develop a serious of questions to help determine each member’s willingness to trust, guide, interact, and co-create with other team members.

Nurse leaders interested in developing partnerships with nursing staff members should keep in mind that these partnerships are born out of conscious leadership behaviors promoting and valuing the efforts of the clinical nurse. Partnerships can only be fully realized when leaders are open to evaluating their own leadership practices. Then, they must intentionally choose to pursue a new path forward to help improve quality of care for all patients while creating healthy work environments and advancing organizational missions and strategies.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.
  1. Medland, Jacqueline PhD, RN, NEA-BC, and Paula MA, CPCC Moscinski. “Leadership Lessons on Partnership.” NursingCenter, 2021,
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