By Julee Thompson, MSN, MBA, RN, CENP, FACHE
Today’s nurse executives navigate a tricky landscape, one in which established practices for providing care are rapidly changing. Larger, more complex teams; affiliations and mergers of disparate providers; and IT systems that often don’t align or communicate well are just a few of the issues they must readily tackle.
The role of the nurse executive is a mission-critical, strategic differentiator for all healthcare organizations positioning for future success. As the transformation of healthcare business models continues, Chief Nursing Officers (CNOs) who balance patient care acumen with operations know-how, have a real seat—or should—at the leadership table because their valuable input can hone pivotal strategies for their organizations. They are astute business executives charged with assuring the proper standards of practice and delivery of patient care across broad continuums.
Top candidates, therefore, are not only adept at addressing today’s complex challenges, they are also strategists, change agents, and entrepreneurs in preparing their organization to deliver care in the future. Those who are emerging as the most valued members of their ranks show real proficiency in areas that foreshadow the direction healthcare is moving.
Ability to Think Outside the Box. Today’s most sought-after executive nurses and clinicians are true innovators who are constantly assessing current workflows and patient offerings and thinking of ways to do them better. These professionals look for gaps and then consider the best ways to fill them—ways that strengthen the organization’s standing in the community, connect patients to services that help them help themselves, and bolster care coordination beyond the facility.
Heightened Strategic and Business Sense. The emerging stars in the CNO world are those with sound financial judgment. Nurse executives must have a firm grasp on the shift of the traditional healthcare business model, where patients are driving decisions rather than physicians and/or third party payers. Understanding the impacts of high deductible plan/coverage options along with the financial implications of this new world is crucial. The ability to educate the hospital/system leadership team, influence strategic decisions related to “infrastructure” needs, and foster buy-in will increase in necessity as well. These are qualities that will only become more important as healthcare moves from a top-down industry to one in which patients/consumers are calling more of the shots.
Ability to Network and Build Relationships. To be the true innovators necessary to first conceptualize and then initiate successful new offerings, nurse executives must understand consumer behavior and how it affects the new “business” of healthcare. As change agents, the most sought-after nurse executives are those who know how to network beyond the nursing profession, especially with emerging non-traditional care delivery organizations and identify partnership opportunities. Outstanding communication and relationship-building skills are musts to build collaborative delivery models in this evolving consumer-driven landscape.
This ability to communicate fluidly and build relationships both inside the hospital and perhaps more importantly, outside those walls within their communities, makes the Chief Nursing Officer critical to an industry as steered by consumer opinion as healthcare is becoming.
The advocacy these Chief Nursing Officers always offered patients inside their facilities is now especially powerful when turned outward. The nurse executive of tomorrow will need to help determine where patients can best have their needs met in the most appropriate environment. To do that effectively, they must understand the community they serve. Is it best described with a geographic and unique demographic label, specific to the characteristics of the population being served, like “medically fragile” and “worried well” or the ever allusive “not worried, not well”? What are the primary health needs of this population? How is it currently getting its needs met and is that working optimally? These are answers that are only gathered after time and commitment listening to and working with the people they are championing.
For those interested in preparing for nurse executive roles, again, look beyond convention. Launching a new service, for example, or getting involved somewhere along the continuum to make business connections with the community will prove invaluable. Up-and- coming nurse executives are finding opportunities to highlight ideas that bring value to a consumer-oriented aspect of their organizations; they are gauging workflows and processes then considering how these could be improved to benefit both their facilities and their patients. In short, they are building skill-sets that are not necessarily hospital-based, and they are taking initiative. Because like rising stars in every industry, nurse executives don’t wait for change, they make it happen.
About the Author: Julee Thompson is a Vice President at Tyler & Company, where she chairs the firm’s Nurse Executive Practice. Julee brings more than 30 years of hospital, board and corporate leadership experience to clients, including holding such positions as CNO, COO and Chief Healthcare Executive. She is a registered nurse and is board certified in Executive Nursing Practice as well as Healthcare Information Management Systems. Julee is also a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (FACHE).