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8 Steps for ASCs to Identify & Grow Nurse Leaders

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Martie MooreQuality nurse leadership is valuable to ambulatory surgery centers, and promoting the right person is crucial.

"Nursing is one of the most rewarding, incredible careers someone could choose because as a nurse leader you have the opportunity to not only use clinical skills you did your college prep in, but then also expand into fiscal and strategic planning," says Martie Moore, chief nurse executive for Medline Industries, Inc.  

Here are eight steps for discovering nurse leaders and fostering their growth.

1. Identify superstars during the hiring process. Surgery center administrators and nurse managers can identify potential nurse leaders during the hiring process, even for the entry-level positions. Listen to the candidates discuss their previous work and note whether they have an interest in advancing patient care.

"If you interview someone and they mention pointing out a quality issue at their previous job, and they participated in changing it to create better outcomes, that's a sign this is someone who can identify, plan and participate in better patient care," says Ms. Moore. "That's when you know this is a budding, emerging nurse leader."

Ms. Moore also takes note on how the candidates engage with her; potential nurse leaders will be able to clearly articulate what they want her to understand about themselves.

2. Watch new hires for important leadership traits. The best candidates for promoting to nurse leadership will show certain characteristics at any level. These characteristics include:

•    A "Can-Do" attitude
•    Ability to stay focused
•    Works well with co-workers
•    Exhibits integrity
•    Affinity for problem-solving

Medline includes an advisory board with several nurse leaders who engage in discussion about change at their centers and take action. The company also founded Medline University, an online clinical resource for nurses and nurse leaders that promotes professional growth.

"They are able to look beyond conventional thinking and are willing to give their time to help others," says Ms. Moore. "I love watching nurses who are able to see the greater good because they understand that problem-solving and working together in the collaborative setting are so important."

3. Fast-track the best candidates for leadership, not necessarily the most experienced nurse. For years, surgery centers have taken a hierarchical approach to promoting nurse leaders; administrators appoint the most senior nurses to top positions without considering who would actually be the best person for the job.

"One of the lessons I've learned as a nurse leader is that it isn't always the most experienced person who should get promoted," says Ms. Moore. "It's important that nurse leaders who are looking for other potential leaders not get stuck in a bias by years. I've been able to walk alongside nurses who were young in their careers in terms of years but they were wise and had tremendous skill sets we were able to develop."

4. Open doors for nurses if top leadership positions aren't available. When you identify a nurse with great leadership potential, but all top leadership positions are already filled by great individuals, challenge that nurse with leadership on short-term projects and encourage him or her to take on informal responsibilities at the center.

"You have to open every door you can for them," says Ms. Moore. "Look for opportunities, large or small, to get them involved in decision-making. Have them see how decisions are made at the center and model for them ways you want them to use their skills in communication, fiscal analysis, decision-making and data analysis."

Exposing these nurses to the non-clinical aspects of the center prepares them to step into leadership roles when the opportunity arises.

5. Invest in communication training. Great nurses and nurse leaders often have several key qualities for performing their jobs well, but lack appropriate communication skills. Unless they really try to change, their communication skills are the same ones they developed as a child.

"Don't assume that the skills we want to see in nurse leaders are there," says Ms. Moore. "We have some learned traits and some that need to be changed. It's important for ASCs to invest in communication, whether it's active listening or relaying information to others. It's imperative we invest in our people."

6. Teach them to standardize processes and respect checklists. Data analytics are now available to track and trend more healthcare processes than ever before. Healthcare organizations are using analytics to identify issues within their organization and implement process improvement. For nurses, many issues occur when processes aren't standardized and they don't adhere to protocol.

"When you throw variability into a patient care setting, you open up the opportunity for human error," says Ms. Moore. "ASCs can utilize programs such as Lean techniques to standardize and really minimize error. We've learned a lot from aviation about checklists. Nurses hate checklists because we carry them in our heads, but we need to write everything down and document it so we don't miss a single step."

The average nurse receives around 100 datapoints per minute, says Ms. Moore, and they can't process all that information; they pick out the most important pieces to retain. "Checklists help us to be grounded back to where we can ensure we don't miss a step."

7. Instill the right values as a mentor. One of the most important qualities of nurse leaders is truly being a servant leader. Less experienced nurses, especially those who rise in the ranks quickly, may forget their first mission: to improve patient care.

"I've watched young, emerging leaders that become so enamored with the title they forget the people they are there for," says Ms. Moore. "Instill in them an understanding of servant leadership. My job is to serve the people I support. You have to have the willingness to learn alongside them and listen not only with your head, but also with your heart. It's important to connect with these nurses as human beings and have the ability to support them in such a way that people really feel you are there for them."

These qualities are rarely taught in nursing school, but will become a nurse's greatest asset in a leadership role.

8. Provide clarity on the values. The best nurse leaders adhere to a clear set of values that drives their success. Ms. Moore wrote down her values and refers back to them during her daily work.

"It's important for people to have clarity about their values," she says. "I really encourage other nurses and emerging leaders to write these values down and refer back to them to stay grounded. This is especially important during these chaotic, turbulent times in healthcare. Continual work on values will serve nurses well."

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