Nursing Student Unravels Meaning and Benefits of Leadership Empowerment for Nurses

Updated on January 11, 2013
Cheryl Wagner, Ph.D., MSN/MBA, RN
Cheryl Wagner, Ph.D., MSN/MBA, RN

Nurses with leadership training are in an empowered position in health care to impact positive patient outcomes and delivery of care across many settings, all of which help advance the nursing profession.

“Nurses have always played a large role in improving health care and the lives of others, but often had no voice. Now that the Institute of Medicine and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have published strong statements on nursing’s value to health care outcomes, many organizations are taking a closer look at how they use their nursing workforce,” says Cheryl Wagner, Ph.D., MSN/MBA, RN, associate dean of graduate nursing programs at American Sentinel University.

That means nurses with advanced nursing degrees, such as master’s of science in nursing (MSN) will be well-positioned for managerial roles at all levels.

Cheryl Clancy was seeking a higher degree of success in her nursing career and sought her second master’s degree – an MSN in nursing management and organizational leadership from American Sentinel University – because she had a desire to unravel the core meaning and benefits that leadership skills can provide nurses.

Clancy wanted to show nurses how they can advance their careers – as well as the nursing profession – with leadership perspectives, empowerment and achievement.

Thanks to earning her online MSN, she was offered a director of ambulatory nursing position in Philadelphia and now has become adjunct faculty in an undergraduate nursing program that provides her the ability to teach, mentor and coach new nurses about the leadership skills needed to prepare for future readiness and change – skills that fall under the umbrella of what’s called ‘organizational development.’

“I found a way to be a nurse in the areas that I feel I can help the most.  I pay that forward by providing the leadership insights for nurses to be able to do the same in their own careers,” explains Clancy.

What motivates Clancy to do great work is a belief that all nurses – no matter what their specializations – should have the emotional, intellectual and hands-on organizational communication skills to have a voice at the table of change and leadership.

Helping Nurses Build Credibility for Needed Changes and Improvements

The reward Clancy gets from her work is to see a new generation of nurses following and developing their own paths of interest within an expanding field.

Her work utilizes the skills she values as tools for new leaders: high levels of emotional intelligence, evidence-based research skills and the ability to communicate and get buy-in with colleagues, the ability to understand patient needs and graciously communicate a strong case for workplace improvements. These skills help safeguard cost effectiveness and develop new ways to achieve high quality care.

“Nursing is the single biggest workforce in the hospital or health care facility and nursing leadership plays an important role for having a well-run nursing workforce that has positive impacts on budget, quality of patient care and professional achievements of nursing staff,” says Dr. Wagner.

Dr. Wagner notes that nurses with an MSN in nursing leadership are positioned to fill important roles such as managers of hospitals units, directors of several hospital units and vice presidents of nursing. Other non-acute care positions include director of nursing services for long term care or intermediate care nursing centers and often, these positions encompass the entire nursing care center leadership role.

The reward of Clancy’s work enables nurses to mentor each other with the emotional skill to see things from another person’s perspective. Her students learn how to create airtight cases for changes in the workplace to managers and learn how to present evidence-based research for needed improvements.

Nurses with these leadership skills are acknowledged, respected and endorsed by policymakers, managers and procurement specialists – they can appeal to everyone in the chain of command who might need to understand why for instance, a more expensive product compared to a less expensive product, is causing waste in the system.

Empowerment Means Having the Confidence to Make Changes

The methods and instruction Clancy provides are psychological. They may appear complex, yet at their root, they’re very simple: empowerment is demonstrating the authority to make the changes that are needed by the people who most understand why such changes are needed in the first place.

Clancy teaches her students how to present the right data for a needed improvement, and demonstrates how the improvement will make a difference.

Her skills empower students to enable a valuable idea to be understood in terms of how it will perform or impact others. She uses methods that show how to achieve the needed buy-in with evidence-based research. Her students are inspired to use imaginative, or even tried and true sales tools, to communicate their cases effectively, with most every implication as a valuable perspective. At every step, the goal is to build credibility and trust.

The Rewards of Emotional Intelligence and Empathy

Clancy’s favorite aspects of her work are the techniques she uses to foster emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence creates an ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions to help nurses monitor feelings of co-workers and better understand the emotional needs of patients.

“Increased emotional intelligence enables nurses to perform well and diffuse tensions,” says Dr. Wagner. “Nurses with strong emotional intelligence skills have the tools to not feel crushed under the heavy weight and demands of bottom lines because they have resources to access the heart and soul reasons why they enjoy caring for others on a daily basis.”

What Clancy finds most personally and professionally rewarding is her ability to instill the importance of appreciating and understanding different and conflicting points of view.

This ability and form of empathy acts as the cornerstone and the launching pad for self-directed leadership skills.

Dr. Wagner notes that self-directed leadership skills empower nurses to solve problems on the ground. More importantly, when empathy is mined and developed and treated as a valuable asset, nurses become inspired to fully develop their own talents and respect their own burgeoning career interests. With empathy skills, nurses can open the door, emotionally, to what they truly care about.

“The reward of my master’s degree is my ability to inspire nurses to consider all of the avenues of contribution available to them,” says Clancy.

Clancy has used her MSN to help make a lasting impact on the nursing profession and encourages nurses to consider what they care about most in addition to nursing.

“Now more than ever, nurses like Cheryl Clancy are needed in areas that require the desire and talent to perform research and marketing, teaching and leadership, with new specializations that are vital to the larger picture of the new role nursing plays in improving health care and the lives of others,” adds Dr. Wagner.

For more information or to register for American Sentinel University’s CCNE-accredited Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), Nursing Management and Organizational Leadership program, visit

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