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Leadership has been a focus of my own career path as an APRN, and now I have the privilege of helping to develop NP leaders each day as Executive Director of Advanced Practice Nursing at Cleveland Clinic. I'm convinced you can have a fantastic career if you'll explore ways to become a great PA or NP leader. There are so many opportunities available to APRNs and PAs today. With the right approach, you can build a great career and make a tremendous impact on the profession.
In any organization, there are informal leaders and formal leaders. Formal leaders serve in the official role of a nurse manager or administrator and are tasked with meeting the goals of the organization. Informal leaders may not be in a position of authority, but they naturally gain the respect of their peers. These individuals generally have a high level of clinical competency, good problem-solving skills, and collaborate well with others. I believe your success as a PA or NP leader boils down to a few basic things: How well you communicate, how well you relate to people at all different levels, and your ability to be a decision-maker in health care beyond patient care. But, to advance, you have to continually refine and develop your leadership skills.
If you’re an APRN or a PA in an informal leadership role, I encourage you to pursue a career path as a formal leader. The advantages to moving up in an organization include increased recognition, career growth, and higher compensation. But, you’ll also gain the satisfaction of advancing the profession and making a positive impact on the healthcare system as a whole. Each one of us has personal professional drive. Ask yourself what you envision for your future and what you want to get out of your career. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t exactly sure what you want. Personally, I credit my journey as an NP leader to a willingness to take on more work and say yes to things I’d never done before. Over the years, I volunteered to be on boards that put me in touch with different professional leaders whose different styles, abilities and leadership experiences have opened the door to even more opportunities.
Speaking from my own experience, being a leader means continually learning and improving. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Over the years, I’ve met wonderful leaders with entirely different styles and collected pearls of wisdom from each one.
As a PA or NP leader, patient care comes first. However, it’s also important to develop the other aspects of your role. You need to participate in activities like performance improvement, medical education, training, committee work, and research. Physicians are expected to have non-patient care responsibilities as part of their roles. Although APRNs and PAs aren’t always held to that standard, we need to participate in these settings to gain visibility and elevate the Advanced Practice Provider (APP) role in the healthcare industry. Look for opportunities to get involved. For example, at the Cleveland Clinic, we’ve developed onboarding courses we call “Leading and Learning Beyond Patient Care.” These courses are peer-developed by APPs in our organization on topics that include “How to be a Preceptor” and “Ways to Get Involved in Research.” Participants don’t receive incentives, but involvement is recognized during annual performance reviews. Your organization may have a similar program, or there may be an opportunity for you to begin one as part of your own leadership development.
Another important way to grow as a leader is to work collaboratively with staff at different levels. In our organization, we expect all PA or NP leaders to have both administrative and clinical time so they understand the work they are asking their teams to perform. Our physicians are all working leaders as well. It is important to ask questions rather than assume a colleague’s authority or position means they have the right answer. Discussing situations gives everyone a voice and fosters collaboration. This will bring people along and generally result in the best answer. Learn to be professional, confident, and assertive in working with all members of the health care team. In our organization, we have had less conflict between physicians and APPs over time through participation in collaborative initiatives. Physicians serve in many leadership positions in the organizational structure, so when they recognize APP leaders as peers on the same team, it elevates the role and moves us all forward. Another great way to grow as a leader is to be involved as a mentor or preceptor. Our APRN and PA leaders go to schools and talk to students before they come to our clinical site. We onboard new clinicians to all care setting and discuss the different roles and teams. In many settings, APRNs educate the fellows and residents. Although these examples are specific to our organization, they are not unique. I believe any hospital or clinic has opportunities for APPs to develop leadership skills if you’re willing to look for them.
Today I’m always looking to other leaders for attributes that I can emulate. After having crucial conversations or meetings, I immediately ask people in the room for feedback. Sometimes I’ll ask for each person to give me at least one piece of constructive criticism. I also believe in leading by example and holding myself to the same standards that I set for my team members. Over time, if you don’t do the work, your competency can go by the wayside. So, if I’m asking someone to do a new education module, for example, I do it, too, so I understand the concept. Speaking from my own experience, being a leader means continually learning and improving. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Over the years, I’ve met wonderful leaders with entirely different styles and collected pearls of wisdom from each one. As an APRN or PA, I encourage you to take the next step on your leadership journey. Start today and discover how fulfilling a career as an Advanced Practice leader can truly be.
About Meredith A. Lahl, MSN, APRN, MBA, PCNS-BC, PPCNP-BC, CPONMs. Lahl is Executive Director and Associate Chief Nursing Officer for Advanced Practice Nursing at Cleveland Clinic. In her role, she is responsible for the oversight and supervision of the scope of practice, recruitment, quality, credentialing and privileging of Cleveland Clinic health system’s more than 1,200 advanced practice nurses. Prior to her current position, Ms. Lahl served five years as Senior Director of Advanced Practice Nursing, also providing strategic leadership for Cleveland Clinic’s advanced practice nurses, as well as direct supervision for the health system’s 40 inpatient clinical nurse specialists. Lahl’s Cleveland Clinic career experience also includes six years as a pediatric CNS, and a staff nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit.
She has also worked in various nursing positions at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. With a passion for nursing advancement, Lahl is a dedicated professional whose expertise is noted throughout the healthcare industry through organizations such as the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON) and American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). She is the National Secretary for APHON, has served as Chapter president and is involved with several national APHON committees. She is the 2012 recipient of the organization’s Jean Fergusson Excellence in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nursing Practice Award. Ms. Lahl earned her BSN and MSN from the University of Pennsylvania and holds an MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School.
This article was originally published on Melnic. It was recently acquired by DirectShifts.