Resilience is vital for nursing leaders

Staff must be able to adapt quickly to rising demand for healthcare services and changes in technology

Picture: iStock

Nurse leaders have a difficult role to fulfil.

Growth in the size of organisations, lack of resources, poorly defined limits of responsibility, growing expectations at a time of fiscal restraint and advances in technology (Kelly et al 2016) are increasing pressure on nurse leaders.

When nurse leaders face challenges, their resilience can enable them to deliver their role effectively and efficiently. It is therefore important that organisations support leaders to learn how to build up such resilience.

In August 2017, a Nursing Standard investigation found that more than one third of chief nurses had taken up their positions in the previous two years, while 17% had started in the previous eight months.

These findings have given rise to concerns about organisational stability and memory, and nurses' ability to enhance levels of care.

As a result, efforts have been made to ensure aspirant executive nurses are adequately prepared for changes in their role.

Kelly et al (2016) found that, unless deputy posts involve exposure to board-level meetings and strategic decision making, they fail to prepare aspirant executives well enough. It follows that, to enable executive nurses to succeed, those recruiting staff should look for skills beyond the criteria set out in job descriptions.


But how do we build our resilience and support colleagues to build theirs? As Hatler and Sturgeon (2013) explain, resilience building involves assessment, acceptance, adaptation and advancement.

The abilities to assess events, accept their impact, adapt to new circumstances and take action to build up resilience again ready for the next challenge could be built into reflective practice so learning can be timely and self-led.

Maintaining resilience and enhancing well-being require commitment and awareness from organisations. This is a major challenge, however, because changes to continuing professional development funding will make retention of nurses more difficult.

Building resilience needs to be a core part of pre-registration nurse education because registered nurses and students must know how to protect themselves when coping with the challenges they face in their role. But employers also need to have a commitment to professional development that enhances the resilience of registered staff as well.

Simple ways to ensure resilience include:

  • Asking colleagues how they are doing and taking time to listen.
  • Sharing tips with colleagues about how to relax and destress after a busy day at work.
  • Looking for signs of stress in colleagues and thinking about how to help.
  • Finding out what health and well-being support your organisation offers.


  • Hatler C, Sturgeon P (2013) Resilience building: a necessary leadership competence. Nurse Leader. doi: org/10.1016/j.mnl.2013.05.007.
  • Kelly D, Lankshear A, Jones A (2016) Stress and resilience in a post-Francis world: a qualitative study of executive nurse directors. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 72, 12, 3160-3168.

About the author

Paul Jebb is assistant chief nurse (corporate) at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust