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Fast track for nursing’s future leaders

Today’s nursing students are expected to develop their leadership skills from the start of training. Lynne Pearce looks at how a ground-breaking programme at the University of Leicester is preparing the leaders of the future.
future

Todays nursing students are expected to develop their leadership skills from the start of training. Lynne Pearce looks at how a ground-breaking programme at the University of Leicester is preparing the leaders of the future.

Nursing students will be expected to develop their leadership skills from the start of training, according to new draft education and training standards from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

But while conventional nursing training has a leadership component near the end of the course, a new programme being developed in Leicester aims to break the mould. Well be talking about leadership from day one, says David Clarke, foundation professor of nursing at the University of Leicester.

What were doing is embedding the idea of being a leader from the beginning and threading it all the way through until the end. As far as were aware

...

Today’s nursing students are expected to develop their leadership skills from the start of training. Lynne Pearce looks at how a ground-breaking programme at the University of Leicester is preparing the leaders of the future.

future
Picture: iStock

Nursing students will be expected to develop their leadership skills from the start of training, according to new draft education and training standards from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

But while conventional nursing training has a leadership component near the end of the course, a new programme being developed in Leicester aims to break the mould. ‘We’ll be talking about leadership from day one,’ says David Clarke, foundation professor of nursing at the University of Leicester.

‘What we’re doing is embedding the idea of being a leader from the beginning and threading it all the way through until the end. As far as we’re aware it’s the first time it’s been done,’ he adds.

Dual path

The four-year Nursing with Leadership programme has dual registration – either adult with mental health or children’s nursing with mental health. It is being developed jointly with the university and two NHS trusts – University Hospitals of Leicester and Leicestershire Partnership – with the university’s business school helping to deliver some of the course too. A colleague is also developing a Midwifery with Leadership course.


David Clarke

‘It’s a real collaboration between the three partners,’ says Professor Clarke. ‘We’re a long way off launching as yet, but we’re writing the programme now and working with the NMC to get it accredited.’

There will be a small cohort of students, with applicants asked to demonstrate their leadership capabilities and desire to lead. ‘We’re looking for people who have aspirations over and above the attributes of being a good nurse or midwife,’ says Professor Clarke, but that doesn’t mean fundamental nursing skills will be sidelined.

‘The idea is to encourage students to think ahead so they can aspire to become leaders, not just in clinical practice but also in research or education’

David Clarke

‘Throughout our programme we’re emphasising caring, compassionate and quality clinical care, underpinned by good leadership,’ he says. ‘People could easily think about leaders and leading care, with the core work of the nurse left behind, but we’re determined to do it the other way round.’

While the students will graduate as band 5 nurses and band 6 midwives, the aim is for them to be fast-tracked into a programme that helps them hone their career direction. ‘The chief nurses we’re working with identified a need to increase and attract more leaders,’ says Professor Clarke.

‘The idea is to encourage students to think ahead so they can aspire to become leaders, not just in clinical practice but also in research or education.’

Masterclasses

Each year, the course will focus on a different aspect of leadership, with year one looking at the skills needed to become a good clinical leader. Key figures in nursing and midwifery will deliver masterclasses, mentoring the students on rotation, so everyone has the chance to work with different kinds of leaders.

The plan is also to have an apprenticeship period, where a student joins a leadership team either in clinical practice, research or education. ‘It’s different,’ says Professor Clarke. ‘The students will be outside the traditional boundaries of a placement.’

As nursing shortages continue and healthcare roles change, he believes leadership will continue to grow in importance for the profession. ‘It will become part of every nurse’s role as they become the leaders of good clinical care in every environment.

‘Skills in communication, negotiation and conflict avoidance, as well as assertiveness and management – these are the qualities of a leader’

Bernadette Henderson

‘The development of roles such as nursing associate and physician’s assistant means a lot of care is already being delegated by clinical nursing leaders. That will increase as healthcare changes,’ he says.

Having the confidence to work autonomously will also become more significant for the registrants of the future, with the NMC’s draft standards saying they should be able to prescribe from a limited formulary and carry out tasks such as venepuncture and cannulation.

‘There is a key connection between self-leadership and autonomy,’ says Bernadette Henderson, senior lecturer in children’s nursing at the University of Bedfordshire. Along with colleague Melanie Webb, Ms Henderson has developed a board game that simulates practice scenarios for nursing students to explore various leadership styles and teamwork.

Novice’s perspective

‘From a novice’s perspective, people look at leaders and distance themselves from them,’ she says. ‘Students will ask why they’re doing a unit on leadership when they don’t plan to be a manager.’

Through playing the game, students are encouraged to think about self-leadership. ‘If you have a clear vision of what you wish to achieve – skills in communication, negotiation and conflict avoidance, as well as assertiveness and management – these are the qualities of a leader,’ says Ms Henderson.

‘That’s how you become autonomous. You know exactly what you need to do for your patient, within the boundaries of your role.’

How one student became a leader

For Dann Gooding, organising a conference for fellow London nursing students gave him the opportunity to develop his own leadership skills in practice.

His inspiration came during a development programme for RCN student information officers – a network of nursing students who support their colleagues through their studies.

gooding‘We were told if we had an idea, to work on it,’ says Mr Gooding, a third-year student at London South Bank University. ‘Taking the initiative is an important leadership quality. We didn’t wait for others to come and do it for us.’

The day was not without its challenges. Although some 170 students signed up to attend the free event, only around 60 turned up. ‘One of the drawbacks of providing something free is that people don’t come,’ says Mr Gooding. ‘But I’d planned for it.’

Through live-streaming, they eventually reached more than 700 people. ‘If things go wrong, you can see it as a chance to problem-solve,’ he says.

Making the most of different opportunities outside his course has helped to boost his leadership skills, Mr Gooding believes. ‘If I had just stayed with what the course offered, I wouldn’t have led a conference. Through the many activities I’m involved with, I’ve learned so much about leadership.’

Using therapy to build confidence

Nursing student Lauren Ferrier believes she’s not a natural leader. ‘I find it hard to put myself forward,’ says Ms Ferrier, who starts the fourth year of an honours degree in mental health nursing at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen this autumn.

ferrier‘I approach it by thinking of my patient as the leader, getting to know them really well,’ she says. ‘That gives me a bit more confidence to speak out, advocating for their needs.’

Using cognitive behaviour therapy herself has helped her to grow. ‘It’s made me more confident, helping me to manage my own emotions and anxieties, which has made me more able to help my patients,’ says Ms Ferrier.

To demonstrate her autonomy she tries to anticipate what needs to be done, rather than being asked. Observing her fellow professionals has also been inspirational. ‘I tend to pick up things that they use,’ says Ms Ferrier. ‘There are several nurses who are amazing and I’ve integrated a lot of what they do into my own practice.’

Vision and inspiration: tips for success

  • Recognise the good leaders in your sphere. ‘As a student, I learned what good leadership was by looking around me,’ says Professor Clark. ‘Find the inspirational people who have the attributes you want to develop. It’s a good place to start and something I’ve done throughout my career.’
  • Remember it’s not just about job titles. ‘Anyone can be a leader,’ says Mr Gooding. ‘I’ve met students and healthcare assistants who are leaders because of the way they act.’
  • Have a clear vision of what you’re trying to achieve with your patient, advises Ms Henderson. ‘And follow the values of the nursing profession to work with people to decide on the best solution.’

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist 

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