We’ve embarked on an ambitious project to identify ward leaders from the point of qualification, says Charlie Sheldon
As I recall we started describing nurse leadership rather than management in the very early 1990s; certainly when I did my finals in 1993 the afternoon paper was still called “management”.
In keeping with the student nurse of yesteryear theme, I can still recall my time as a student and the places in which sister was deemed to run a good ward. This “tight-ship” assessment didn’t always guarantee sister being imbued with those leadership qualities we would like to see in our ward leaders today; indeed, quite a lot of student upset was caused on these “tight ships” as we were invariably chastised – mostly in public – for minor indiscretions or lapses in care. Some sisters, however, managed to get it spot on – a presence on the ward, high standards of care and, added to that, a group of staff that felt valued.
We’ve undergone two decades of change in nursing. This has led to investment in leadership development, recognition of the ward leader role as key to a quality service, and a strong body of research evidence supporting this. Unfortunately, despite all of this, there is a general feeling – certainly for many chief nurses in north east and north central London (collectively known as the UCLPartners chief nurses) – that we haven’t quite cracked it.
“We plan to identify, on qualification, those new staff nurses and midwives who have the potential to take on senior leadership roles in the clinical or academic arena”
Of course it’s not just about development, competency and training; there’s also the personal attributes. My friend Jules, who was my senior nurse when I was a newly qualified staff nurse, claimed to have been “born with a sister’s hat on” - while she was making reference to being a sister at 21, actually she naturally had the skills to instil in us a sense of direction, a commitment to maintaining standards and a feeling of wellbeing at work while managing two wards effectively.
So what do we do about it? We UCLPartners chief nurses have embarked on an ambitious project, which aims to identify and develop from point of qualification those nurses and midwives who have the leadership potential and ambition to be our ward leaders of the future. The objective is to provide them with a fast-track programme.
This hasn’t been altogether easy; despite the wealth of information on the attributes of a good leader and the role of the ward leader, we’ve all realised there are several ways to approach this. Specifically these different methods relate to how we measure competency, and how we run a programme that suits different organisations, our personal views and the differing roles in midwifery, mental health nursing, adult and paediatric areas. We’ve certainly all been practising our skills in debate, negotiation and understanding while designing the programme.
We plan to identify, on qualification, those new staff nurses and midwives who have the potential to take on senior leadership roles in the clinical or academic arena. These individuals must also be able to immediately join a bespoke career path across UCLPartners’ organisations. In addition, we’ve designed a specification for frontline ward leaders in order to develop a programme designed for existing and new appointees.
We know things haven’t always been perfect in the past but by using our experience of what has worked – and what hasn’t – and adding to it a modern “fit-for-the-future” slant, we believe this programme will help us develop the best ward leaders in the country. Ultimately, our patients and our staff will be the ones who let us know whether we have been successful in this venture.
Charlie Sheldon is chief nurse and director of governance at Homerton University Hospital Foundation Trust and honorary visiting professor at City University, London