By Julie Klein, MHA, BSN, FACHE and Barb Ward

Nurses have always served a critical role in the care of patients, but never before have circumstances illustrated so clearly how much nurses do to make a difference.

Since the early 1990’s the nursing profession has made the transformation from the perception of nurses working for physicians, to nurses being stakeholders in the care delivery team. Truly, nurses are the backbone of healthcare. Day in and day out, it is nurses who juggle multiple critical functions while also working tirelessly on the front lines to provide quality care to their patients. This has never been more clearly demonstrated than during the worldwide pandemic of recent months. Nursing professionals have stepped up to innovate and problem solve the unanticipated challenges to patients and the healthcare system that this health crisis has posed.

Never has this job been more crucial. The nature of the profession requires the innate ability of nurses to navigate challenges, shift priorities, maintain focus, and think on their feet, but it is the organizations that are able to provide an environment that supports nurse empowerment that will become, and remain, successful.

In addition to improving nurse retention (and reducing nurse turnover costs), healthcare organizations that are dedicated to staff empowerment, job satisfaction, and a healthy work environment also have better patient outcomes, shorter lengths of stay, decreased mortality, and higher patient satisfaction scores. All of this translates into a positive impact on your organization’s culture and, in turn, its bottom line.

So, how can you ensure our nursing leaders and staff are empowered to effectively and sustainably perform their job functions? Understanding different types of empowerment is a first step:

Psychological empowerment

This is the internal drive an individual has that supplies them with the determination to set and accomplish a worthwhile goal. Typically, nurses have an independence and self-reliance that are supported through organizations that give nurses a voice. Psychological empowerment embodies an individual’s feeling of competence, autonomy, significance, and ability to impact the organization. When an organization listens to its nurses’ insights and feedback and implements ideas that make sense, it reinforces their value and importance in the organization.

Structural empowerment

Based on Kanter’s theory (1993) structural empowerment is promoted in work environments that provide staff with access to information, resources, support, and the opportunity to learn and develop. Organizations can support nurses by implementing strategies that provide a shared governance system and encourage open communication. This structure helps nurses take an active role in decision-making and provides procedures for allowing them to provide patient care as they see fit. This structure provides a level of responsibility and autonomy that is essential for a nurse’s long-term success.

Having an engaged and empowered nursing workforce does not happen by accident. By ensuring your organization provides resources for both psychological and structural empowerment, you set yourself, and your nurses up for success. This investment translates into a positive impact on your organization’s culture, nursing engagement and retention, patient satisfaction and, in turn, your bottom line. The true beneficiaries of an empowered work force are the patients and communities you serve. So, take the time, these simple steps on the front-end provide a true win-win for everyone … and what could be better than that?