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Why Advanced Degrees for Nurse Leaders Matter

Rebecca Hendren, for HealthLeaders Media, June 28, 2011

"I ask my nurses: 'When you're sitting around the table with care managers, physicians, physical therapy, etc, do you really want to be the least-educated person at the table?'" says Kim Sharkey, BSN, RN, MBA, NE-A, BC, who is CNO/vice president of medicine at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta. "The answer is no. [At Saint Joseph's] we've got a constant agenda to raise the level of our nursing staff because it puts them at a more equal place at the decision-making table."

Sharkey is leading by example and is enrolled in a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program at American Sentinel University, which allows her to work full time while studying.

Sharkey has been with Saint Joseph's since 1979 and says she realized early on that to be an effective leader, she needed to pursue advanced degrees. Her educational journey has taken her from a diploma program in the 70s, to a baccalaureate degree in nursing in the 80s, to an MBA in the 90s. She pursued a master's in business, instead of a master's in nursing, because she wanted to be exposed to different ways of thinking outside the healthcare world.

When Sharkey became CNO a few years ago, her organization was moving to a service line structure and she was put in charge of the medicine service line. This makes her VP of medicine as well as CNO.

"It's becoming more common for execs at all levels to become broader in their scope," says Sharkey. "I have a dual position. I'm over medicine service line as a business leader, but also over nursing wherever it is."

The role of nursing leadership is expanding, says Sharkey. "Nurses really touch every aspect of patient care. They need to be more globally involved in the business of healthcare as well as the business of nursing."

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