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Leadership: Moving the Needle

News  |  By Bob Wertz  
   March 01, 2017

Is every problem solvable? It's easier to move the needle on some challenges; others have elements of difficulty or complexity that impede the successful development and implementation of a solution.

This article first appeared in the March 2017 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Sometimes, point of view comes into play. In our Healthcare in the Trump Era survey, for example, 25% of healthcare leaders say government-funded universal single-payer healthcare represents the best solution for the healthcare industry. But the 38% of their colleagues who say consumer-directed healthcare is the best approach are not likely to abide the single-payer solution.

Despite the complexity of the nation's public-private patient-provider-payer structure, many of the challenges facing the industry are solvable. The approaches to the problem and the elements of the solution may vary, but the common factor in success is leadership.

Jennifer Gentry, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is chief nursing officer at two CHRISTUS Spohn Health System hospitals. As an advisor to our March Intelligence Report on Nursing Excellence, she notes that leadership development can go a long way in addressing challenges.

The report, highlights of which appear starting on page 21, features results of our survey that includes a question on the top three nursing challenges.

Nurse retention, cited by 61%, tops the list, and is closely followed by nurse recruitment at 59%. Next come nurse engagement at 35% and nurse leadership development at 33%. Gentry finds the order to be, well, out of order.

"If we don't do strong nurse leadership development, then we're shooting ourselves in the foot when it comes to retention, recruitment, and engagement because those frontline nurse leaders, they're the key to all these things," she tells Senior Research Analyst Jonathan Bees.

That is an interesting perspective: The first step in solving problems is to facilitate the development of effective problem solvers—the leaders. This would include executive leaders, of course, but must not neglect the frontline leaders. Executives need to encourage leadership at all levels, and empower staff to help shape solutions. 

The frontline leaders, Gentry says, are the ones who will "create the unit that the nurses want to be on—that strong work environment, those good work relationships, the teamwork, the engagement, the input."

One such frontline engagement effort aimed at promoting a culture of mentorship, teamwork, and professional development at CHRISTUS—the RN Ambassador program—has helped boost retention among nurses with fewer than two years on the job to 89%, up from 65% a year earlier.

That's moving the needle.  

Bob Wertz is editorial director for HealthLeaders Media. He may be contacted at

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