Promoting Nurse Leadership in Virginia with a Partners Investing in Nursing's Future Grant

Aug 1, 2011, 4:06 PM, Posted by

By Amy Gillespie, R.N., M.S.N., Ed.D.

Nursing Advisor, Nurse Leadership Institute of Virginia


The Nurse Leadership Institute of Virginia works to increase nurse retention and improve client safety in health care institutions by increasing the leadership skills of nurse managers.

Realizing that nursing workforce issues are multi-faceted and require innovative approaches, the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation reached out to community nursing and other health care organizations – including the Virginia Partnership for Nursing, Virginia Nurses Association, Virginia Organization of Nurse Executives, and Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing – to develop the Central Virginia Nurse Leadership Institute.

With matching funds provided through Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future (PIN), a collaboration between the Northwest Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the consortium was able to cross organizational and territorial lines to develop an innovative, community-wide Institute to provide leadership skill development for nurse managers from all sectors of health care: public health, hospitals, academic health centers, long-term care, and home health.

The Central Virginia Nurse Leadership Institute accepted its first class of fellows in the fall of 2007. The success of the program led to a five-year sustainability grant from the Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and expansion beyond central Virginia. Nurses from throughout Virginia are now eligible to apply for and attend the Nurse Leadership Institute of Virginia.

In their groundbreaking research on the essential practices of exemplary leadership, Kouzes and Posner (2007) noted that employees leave positions and move to new jobs for a variety of reasons. The single most important component of employee satisfaction cited across different industries, locations and demographics was quality of leadership. Employees leave leaders, not just jobs. When the Nurse Leadership Institute was developed at the start of the PIN grant, its founders realized that, if the goal was to improve nurse retention and to assure safe patient care, the fundamental issue of quality of nursing leadership needed to be addressed.

The Nurse Leadership Institute is a nine-month program that includes face-to-face retreats, independent scholarship, and distance education opportunities. During its six scheduled retreats, fellows receive updates and information on current and ongoing issues in health care and leadership. They are able to interact with nursing leaders and experts on leadership from outside the nursing profession, and to focus on enhancing their personal leadership skills while developing a network of nurse leaders from around the Commonwealth.

Because leadership development is more about self development than just learning new management techniques, fellows are encouraged to closely examine their own values and leadership strengths. Each fellow identifies a problem in his or her area of practice and, with the guidance and support of the Chief Nurse Executive, a site-based preceptor, and the Institute’s faculty advisor, the fellow develops a “change project.” Working through the process of identifying a problem, researching evidence-based best practices, planning and implementing a change allows fellows to have hands-on experience applying their leadership skills, while drawing on the support and expertise of the Institute’s network.

The Nurse Leadership Institute’s mission is to inspire, teach and empower nurse managers who are seeking to grow as leaders and become catalysts for change. With the release of findings from the Institute of Medicine report on the future of nursing and the increased focus on nursing’s role in health care reform as discussed in the RWJF publication Nursing’s Rx for a Reformed Health Care System, leadership development for nurses has taken on new importance. Nurse leaders are needed to manage their agencies; participate in policy making and implement change at the organizational, regional and national levels; and to manage scarce health care resources, while improving patient care outcomes in all settings. Nurses are great at multi-tasking, so we certainly have the capability to move any type of health care reform toward a working reality.

The Nurse Leadership Institute will continue to do its part to develop and improve the leadership skills and practices of nurse leaders throughout Virginia. Whether at the bedside or in the boardroom, leadership skills are universally applicable. Kouzes and Posner state it well when they note that “…leadership creates the climate in which people turn challenging opportunities into remarkable successes.”

No one would argue that health care systems lack challenges! Now is the time for nurses to get prepared, to step up to take on those challenges, and to help turn challenges into the successes that current and future patients so desperately need.


Kouzes, J., Posner, B. (2007). The leadership challenge (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.