I have held leadership roles throughout most of my nursing career. When my colleagues first recommended that I go back to school to earn my Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree I thought, “I already know how to do my job and be a leader, what will I learn?”

Once in the DNP program, I soon discovered there was much more to being a leader than holding a position and title. If I wanted to be a respected leader that could influence change, I had much to learn. Learning to make data driven decisions, apply a more holistic approach to my thinking, develop and nurture more effective professional relationships, and demonstrate my nursing expertise is helping me evolve from being a good leader to being a great one.

Making Data Driven Decisions

As a nurse with over 25 years of experience, many of my decisions as a leader where based on my own experience or recommendations from others. I was very comfortable with what has always worked. However, following this thinking, I learned I was missing out on new and exciting opportunities to make a difference at my place of work. The DNP curriculum drove my decisions into the literature for evidence-based guidance and provided me the confidence to try new strategies.

Thinking Holistically

The DNP Essentials include developing organizational and systems leadership skills. This involves holistically evaluating problems and solutions from all aspects: practice, patient outcomes, finance and policy, and system wide impact. Completing the DNP project requires applying systems-based thinking and learning to do that changed my approach to organizational leadership and decision-making. I now understand how a decision can affect the larger organization and outcomes.

Professional Networking

As nurses, we learn how to communicate with patients, families, and other disciplines. As a DNP leader, learning the importance of professional networking is critical. The DNP scholarly project provides opportunities to learn how to engage others in your ideas, select people who can help you reach your goals, and develop the confidence to interact with influential leaders in the community.


The DNP program role modeled the importance of finding a professional mentor. Completing the DNP degree provided opportunities to collaborate with other nursing professionals and develop life-long connections with colleagues. The experience provided me opportunities to develop mentoring relationships that continue today.As a leader, not only do you need a mentor but you also have a professional responsibility to act as a mentor for others. Being a good leader includes helping others succeed.   

Demonstrating Expertise

Building nursing knowledge through presentations and publications is important as you develop your role as a DNP leader. Authoring publications and being recognized at conferences as an expert in the nursing builds your professional leadership role.

There is no end in being a successful leader. It is a career-long journey; you do not just ‘make it’ and then stop learning. Completing the DNP degree brought my leadership skills to the next level and helped me learn the steps to continue to improve as a leader.