A Seat at the Table: Advanced Degrees Prepare Nurses for Decision-Making Roles


Daytime talk show host Katie Couric recently paid tribute to nurses and the important role they play in their patients’ lives. Her guest, Diana Mason, PhD, RN, FAAN, president of the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), highlighted another critical role of today’s nurses: decision-maker.

"In 2010, a study from the Institute of Medicine reported that nurses are not being used to their full potential,” Mason explained. “This finding is key because it recognizes that we cannot transform healthcare in our country without tapping into the potential of our nurses and the important role they can play at decision-making tables at all levels of healthcare organizations and for all healthcare policies.”

Reaching your full potential

Juli Daniels, PhD, CCRN, CNE, associate professor in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Healthcare Policy specialty track and the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program at Chamberlain College of Nursing, has served in several decision-making roles throughout her nursing career.

Prior to joining Chamberlain, she was a director of critical care services at not-for-profit and for-profit health systems in Kentucky and Florida, and assistant vice president/chief nursing officer (CNO) at Florida Hospital, part of the Adventist Health System. These experiences gave Dr. Daniels the mobility to become a CNO consultant, working with multiple hospitals and healthcare systems across the U.S.

“Hospitals and health system leadership need nurse leaders to enhance patient-driven care, make evidence-based practice change and be mentors and role models to other nurses,” she explained. “Nurses understand the complexity of care required to improve patient outcomes. Without their perspective, important patient-centered care decisions may not be adequate to improve overall patient outcomes.”

Dr. Daniels said nurses have the power to drive integral changes that can transform our healthcare system because they are focused on patient outcomes and possess a ‘24 hour perspective’ of each patient. Their perspective is needed to help improve evidence-based care and influence decisions related to staffing, budgets and strategic goals.

Dr. Daniels advises nurses who aspire to fill key decision-making roles to continue their education and identify leadership opportunities to enhance their skills. “As a staff nurse, I knew I needed a Bachelor of Science Nursing (BSN) degree to take my career to the next level,” she said. “Eventually, my MSN degree opened up even more opportunities for interprofessional collaboration. As a director of critical care, I managed large decision-making teams of physicians, physical therapists and social workers. Together, we established structures and processes to enhance the level of patient care.”

The benefits of advanced degrees

To further develop her credibility and address practice issues at the highest level, Dr. Daniels went on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree in nursing. She soon assumed the role of assistant vice president/CNO. “This role was a career pinnacle,” she said. “It was exciting and gratifying to lead interprofessional teams and create the processes that would transform issues related to health policy, safety and quality improvement as well as set standards for a healthy workplace environment.”

Dr. Daniels explained how advanced degrees blend theoretical knowledge and real-world practice with the mentorship from leaders in the field to prepare nurses for leadership positions. For example:

  • A BSN degree equips a nurse with the leadership knowledge, skills and perspective to help create change and impact patient care at a micro level within healthcare organizations. Students develop a strong foundation for impacting the healthcare landscape.
  • Graduates with an MSN degree may fill a variety of roles in healthcare policy development, benefiting patients and the community. Nurses develop the foundation needed to expand their nursing practice and learn to apply knowledge to the design and implementation of policies, as well as evaluation of their outcomes.
  • DNP graduates learn the professional skills needed to become transformational leaders in healthcare. Curriculum and practicum prepare nurses to translate new knowledge into practice and serve in vital decision-making roles that improve patient outcomes and address system efficiencies.


In addition to advancing one’s education to serve in decision-making roles, Dr. Daniels encourages nurses to explore professional groups like the American Organization of Nurse Executives, which helps facilitate nurses to reach their full potential in healthcare leadership positions.

“Healthcare reform will continue to guide the industry toward evidence-based, cost-effective and high quality care,” added Dr. Daniels. “Nurses work on the front lines of healthcare. Their voices must be heard to develop new models of care that meet these goals.”

How important do you think it is for nurses to play a bigger role as decision-makers?

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