The Benefits of a Clinical Ladder Nursing Program

April 15, 2021
April 15, 2021

According to a 2019 Modern Healthcare article that looked at how training and workforce development is changing across healthcare, especially in hospitals, “Day-to-day operations can put coaching and development on the back burner. But lower unemployment rates, market competition, nursing and physician shortages, tighter profit margins, and stagnant wages have reprioritized these recruitment strategies from routine HR work to a strategic initiative.”

The same article mentions Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, LA, which “has responded by developing job-specific competency-based assessments and individualized training and development plans for all team members. As more employees seek promotion opportunities than what is available, it has expanded the definition through lateral moves or additional responsibilities.” The embodiment of this new approach to career development is a clinical ladder program focused on keeping nurses in their bedside patient treatment positions even as they work to receive higher salaries related to “teaching, research and leading or joining a committee, task force or project work.”

Developing Nursing Careers Beyond Novice & Advanced Beginner

The Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP) adds to the understanding of Career Ladder Programs, sharing that they “are commonly designed as professional development tools to reward nurses for education and certification, research, clinical skills, and leadership. The idea behind clinical ladder programs stems from Patricia Benner’s “novice to expert” theory, which centers around the competence of the nurse through stages: novice, advanced beginner nurse, competent, proficient, and expert.” Not only are these programs a means of advancement; they are also a way to encourage retention, increase competency, and improve care quality, and have a positive impact of work satisfaction. ACRP adds, “Progression up the clinical career ladder is typically conditional upon the nurse meeting defined criteria of clinical excellence, skills and competence, professional expertise, and educational attainment.”

Benefits to Nurses of a Clinical Ladder Nursing Program

For nurses themselves, career ladders provide multiple potential benefits.


Career Advancement

According to ACRP, this kind of program “creates the opportunity to advance the nurse’s skills and career, while simultaneously allowing the nurse to stay at the bedside.”

New Research-oriented Career Directions

Some nurses may decide they want to change career directions toward clinical research management. Accordingly, “The skills acquired as part of the ladder program can be utilized in leadership positions involving project management, team building, supervisor roles, process improvement, and unit outcomes.” Other nurses may want a greater degree of “ownership in improving the quality of patient care.” This may connect to incorporating evidence-based practice or even becoming “research nurses publishing and contributing to the evidence in clinical research.&rdquo

Increased Nursing Salaries

ACRP offers that “As clinical research nurses continue to advance up the ladder, this can contribute to more recognition, and with that comes monetary compensation. Clinical research nurse achievement through clinical ladder programs can be further evaluated annually and compensated accordingly.”


Organizational Benefits of a Clinical Ladder Nursing Program

Healthcare organizations also can benefit from establishing clinical ladder programs for their nurses. In essence, a career ladder often promotes employee engagement, which translates into improvement in terms of “staff retention, productivity, and job satisfaction.” These positive impacts develop for multiple reasons. For example, “When nurses participate, it allows the healthcare system to recognize clinical nurses, highlighting their advancement and accomplishments. When clinical research nurses contribute to the quality of the [research] center, it in turn becomes a reflection of the organization and enhances research participants’ experiences.” ACRP adds that “Research nurses who are active in a clinical ladder program contribute to the different complex systems of the center by actively engaging in quality improvement, participant satisfaction and safety, and staff engagement. Being a part of the clinical ladder program elevates research nurses to increased levels of involvement in all of these areas and, in turn, helps engage peers and increases professionalism within the unit.”

Whether it’s to have a role in problem-solving or transforming policies and procedures, an engaged nurse participating in a clinical ladder program is more likely to connect his or her personal goals and anticipated outcomes with those of the organization. It’s also highly likely that career ladders can lead to improved patient outcomes and higher quality care. In closing, “Having professional development programs like those involving clinical ladders in place encourages employee growth while showing organizational investment in nurses’ careers.”

Healthcare Workforce Management

Making decisions that impact your patient population relies on understanding and engaging your workforce. Many organizations struggle with ongoing access to their professionals’ career activities and credentials. This information is key to making meaningful decisions related to staffing, development, Magnet®, clinical journey initiatives, and succession management.

As our flagship nursing workforce development solution, HealthStream’s Jane™ is The World’s First Digital Mentor for Nurses. Jane harnesses the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that personalizes competency development at scale, quickly identifies risk and opportunity, and improves quality outcomes by focusing on critical thinking. Leveraging decades of research and with over 4 million assessments completed, Jane was designed to power lifelong, professional growth of clinical professionals. Jane is an important component of HealthStream’s suite of clinical development solutions.

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