7 Habits of Highly Effective Nurse Practitioners

Have you read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? I first picked up the book the summer I graduated from college. Finding it chock full of words of wisdom applicable to all of life’s stages, I have revisited the read several times since. Covey’s words have natural career applications, and as nurse practitioners we can all benefit from looking at his advice in light of our profession.

If you aren’t familiar with Stephen Covey, his habits center around general life principles rather than a list of do’s and don’ts. So, they can be tailored to all seasons and aspects of life, providing a guide by which to live wherever you find yourself. As a nurse practitioner, the seven habits have been integral to growing in my practice, and continue to help me improve professionally. Here’s how Covey’s seven habits apply to life as an NP.

1. Be Proactive

Proactive people look at outcomes in life as a choice. They act based on values, a sense of responsibility, and take initiative to solve problems. Reactive people, in contrast, act based on feelings rather than rationality. They often feel victimized, finding it difficult to see outside of their own circumstances.

As nurse practitioners, we face a number of challenges beyond our control. Government programs and regulations, for example, affect our daily practice. As individuals, however, we can do little to change such influences. Proactive nurse practitioners control their emotions in the face of these frustrations, instead seeking solutions for working effectively within a less than ideal situation. Proactive nurse practitioners look for aspects of their practice they can control and exert their energy towards these efforts, rather than complaining about what they cannot.

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2. Begin With the End in Mind

Where do you want your nurse practitioner career to take you? Working as a nurse practitioner is very task oriented. We systematically check patient visits off our list until we reach the end of the work day. Our diagnoses and treatments are based on protocols, another set of checklists. To reach your endgame, however, you’ll need to step outside of day to day tasks and look at the bigger picture. Otherwise, busyness will get in the way of reaching your ultimate career objectives.

If your goal is to master a specialty, increase your knowledge of a set of clinical skills, or climb the healthcare corporate ladder, you must plan ahead. If you hope to open your own clinic one day, while you may not be ready yet, it’s time to start preparing. Take some time to write out your long term career goals. Where do you see your nurse practitioner career in five years? In ten years? Next, think through the short term steps you must take to get there. Plan these steps into your schedule now, working towards achieving your long term goals.

3. Put First Things First

Work-life balance is a constant struggle for nurse practitioners. Employment in healthcare certainly has benefits, but can also be demanding at times. If you want your life to feel structured, controlled, and balanced, you must “put first things first”. What is important to you personally and professionally? Think about the things that matter to you most like relationships with friends, family, and/or a fulfilling career. How do your daily actions line up with these priorities?

To achieve your goals and a sense of balance, you must prioritize. Place emphasis on things that are central to your personal values, or that help you reach your greater career goals. Spend little time on the things that don’t. The chart in this post will help. Prioritizing the things that matter most keeps time-wasting distractions at bay.

4. Think Win-Win

The healthcare system has a pretty bad rap, and as a nurse practitioner you can help to change this. The temptation of many healthcare providers is to take an authoritarian or paternalistic approach to patient care. While, as nurse practitioners, we may have more clinical knowledge than our patients, our job is to work with them to arrive at a reasonable plan of care based on individual needs. Doing so provides the greatest value to our patients and satisfies us as nurse practitioners professionally, knowing we have taken the time and energy to make a greater difference. Make your provider-patient interactions win-win relationships.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then To Be Understood

In the employment setting, conflict is inevitable. Whether you are facing communication barriers with the staff to whom you delegate, or struggling to find common ground with your boss, seek first to understand. Hear out the other party before you react or jump to conclusions. Ask questions about his or her opinion on the matter. Solving problems effectively requires a deep understanding of the issue. The more information you have to work with, and the better your understanding of others’ perspective of the problem, the greater the influence you will have in resolving the issue.

6. Synergize

Working as a nurse practitioner can seem like a relatively independent job. As NPs, we may have our own panel of patients and interact little with other providers. Realistically, however, we are members of a larger team. We are employees of companies projecting our employer’s values. We are nurse practitioners, putting a face to our relatively new profession. Working together, we can achieve more than we can on our own.

Professional synergy as a nurse practitioner may look like lobbying together for more favorable scope of practice legislation. Coming together as members of a professional body, our voice as a whole is louder than that of individual NPs. Synergy may occur on a smaller scale, in that as a nurse practitioner you lead a healthcare team, establishing a positive and efficient workplace culture.

7. Sharpen the Saw

Interacting with patients on a daily basis is exhausting. To remain effective as nurse practitioners and prevent burnout, we must care for ourselves. According to Covey, sharpening the saw is “the daily process of renewing the four dimensions of our nature, physical, mental, spiritual, and social/emotional”. Continuous self-renewal and self-improvement gives us the stamina we need to excel in the other six habits.

How do these habits affect your life as a nurse practitioner?


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