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11 ways that nurses can gain autonomy to improve their work

As nursing evolves, autonomy has become increasingly significant in shaping patient care and improving their healthcare experience. Nurses, as crucial members of the country’s healthcare system, must be able to maximize their impact and ensure that patients receive the highest quality of care. The only way to do this effectively is through autonomy, but what does it mean in the healthcare context?

What is autonomy in nursing?

Autonomy in nursing is the capacity of nurses to make independent decisions and act in accordance with their professional knowledge, skills and ethical standards. It includes critical thinking, clinical judgment and decision-making skills. This enables nurses to work in the best interest of their patients without constant supervision or direction from other healthcare providers.

Autonomy helps reduce bureaucracy in patient care. How? Nurses can make decisions because of their experience and abilities, and this increases their job satisfaction. However, to embrace autonomy effectively, you need to be an expert in an area of nursing science and healthcare. Carson-Newman University offers an easy route to becoming a certified family nursing professional through its online FNP certification program. The Carson-Newman University online family nurse practitioner (FNP) program provides nurses with the skills needed to pursue a career as an FNP and to navigate the healthcare sector.

Now that you know how to increase your likelihood of being regarded as an expert, how can you increase your autonomy at work?

11 ways that nurses can increase their autonomy

Having unrestricted authority at work enables you to execute your duties without interference from your superiors. Here are some ways to increase the likelihood of this happening.

  • Focus on professional development

Continuous education and professional development help expand your knowledge and skills and foster autonomy in the long run. Continuous learning informs you of the most recent developments in healthcare trends, evidence-based practices and cutting-edge technologies. This enhances your knowledge and helps you make informed decisions, effectively advocate for patients and provide high-quality care. This education can take many forms, including formal degree programs and informal seminars and workshops.

Advanced degree programs, such as a master’s or doctorate in nursing or certification programs in critical care, oncology or geriatric nursing, are among the educational opportunities available to you. Getting an advanced degree makes it easy to demonstrate your commitment and grow your expertise in a particular field. You can attend workshops and seminars on subjects that are related to your area of practice to expand your knowledge, learn new approaches, and network with other professionals. You can also sign up for clinical skills and patient care-related online courses, webinars and podcasts at your convenience. All of these will boost your professional knowledge and increase your chances of being considered an authority in your area of specialization.

  • Learn about recent evidence-based practices

Learning about recent evidence-based practices helps to increase your clinical abilities. It also helps you maintain professional autonomy, deliver high-quality care and adapt to a constantly changing healthcare environment. Lifelong learning is a self-directed pursuit of knowledge and skills that continues throughout your career, and should be motivated by personal and professional development objectives. Evidence-based practices and guidelines are based on integrating clinical expertise, patient preferences and the best available research evidence to make informed patient care decisions.

Commitment to continuous learning can enhance your clinical knowledge and skills and preserve your professional competence. How? You can provide safe, efficient and patient-centered care by gaining knowledge of the most recent findings, which will assist you in promoting evidence-based care and encouraging other nurses to do the same. For instance, staying abreast of the latest research on pressure ulcer prevention can enable you to implement evidence-based interventions, such as repositioning patients and utilizing pressure-relieving devices, to enhance patient outcomes.

Additionally, lifelong learning helps you adapt to changes in healthcare by acquiring new competencies, embracing innovative technologies, and addressing the changing requirements of diverse patient populations. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring techniques, for instance, can help you expand your practice and provide treatment to rural or underserved patients.

  • Increase your critical thinking and clinical decision-making abilities

Critical thinking involves analyzing information, evaluating evidence and considering multiple perspectives to make informed decisions. Clinical decision-making involves critically evaluating patient care situations and considering each patient’s preferences and requirements. These competencies allow nurses to navigate complex healthcare environments, prioritize patient requirements and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

Reflective practice is one method for improving your critical thinking abilities. Reflecting on your experiences, successes and obstacles helps you identify improvement opportunities, recognize thought patterns and develop problem-solving skills. You can engage in reflective practice through discussions with peers, journaling, participation in case studies, and simulation exercises.

Another way to encourage critical thinking is collaboration with other teams. You can do this while developing a health plan based on existing treatment options, especially when you need input from other experts. Enhancing your critical thinking and clinical decision-making skills can increase your chances of gaining more flexibility and autonomy in how you care for your patients.

  • Collaborate effectively with an interdisciplinary team

An interdisciplinary team may comprise physicians, chemists, physical therapists, social workers and dietitians. These professionals collaborate to address the complex needs of patients, and effective communication between everyone facilitates coordinated care. This form of collaboration also helps to improve patient safety as a shared decision-making process enhances optimal patient care. How does this contribute to your autonomy at work?

First, you should develop strong interpersonal skills. This allows you to establish rapport and trust with team members to facilitate open communication and teamwork. To create a positive team dynamic, you should also be an active listener, empathic, respectful and adaptable to various communication styles.

Second, you should comprehend the roles and expertise of each team member. This helps you determine where their contribution to a patient’s case can be unique and valuable. For instance, knowing the role of each member of an interdisciplinary team helps you decide who to consult and collaborate with to reduce back-and-forth with a healthcare administrator regarding a patient.

Third, communicate plainly and concisely. This makes patient information sharing with team members easy and organized. Using standardized tools, such as SBAR (Situation, Background, Evaluation and Recommendation), can help you structure communication and ensure that crucial details are noticed.

Finally, participate in interprofessional conferences and patient rounds. This not only enables you to advocate for your patients, but also helps you provide insightful comments to discussions to demonstrate your area of expertise to your colleagues. Effective collaboration and communication will increase your independence in the long run as your confidence increases. It will also help you to improve patient care and contribute to a more integrated and efficient healthcare system.

  • Advocate for patient needs and preferences

Patient advocacy requires nurses to actively support and defend their patients’ rights, promote their interests, and ensure that their voices are heard and respected. It is a method for empowering patients, and to succeed at this, you should start by establishing a trustworthy relationship. By establishing rapport with patients and their families, you demonstrate active listening and empathy. This enables you to comprehend their experiences, concerns and expectations on a deeper level. You can recognize their needs and educate the family on their diagnosis and how you’ll approach care. Doing this improves your value to the organization and the patients, and this can increase your chance at autonomy.

  • Encourage independent decision-making

Promoting independent decision-making in the profession can help you assume responsibility for your actions and help others do the same. This contributes to increased job satisfaction, professional growth and patient health. As a nursing administrator, you can encourage your nurses to make independent decisions by providing them with opportunities. These decisions could be on patient care, resource allocation and other aspects of the practice. You should also provide the necessary information and support to help them accomplish this. By delegating certain responsibilities, soliciting input on policy development and involving nurses in quality improvement initiatives, you help them become more responsible.

You can also help your nurses improve their ability to make independent decisions by encouraging innovations. You can encourage them to ask questions, question presuppositions and investigate alternative solutions to clinical and organizational problems. These activities can be conducted during case conferences, journal societies and simulations. In addition to offering support and mentoring, you can provide constructive feedback to help them develop autonomy and confidence in their decision-making skills.

  • Engage in professional organizations

Engaging in these organizations can help you advocate for the interests of your patients and colleagues. It is also a chance to share your experience and collaborate with other healthcare professionals to influence policies that directly impact nursing practice and patient outcomes. The first step is to join professional nursing associations. These could be local, national or international associations, and could include the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the International Council of Nurses (ICN). These associations provide opportunities to network with other professionals, gain access to educational resources, and advocate for nursing practice, education, research and regulation.

You should also attend conferences and seminars to keep up with the latest trends, best practices and emerging issues. Volunteering on nursing committees is an additional opportunity to influence policymaking processes and standards directly affecting your practice. Volunteer opportunities include quality improvement, patient safety, infection control and professional development. These add to your experience and increase your value to the organization. In the long term, these experiences will boost your confidence in your abilities and knowledge. Your experiences will also make you fit for roles that directly increase organizational success.

  • Serve as a leader or mentor

Whether you’re a senior nurse or in the middle of your career, mentoring others helps you to be viewed as a leader. The more others view you as a leader, especially when you have certifications and experience to demonstrate your expertise, the better. You can accomplish this by pursuing formal positions of leadership. For instance, you can apply for leadership positions such as charge nurse, nurse manager and nurse educator. These positions provide the opportunity to advise and support nursing teams, influence nursing practice and policy, and shape the working environment to promote nursing autonomy.

You can also lead educational initiatives such as workshops and in-service training. This allows you to equip your colleagues with the knowledge and skills to practice independently and provide evidence-based care. This may entail teaching your team members clinical skills, discussing case studies with them, and presenting research findings. This demonstrates your versatility to decision makers and may be the boost you need for promotion to manage a healthcare organization’s division.

  • Improve your self-awareness and emotional intelligence

Stress is an unavoidable aspect of the job, but you must learn to manage it. This will help to improve your decision-making skills, which will ultimately enhance patient care. By cultivating these skills, you can navigate the complex, high-stress healthcare environment, make more informed decisions, and develop positive relationships with patients and colleagues.

You can cultivate self-awareness and emotional intelligence by reflecting on personal experiences and emotions through journaling or mindfulness practices. This provides insight into your emotional responses, thought patterns and coping strategies and helps you learn how to manage stress without compromising the quality of your decisions.

Additionally, you should solicit feedback from colleagues, mentors and supervisors to identify your strengths and weaknesses. This increases your self-awareness and enables you to address your shortcomings. Ultimately, it positions you as a responsible nurse. By engaging in these activities, you can improve your emotional health and respond more effectively to issues that require your immediate attention.

  • Relate with mentors and role models

Mentors and role models guide, inspire and assist you in navigating the healthcare industry’s challenges. They can also help you develop your decision-making and leadership abilities. You can cultivate effective relationships with potential mentors and role models by doing the following.

Identify prospective mentors and role models. Look for seasoned professionals within your organization or professional networks who demonstrate autonomy in their practice, have strong clinical and leadership skills, and are dedicated to continuous learning and professional development. Then, check if they lead any formal mentorship programs. If they don’t, find out if they have a personal project on mentoring nurses. These programs can facilitate structured learning, networking and professional development opportunities.

Seek out informal mentoring relationships, particularly if you enjoy their teaching style and character. Introduce yourself to potential mentors and express your desire to learn from them. Meeting frequently to discuss clinical challenges, career objectives, professional issues and opportunities may be challenging, but it could result in a significant career boost.

Finally, be observant to imitate and apply best working practices at work. These could include effective communication, smarter clinical decision-making, patient advocacy and interdisciplinary collaboration. All of these practices can help impress your superiors, which could lead to them promoting you and granting you more autonomy over your patients. After all, this level of independence indicates that you are trusted and could improve overall patient care with your abilities.

  • Maximize technology and electronic health records

Electronic health record systems, decision support tools and telehealth platforms are examples of technological advances in healthcare. They facilitate access to real-time patient data, evidence-based guidelines and interprofessional communication channels. They allow you to make more informed decisions, streamline documentation processes, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals more effectively.

You should familiarize yourself with these systems to utilize the technologies. You should be proficient in navigating your organization’s electronic healthcare record system, for instance, to comprehend its features, functions, and how to access and accurately input patient data. You should also incorporate decision support tools into your organization’s healthcare systems. These tools could include evidence-based guidelines, clinical pathways and alerts regarding medication safety. These will help you to make educated decisions regarding patient care. Incorporating these tools into your practice can also increase your independence and guarantee that your actions adhere to the industry’s best practices.

Incorporating telehealth technologies can also increase your efficacy. Telehealth platforms can facilitate remote patient monitoring, virtual consultations and interprofessional collaboration. All of these allow timely, patient-centered care and autonomous decision-making based on real-time data. By streamlining documentation processes, you can reduce redundancy, automate data input and provide care plans effectively. This can increase the precision of nursing documentation and create more time for patient care.


Autonomy in nursing is an essential aspect of professional practice that enables nurses to make independent decisions, provide patient-centered care and improve patient outcomes. It requires a combination of knowledge, skill development, effective communication, self-awareness and continuous improvement. By pursuing continuous education, remaining current on evidence-based practices, cultivating strong critical thinking skills, collaborating with interdisciplinary team members, participating in professional organizations, mentoring others and leveraging technology, you can increase your independence and elevate the practice. Performing exceptionally well at work is also crucial in gaining more autonomy. The greater your reputation for excellence, the better.

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