How nurse leaders communicate policy change and ethical decisions to teams

Leaders are vital across all sectors, and this is certainly true for nursing. Nursing leaders are inspirational figures who form a key part of this vital component of the healthcare system. Without these senior nursing figures to help drive the industry forward, it is certain that modern nursing and contemporary healthcare would suffer.

But what are nurse leaders, and how do you become one? In doing so, how are nurses able to learn the skills required to effectively communicate to their teams – in which these communications can include policy changes, ethical decision-making, and generalized teaching.

What is a nurse leader?

Nurse leaders are advanced level nursing professionals who occupy leadership positions within the industry. They have a direct responsibility for managing teams of healthcare staff and have a measurable input into policies, guidelines, and regulations within a healthcare setting. They also tend to have less contact with patients in a primary care environment and instead take a more macro, organizational approach to the care their teams provide.

In a clinical setting, this type of role usually involves leading teams of nursing staff and helping them deliver high levels of patient care. It also often includes duties such as providing emotional and pastoral support to their team, ensuring nurses they manage adhere to industry guidelines and inspiring the nurses they manage to perform effectively.

Nurse leaders exist across all of nursing

Nursing leadership can also be seen in other parts of the healthcare sector and plays a crucial role in how the industry develops over time. A nurse educator is a good example of this. It is a position within nursing which relies on leadership skills to guide students – it is also an advantageous skill for senior nurse educator roles when taking on supervisory tasks in their department.

To move into a nurse educator role, individuals first need to complete the relevant higher academic qualification to apply for it. The master of nursing education online programs at Cleveland State University are ideal for individuals looking to forge a career educating the next generation of nurses. With 100{0a90ed9e8e45ebcc23dc4060fdcaa58007d01411821e309591e8c9499847fb0e} online didactic coursework and the chance to complete the course in just two years, it is a great option for nurses to consider.

Whatever type of nursing leader role these students go onto, communication is a key aspect to focus on. The simple fact is that nurses cannot succeed at this level without the ability to communicate effectively with others.

Communicating policy decisions and explaining the ethical decision-making behind them

Building up core communication skills is the starting point for leaders in nursing who are looking to succeed. This can involve explaining a point in a clear, concise way that makes it easy for people to understand. Good communication skills as a nurse leader also enable these nurses to engage with people in a way that connects with them positively rather than antagonizing them.

One area excellent communication skills come in handy for nurse leaders is passing on information about policy decisions to staff. This could be a new policy that affects team members which has been implemented by a facility, for example. Changes to existing policies (such as an updated annual leave policy) are also good examples of this.

Furthermore, ethical decision making is a key skill to possess as a nursing leader to help them make just, fair, and appropriate decisions. These skills also come in useful when passing on policy changes to teams and explaining the ethics or reasoning behind them.

But what are the common ways nursing leaders can communicate policy decisions and explain the ethical decision-making informing them?


Although this may be the most traditional way leaders in the sector can communicate ethically driven policy changes to their teams, it remains widely used in the industry. As a result, anyone who works at the senior level in nursing must be adept at verbal communication to help teams thrive.

But how does this present itself in terms of passing on policy changes or explaining the ethics behind a decision? For policy updates, it may see leaders passing on information verbally to large groups of staff or whole teams in official presentations or meetings. It may also see nurse leaders meeting with staff individually to disseminate key policy changes which they should know about in-person.


Email is another popular way for leaders in the industry to communicate changes to key policies and explain how these decisions were made. Explaining the decision-making process is an important facet of any policy update, even when using an email or short memo, as staff will be more likely to engage if they can see that the most ethical decision was made by senior figures.

The benefits of using email include having a written record of the information provided to staff and the ability to contact multiple colleagues quickly. If there is an updated policy for staff to view or documents which explain how the decisions around it were made ethically, these are also simple to attach to emails. Email is also very easy to use and something which most nurse leaders (and the people they communicate with) use already.


Besides verbal communication, this is the most traditional way of delivering policy updates and explaining ethical decision-making.

As with email, the benefits of communicating via letter include having a written record of the information which was sent and sending all the relevant documents staff need to understand it. In addition, letters may be a way some team members might feel most comfortable engaging with and enables leaders to ensure that staff have seen the changes or reasoning behind the decisions.


If sending a letter is one of the more traditional ways of communicating with staff for nursing leaders, then text message is one of the more recent. As most people send text messages in their personal lives, using it for work should not be an issue. This may also mean that text is a method of communication which staff feel comfortable engaging with.

Although it can be used for sending policy changes to larger groups, text can often be used to update individual team members or deal with queries from staff around how a decision was made. This is due to the more informal nature of text and the limitations in terms of how much information can fit in one message.

Video call 

Video call is also an increasingly popular way for leaders in nursing to inform team members about changes to policies or help them understand why the changes have been made. This can be done via mobile devices and the most popular video conferencing platforms on desktop computers.

This option has the advantage of enabling nurse leaders to speak to whole teams simultaneously and offer truly inclusive communication. As team members can attend video call meetings from any location, everyone who needs to be included can be. Communication via this method can also allow organizations to reduce the costs and impact on staff productivity which traditional face-to-face meetings incur.

Why it is crucial to communicate policy updates and ethical reasoning 

Regardless of the way nursing leaders choose to inform their teams about policy changes and ethical decisions, it is incredibly important they do so.

Passing on policy changes ensures all colleagues who the changes apply to know about them. This means that staff are aware of changes to policy and understand how to implement them. As a result, they can work in the most effective way and adhere to the latest guidelines set by leaders.

Explaining the ethics behind any decisions to change policy is important because it helps staff understand why a certain path has been taken and why a policy has been amended. It also ensures team members understand that ethics were part of the decision-making process and that managerial staff have acted in the most responsible way possible.

This can be especially useful if a policy update is not popular with staff members. People tend to accept decisions a lot more if they can understand the thinking behind them and see they have been made ethically – even if they do not agree with them.

Why are policies key in nursing and why update them? 

Communicating policy changes to teams in healthcare is undoubtedly important – but why are policies themselves a key part of the whole system?

In simple terms, policies in the sector provide clear guidelines for staff in areas such as patient care, professional behavior, and health and safety at work. These policies set out how staff should act in these areas and provide guidance if they are unsure on how best to proceed in a specific situation. As a result, policies in healthcare are key for driving better patient outcomes and ensuring professional standards within an organization remain high.

Policies within health must be updated when required. This ensures any policies an organization has in place or are set nationally are fit for purpose. It also ensures the health system and facilities within it can move with the times in terms of how they operate. For example, it would be ill advised if a hospital in the modern age were still working to old-fashioned HR policies around nursing that were originally drawn up in 1940!

Ethical decision-making: practical skills for staff

Skill development in nursing is very important and something that all clinical nurse leaders should focus on for staff. As ethical decision making is something working nurses need to know about in their daily role, this is a subject their managers can pass on valuable advice around.

To develop skills, nurse leaders should use the most appropriate channels of communication to educate staff about ethical decision making. This gives nurse leaders the chance to speak with their team and pass on practical tips around ethical decision-making at work.

They can start by explaining what ethical decision-making is within healthcare and how it can be applied to nursing teams within it. This could cover why making ethical decisions which have the patients’ best interests at heart is so crucial. It could also touch on the best ways to make decisions which are ethically robust as a working nurse.

But what are the best practical tips for ethical decision making?

Always let the patients’ best interests drive decision making

A good practical tip for clinical nurse leaders to pass onto their teams is to always focus on what is best for the patient when making decisions. This is the best place to start when deciding which course of action to take and helps nursing staff act in an ethical manner.

Additionally, it can be useful for nursing staff to listen to their own intuition as a starting point when making ethical decisions. If they feel a certain course of action is the fair, just, and right way to proceed, then it often is.

Fact-based decisions

Although it is key for the teams nursing managers lead to connect with their own sense of right and wrong, they should also let the facts guide how they proceed.

Facts provide hard evidence to make decisions from and guide staff towards the best decision. It is also essential for nursing teams to stick to official policies and guidelines when making healthcare decisions. As these will have been drawn up from an ethical basis, they are a handy guide on how best to proceed and also ensure nursing teams and their organizations stay on the right side of the law.

Facts also allow staff to show exactly why they made a certain decision and help others understand why they have chosen a certain path. If a patient is refusing treatment, but the facts show they will die if they continue and the policies for this situation are clear, this can be helpful when deciding what to do next.

Consider a range of decisions and outcomes 

For nursing teams, there are a range of decisions to be made around patient care each day which must have a firm root in ethics. A good tip nurse leaders can pass onto teams is how vital considering a range of potential options is. This can help staff to consider any situation from several angles and a range of perspectives.

By doing this, nursing teams can fully think through all possible solutions first, before choosing the most ethical to implement. As well as thinking about this individually, nursing staff may find it valuable to speak with other colleagues or team members involved in the patient’s care for additional input.

Teams should also remember to think through all the consequences a decision could have. This is not only for the patient but also their family, the organization and the team member who will make the decision. This allows the right call to be made and any potential consequences to be properly planned for.

Nurse leaders and communication

Anyone working as a leader in the nursing sector knows that informing staff of policy updates and communicating any changes is vital. They also know that staff need to understand that any decisions around policy changes have been made in an ethical, fair way.

The best way to achieve both these goals is through nurse leaders effectively communicating with teams. If leaders can also teach their teams practical skills around ethical decision making to further their development, then it only makes for a more positive impact on individual patients, an entire organization, and healthcare as an industry.