The importance of biostatistics and policies for nurse leaders


Nurse leaders play an important role in liaising between their fellow nurses and the healthcare industry in which they work. While all nurses need to be focused on the job at hand, nurse leaders also need to understand the wider frame of reference in which they operate, and the external factors that influence their ability to fulfill their nursing role. 

These factors include government health policy, relationships with other departments and budgetary constraints. They may also include scientific research, social ethics, and the environmental causes of health problems. The more they understand and can manage these factors, the better able they are to influence them on behalf of patients and other healthcare professionals.

In some cases, these factors consist of skills and competencies that nurse leaders must develop themselves. In other cases, they can be described as outside forces or disciplines, such as policy-making, which nurse leaders need to understand and keep up to date with so that they can act independently and effectively. Even if nurse leaders do not act directly as policymakers, they can leverage their experience and knowledge to interact with politicians and policymakers, often making significant political headway as a result.

Advanced knowledge

Reaching the level where one can successfully negotiate these factors as a nurse leader requires advanced training and education. By earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree, registered nurses can maximize their potential to influence healthcare outcomes while also delivering high quality, specialized patient care. The online DNP programs available at reputable institutions such as Wilkes University provide students with many of the core competencies discussed in this article, including systems leadership and policy implementation. With 100% online coursework, this program can be completed in as little as two years.


Biostatistics is another vital field that future nurse leaders will be expected to master as part of their studies. Combining biology with statistical science, biostatistics or biometry is the acquisition and study of data relevant to public health. Biostatistics are used throughout medical science, from pharmacology to genetics and environmental health. Biostatisticians provide healthcare administrators and policy makers, as well as senior physicians and other scientists, with the data they need to make informed decisions about healthcare planning.

Biostatistics inform how healthcare is managed, from resource allocations and budgeting right down to treatment options and staffing numbers. The information provided by biostatisticians makes the case for the viability or otherwise of any new proposal. Funds and resources are unfortunately finite, and effective treatment can only be delivered if as much information as possible is available to those in charge. Biostatistics is an important part of this information-gathering process.

How biostatistics are used

Examples of biostatistical research may include analyzing treatment methods for cancer or infectious diseases, contributing to clinical trials and using genome sequencing to discover new disease variants. Biostatistical information is also used to support and assist public health programs, non-profit organizations and healthcare centers, as well as private research projects and universities.

Biostatisticians apply traditional statistical techniques to clinical trials and other public health ventures. Their information gathering and data analytics help to assess whether a treatment is effective. It can also help to identify the causes of an illness or condition, or the trajectory of an epidemic. Clinical trials and similar experiments provide the raw data that biostatisticians convert into usable information.

How nurse leaders use biostatistics

Nurse leaders use biostatistics to improve patient care at all scales, from traditional planning and resource allocation to creating individual treatment plans for patients. The advantages of biostatistics lie in the method’s reliance on statistical evidence that avoids the issue of conscious or unconscious bias among healthcare professionals.

Historical as well as current data can be utilized to maximize the likelihood of best-case patient outcomes. As the quantity of data that can be harvested in all fields increases rapidly, the use of biostatistics is expected to become even more essential to healthcare planning and patient care.

Systems leadership

Systems leadership is all about crossing over the real or perceived boundaries between different departments or disciplines to achieve lasting, effective results. In a healthcare context, this means looking at the bigger picture and bringing together providers, professionals and other stakeholders to come to a multifaceted solution to address existing and approaching challenges.

Hospital patients often require integrated care, and this can require healthcare professionals to step outside of their familiar fields on occasion, working with other individuals and organizations to share resources, planning, ideas and expertise. A leadership model that can organize and inspire across boundaries is the best way to break down complex problems and overcome the extensive levels of uncertainty that can be involved.

An alternative approach

Systems leadership is an alternative approach to the kind of narrowly focused leadership that prioritizes the needs of a particular organization or department. It requires leaders to look beyond their own immediate interests and instead consider the larger system in which they are working. It calls for new approaches and philosophies, “thinking outside of the box” and an openness to collaboration. 

Listening and responding to other voices is an important part of systems leadership, as solutions may be best arrived at by relinquishing “top down” management styles in favor of paying more attention to those on the healthcare frontline, from working nurses to patients and their wider communities.

A systems leadership approach requires viewing healthcare as part of a wider network that also includes social care, social infrastructure, community values and environmental management. As all these areas affect and overlap with each other, leading with an integrated approach makes logistical sense.

Taking responsibility

The opposite of integrated care is fragmented care, where due to a lack of communication, types of funding, inter-departmental friction or other factors, patients do not receive the full support that they require. Integrated care requires a person-centered approach where a patient’s needs are taken as the starting point for care provision, rather than the services that a particular department or organization can offer. For this to happen, someone needs to take responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the patient’s journey, from admission to wellness, advocating for them where necessary and making sure that no elements of their treatment plan are neglected or overlooked.

For nurse leaders, this may involve challenging embedded work practices, overcoming restrictive protocols or managing the uncertainty that comes with more flexible approaches. A coherent shared vision, effectively communicated to other healthcare professionals, can help to facilitate this, replacing or at least modifying a conservative adherence to specific job roles.

This vision should encourage carers and managers at all levels to consider the overall purpose of healthcare and how it can improve the lives of patients and communities. Systems leadership supports innovation and even disruption if this leads to positive change throughout an organization.

Healthcare policies

Healthcare policies include the laws and regulations that govern healthcare provision, at both local and national levels. The aim of healthcare policies is to improve patient experiences and the overall health of the population. Subjects such as funding, access, safety, security, confidentiality and ethical concerns are among those addressed by healthcare policies.

While it may be obvious how healthcare policies affect the day-to-day working experience of nurses and other healthcare professionals, those working within the system can also influence future policy decisions. All nurse leaders should have an awareness and understanding of healthcare policies and how they affect the services they provide. Policies are often decided at state level, but there are also national and even international laws and regulations that must be adhered to that will affect healthcare provision.

Staying informed 

At the most immediate level, a particular hospital or healthcare center will also have its own list of regulations, which are designed to comply with state requirements. Being clear about policy makes communication more effective, reduces human error and ensures everyone knows what their individual responsibilities are. Nurse leaders may need to explain healthcare policy to patients when outlining the options available to them. Certain treatments may be available in certain states but not in others. Similarly, the availability of drugs and medicines may be affected by healthcare policy.

A knowledge of healthcare policy lets nurses inform patients of their basic rights, ensuring they get the treatment that they’re entitled to. Patient care policies are a part of overall healthcare policy. These policies outline how care providers will respond to certain situations, and the protocols and processes that must be followed. These will be tailored to the services and requirements of a particular institution or facility.

Employee rights

Another branch of healthcare policy covers employee rights and management: what is expected of healthcare workers at different levels and what they can expect in terms of pay, working hours and safety measures. Patient and employee confidentiality, as well as data security, are growing areas of concern within healthcare policy circles. Nurse leaders should keep abreast of the latest regulatory developments in these fields. These will govern what information can be shared, with whom and by what methods, as well as best practices for storing sensitive personal details.


An important aspect of healthcare policies is accessibility in terms of the cost of healthcare and health insurance. This connects to wider concerns about social and economic equality and the risk of certain segments of the population being wholly or partially excluded from healthcare provision. Equally vital are policies designed to raise the general standard of health across the population, for instance through better nutrition, greater health awareness and improved living conditions.

Policymakers are often prepared to listen to nurse leaders as their input, based on personal experience and direct testimony, is invaluable in shaping future healthcare policies. In this respect, an awareness of how healthcare policy affects treatment options, and a commitment to working towards improving it, can be seen as key duties for nurse leaders.


Providing the best possible care for patients can mean looking after their interests in ways that go beyond what can be achieved at the bedside. For nurse leaders, this can involve advocacy, both on behalf of patients and the nursing profession, demanding better conditions so that they and their colleagues can better fulfill their roles.

Advocacy means speaking up on others’ behalf. It can mean using your voice to air the grievances of individuals or communities who are vulnerable, disenfranchised or lacking access to those who can act on their behalf. It can also mean helping patients to access services, supporting them in their choices and actions and providing information and encouragement. 

As nurses work directly with patients, addressing their psychological and emotional needs as well as treating their physical ailments, they can often fall into the role of confidant or ally. Frequently, they understand patients’ needs better than other professionals, but they also understand the systems a patient needs to negotiate to achieve their aims, whether this is better health, a full recovery or access to basic needs like housing or financial support. This means they can advocate effectively for patients’ rights and needs.

Affecting change

At the most basic level, advocacy can mean providing patient-centered care, ensuring patient safety, and promoting patient autonomy by empowering them to make informed decisions about their own healthcare. On a larger scale, nurse leaders can take a role in shaping the healthcare industry, as well as government policy on health. If nurse leaders keep informed about current issues, the latest research and the reasoning behind policy decisions, then their experience means that they will be listened to and have their opinions respected at the highest levels.

Nurse leaders can help to affect positive change throughout the healthcare sector, through both individual and collaborative action. Even a gesture as simple as speaking out on social media, provided it’s done in a sober and responsible fashion, can help to mobilize public opinion and contribute to transforming the industry. Using methods like systems leadership and advocacy, leveraging fact-based evidence gathered through methods such as biostatistics and drawing on a deep involvement and understanding of healthcare policy, nurse leaders can encourage change and improve care and treatment in many ways.

Jamie Roy
Jamie Roy
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