Looking at leadership in nursing systems science

In this article, we take a look at healthcare leadership and discuss how the Wits University online Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science (BHSciNSS) can help practising nurses advance their careers.

The BHSciNSS degree differs from regular Bachelor’s degrees in that admission is only open to people who have already completed a three or four-year diploma in nursing, or an equivalent. The degree builds further on existing knowledge of clinical nursing practice and has a heavy focus on leadership, management and administration. This gives nurses the skills needed to take on more senior managerial roles. The degree also provides an academic stepping stone to further postgraduate study and specialisation that are not accessible to people holding only a diploma.

If you are a qualified nurse and would like to study further or gain the skills needed by nurse leaders, then please read on. You can use the article outline below to jump to any specific topics or questions that you may be interested in.

Study a BHSCiNSS online with Wits

Wits offers a fully online Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science

  • Duration: The programme takes 3 years to complete.
  • Admission requirements: This qualification differs from most Bachelor’s degrees in that applicants require a three- or four-year diploma or equivalent from a nursing college in addition to having completed school with a university endorsement.
  • Programme fees are payable in instalments with financial assistance available.
  • The programme consists of 35 modules, with 12 each in the first and second year of study. The final year of study has one fewer module but includes two larger modules to test the application of knowledge gained.

Introduction to nursing systems science

Nursing systems science is a multidisciplinary field that combines nursing knowledge with systems theory to improve healthcare delivery. As a field, it emphasises understanding the interconnectivity within healthcare systems, including patient care, management, policy and technology. This approach helps in addressing complex challenges in healthcare, enhancing patient outcomes and ensuring efficient healthcare management.

The Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science at Wits University is a new online programme specifically designed for practising nurses who would like to specialise further or gain the skills needed to become more involved in healthcare management and policy planning. The programme spans over three years, offering flexibility and accessibility to nurses who aim to advance their careers while continuing their professional practice.

The role of nursing systems science in healthcare leadership

Nursing systems science strengthens healthcare leadership by providing a thorough understanding of the dynamic interplay between all the many elements that make up the overall healthcare system. The size of the system can range from that for just a small private clinic or doctor’s rooms, all the way through to provincial and national level public healthcare systems.

Understanding the component elements within a healthcare system allows healthcare leaders to provide effective leadership, make informed decisions and contribute to policy-making. It prepares nurses to manage teams, improve healthcare services and advocate for patient and staff needs.

The Wits University programme recognises this by integrating courses that focus on governance in healthcare, healthcare systems and healthcare economics. These modules equip nurses with an in-depth understanding of the healthcare environment and the skills needed to navigate and lead effectively. The emphasis on governance, economics and system-based thinking prepares graduates to contribute significantly to policy-making, quality improvement and efficient management in healthcare settings.

Overview of leadership opportunities for nursing graduates

Leadership opportunities within nursing include roles such as nurse managers, healthcare administrators, policy advisors and consultants. These positions involve overseeing patient care, managing healthcare facilities, shaping healthcare policies and implementing initiatives to improve the quality of healthcare settings and services. These roles, however, are usually filled by senior nurses with many years of experience as well as additional academic qualifications.

The BHSciNSS programme aims to help practising nurses to fast-track that process by providing various leadership and managerial skills that are not included in a basic nursing diploma. The programme’s curriculum covers aspects such as healthcare law and policy, quality management in healthcare and patient safety, all of which are crucial for leadership roles in nursing. The focus on evidence-based practice and clinical judgement further empowers graduates to lead initiatives that improve patient outcomes and advance the field of nursing. By combining academic rigour with practical relevance, BHSciNSS graduates are much better prepared for leadership roles and are also able to pursue further academic specialisation.

Benefits of pursuing a nursing systems science degree

Pursuing a nursing systems science degree offers numerous benefits for those working in healthcare. It equips graduates with a comprehensive understanding of healthcare systems, enhancing their ability to manage and innovate within these systems. This degree also provides nurses with advanced skills in leadership, decision-making and policy development.

A degree in nursing systems science offers a comprehensive understanding of healthcare systems, enhancing clinical skills with knowledge of healthcare policy, leadership and management. The Wits University BHSciNSS programme is designed to enhance both the theoretical and practical knowledge of nurses. Graduates can expect improved career prospects, with opportunities for roles in leadership, administration and policy advocacy.

Advantages of a nursing systems science education

An education in nursing systems science provides a much wider understanding of how healthcare systems work. While a nursing diploma, for example, covers all the aspects of the on-the-ground work of a nurse, a nursing systems science degree goes further to cover how nursing fits into the broader healthcare system as well as skills for governance, economics, leadership and healthcare management.

The Wits University BHSciNSS programme, through its flexible online format, is designed to be accessible for those who are working as practising nurses, allowing them to fit in their studies around work schedules that often leave little time to attend regular contact classes. This offers an avenue for nurses to advance their careers towards more senior managerial roles. As an NQF level 7 qualification, it also opens nurses to further postgraduate academic specialisations that are not available to those who have only completed a level 6 diploma.

Why nursing systems science programmes are gaining importance

Recent trends and shifts in the ongoing evolution of healthcare have shown the rising importance of systems science within healthcare. As the American Medical Association (AMA) reported recently, almost half of the 155 US medical schools included in a survey claimed to have accomplished “meaningful integration” of health systems science into their curriculums.

Although that study spoke of health systems science, it reflects the same application of systems-based thinking to healthcare as nursing systems science. This rising importance is the result of the increasing complexity of healthcare systems worldwide, requiring nurses who are not only clinically competent but also adept in systems thinking and leadership. Nursing systems science programmes address this need by preparing nurses to take on strategic roles in healthcare delivery and policy.

Advantages for career advancement and leadership development

Graduates of the online BHSciNSS programme at Wits University stand out in the job market due to their enhanced understanding of healthcare systems and leadership skills. The programme prepares nurses for more advanced roles in healthcare management and administration than are open to nurses who only hold a nursing diploma.

Why choose a nursing systems science degree?

Choosing a nursing systems science degree, particularly from Wits University, signifies a commitment to excelling in the nursing profession. The degree offers a unique combination of clinical knowledge, systems thinking and leadership training, preparing nurses for the challenges of modern healthcare. Graduates are equipped not only to adapt to but also to lead change in healthcare systems.

Bridging the gap between nursing practice and leadership

One of the main challenges that nurses face in climbing the career ladder is acquiring the necessary education and training. Top leadership roles often require advanced degrees such as a Masters degree in nursing or healthcare administration. The BHSciNSS degree from Wits aims at filling that specific niche, to help practising nurses break through the glass ceiling that can so often limit career advancement.

This degree bridges the practical aspects of nursing with leadership and management, preparing nurses to take on more managerial roles in healthcare while also providing them with a stepping stone to further postgraduate qualifications to reach the highest level of healthcare management.

Preparing for leadership in complex healthcare systems

Preparing for a leadership role in a complex healthcare system such as South Africa’s requires a mix of managerial skills, practical experience, an advanced qualification in nursing or healthcare management and a commitment to staying up to date on ongoing changes to healthcare practices and policies.

The BHSciNSS curriculum has been specifically designed to provide experienced nurses with many of these skills to allow them to enter managerial roles and provide a pathway to more advanced and specialised qualifications. Upon completion of the programme, students will have developed robust leadership and management skills, with a specific focus on areas such as strategic planning, resource management, policy, ethics and understanding the unique dynamics of South Africa’s healthcare system.

Leadership development in nursing systems science

The Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science programme at Wits University places a strong emphasis on leadership development. The programme includes modules that focus on the latest leadership theories, practical management skills and strategic decision-making.

The programme blends these elements with clinical nursing to ensure that graduates are not only adept in nursing practice but also equipped with the leadership skills necessary to navigate complex healthcare environments effectively.

Leadership training and education in nursing

Leadership training and education are required to qualify for advanced roles in healthcare administration and management. The Wits online BHSciNSS has a strong focus on leadership training, with a curriculum that combines traditional nursing knowledge with contemporary leadership and management principles.

Some of the areas covered include general topics such as management, communication and team dynamics. While the degree is focused on health sciences and nursing, it also draws on some fields that are more commonly associated with the humanities, such as the first module in the first year, which looks at culture and identity and provides knowledge that is especially important with dealing with the wide range of patients with as many diverse backgrounds as we have in South Africa.

Leadership in clinical nursing practice

The Wits online Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science programme includes several modules that are particularly relevant to leadership in clinical nursing practice. The programme prepares nurses to lead patient care teams, manage complex clinical scenarios and contribute to improving patient outcomes.

The following modules are all included in the third and final year of study, allowing students to build on the previous two years of study with a particular focus on leadership.

  • Governance in healthcare: Focuses on governance in healthcare organisations, including leadership styles, characteristics and attributes.
  • Quality management in healthcare: Equips students with skills to improve care quality in healthcare environments.
  • Healthcare law and policy: Discusses healthcare law and policies.
  • Clinical judgement: Enhances clinical decision-making skills.

These modules integrate leadership and management concepts within the context of clinical nursing, emphasising skills crucial for effective leadership in healthcare environments.

Leadership in healthcare administration for nurses

As with many fields, career advancement usually reaches a point where you no longer spend your time doing the task you were trained for, but rather managing and administrating other people to more effectively do that task themselves. This can often be a challenge for people, as the skills they needed to do their job well previously are not the same skills needed for administration.

This is where the BHSciNSS fills a specific niche by teaching administrative skills that are not included in a regular nursing diploma. As for leadership in clinical practice above, the programme includes third-year modules that are particularly relevant to leadership in healthcare administration for nurses:

  • Healthcare policy and management: Offers insights into healthcare policy, management strategies and administrative responsibilities.
  • Health systems and public health: Focuses on the broader health system, including public health management, which has a direct impact on administrative leadership roles.
  • Health informatics: This module provides the understanding of data management and informatics in healthcare that leaders require for modern healthcare administration.

These modules are specifically tailored to enhance knowledge and skills in healthcare administration, offering nurses the tools needed to effectively handle administrative and leadership roles in healthcare.

Addressing burnout and promoting resilience among nurse leaders

Nurses and other medical staff often operate under extreme pressure. While people face pressure and stress in other industries, in most cases they can find some comfort knowing that whatever they’re dealing with is not actually a matter of life and death. Nurses do not have that luxury.

Burnout is a common problem and as a nurse leader, it is something that you will have to address for both yourself and your team. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlighted the prevalence of burnout among medical staff and noted that “health workers experienced a decrease in odds of burnout if they trusted management”. Conversely, it also noted higher likelihoods of anxiety, depression and burnout among those who experienced harassment at work.

The first year of the BHSciNSS includes modules on emotional, social and environmental health, much of while which can be applied to both patients and healthcare workers themselves. The social health module for example also covers resilience and addresses some common but unhealthy stress coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.

Online resources and support for nursing leaders

There are many online resources available for medical workers of all sorts, including nursing leaders. The Covid pandemic has led to a rapid growth in the support services available to medical workers.

Here in South Africa, the Healthcare Worker Support Network was launched during Covid to offer free support, pro bono therapy, resources, training and psychoeducation to both public and private healthcare workers. You can go to their page on how to get help for the contact numbers for a 24-hour support line and for details of a weekly online support forum that is hosted every Saturday. The network also provides various support tools and resources, including articles, research, guidelines and videos to support medical workers.

Internationally, the World Health Organisation offers resources, guidelines, statistics and research relating to various aspects of nursing on this page. Another good place for online resources can be found on the resources page on the website of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), which is a federation of more than 130 national nurses associations and represents 28 million nurses worldwide.

Access to nursing systems science programmes and courses

The online nature of the Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science programme at Wits University makes it highly accessible to nurses across South Africa and beyond. This flexibility is not only geographic but also offers time flexibility so that studies can be fitted in around work schedules that are often both demanding and erratic. This allows for continuous professional development without the need for physical relocation or career interruption.

A recent article from the Nursing Journal entitled Nursing and Healthcare Trends We Can Expect to See in 2024, identified several emerging trends. While some of those trends are more relevant to the US, many still apply in South Africa. The article forecasts that demand for nurses will continue to rise and that more effort will be made to retain nursing staff and to ensure their mental well-being. It also predicts an increase in home care as populations grow older.

Other trends include the increased adoption of new technologies and specifically the increased role of artificial intelligence to aid healthcare workers in their jobs. Wearable devices are also increasing in popularity, opening up many new possibilities by being able to monitor people’s health in real time. Lastly, the article predicts increased demand for training and higher education programmes in nursing and that more nurses will pursue further specialisation as more fields open up.

In the book The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a path to achieve health equity, available online at the US National Library of Medicine, the authors also note the increased use of technology and innovation within healthcare. They make further mention of a trend towards community care and that more nurses are involved with community work and co-ordination outside of their usual scope of operations.

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What is nursing systems science and its role in healthcare leadership?

What is nursing systems science and its role in healthcare leadership?

Nursing systems science integrates nursing practice with systems thinking, focusing on improving healthcare delivery and outcomes. Nursing systems science involves a comprehensive approach to healthcare, focusing on integrating people, processes, policies and organisations to promote better health at a lower cost.

Nursing systems science provides healthcare leaders with a systems mindset and an understanding of the complex interplay of various factors affecting patient outcomes. Systems leadership in healthcare involves collaborative problem-solving and innovative change within healthcare systems.


How does a nursing systems science degree benefit nurse leaders?


How does a nursing systems science degree benefit nurse leaders?

Pursuing a nursing systems science degree offers many benefits to aspiring nurse leaders. It equips graduates with a comprehensive understanding of healthcare systems, enhancing their ability to manage and innovate within these systems. This degree also provides nurses with advanced skills in leadership and decision-making. Graduates can expect improved career prospects, with opportunities for roles in leadership, administration and policy advocacy.

The programme ensures that nurses can make significant contributions to patient care and healthcare improvement. It also fosters adaptability and innovation, equipping nurses to address emerging healthcare challenges and lead transformative changes in the sector.


What leadership styles are effective in nursing and healthcare?

What leadership styles are effective in nursing and healthcare?

Effective leadership in healthcare requires a large degree of adaptability and different styles are better suited to different situations and settings. In an article on leadership in nursing, the American Nursing Association identified seven main leadership styles while also noting that different styles are best suited for different situations. The seven styles are transformational, autocratic, laissez-faire, democratic, situational, transactional and the servant nurse leadership style.

Regardless of the style chosen as most appropriate, several leadership skills remain important across these styles, such as decision-making ability, thoughtful planning, quick thinking and effective delegation. Leaders should be able to balance thoughtful planning with quick responses to changing situations.

How can nurse leaders address burnout among nursing staff?


How can nurse leaders address burnout among nursing staff?

As we discussed earlier in the section on addressing burnout and promoting resilience among nurse leaders, burnout is more prevalent among healthcare workers than those who work in the majority of industries. However, the risk of burnout and other negative mental health issues among nursing staff is lower when they feel they are in a positive work environment and can trust management, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Effective nurse leaders can create a supportive work environment, promote work-life balance, offer mental health support and recognise the contributions of the nursing staff. Staff mental health is also supported by encouraging open communication and providing resources for stress management.

What are the challenges faced by nurse leaders?


What are the challenges faced by nurse leaders?

Nurse leaders face challenges such as managing diverse and often overburdened teams, navigating complex healthcare systems, adapting to rapidly changing healthcare environments and legal frameworks, dealing with resource constraints and addressing the increasing demands for high-quality patient care.

These challenges are over and above the challenges that nurses themselves face, which also include burnout among other things.

What health courses are offered at universities?


What health courses are offered at universities?

Health courses at universities typically include nursing, medicine, public health, healthcare administration and allied health professions such as physical therapy and occupational therapy. For a greater idea of the range of health courses, these are the traditional full-time undergraduate programmes offered by Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

At the postgraduate level, the number of qualifications to choose from is far greater, with more than 60 health qualifications. You can see what is available on the Faculty of Health Science’s postgraduate page here.

What are the entry requirements for a BHSciNSS?


What are the entry requirements for a BHSciNSS?

The Wits online Bachelor of Health Sciences in the field of Nursing Systems Science (BHSciNSS) is open to applicants who have completed a three- or four-year diploma in nursing as well as having completed matric with a university endorsement, which can be in the form of a Senior Certificate (SC) with endorsement or a National Senior Certificate (NSC) with a Bachelor’s degree pass.

For more details on entry requirements, including for international applicants and mature age exemptions, you can download the Health Sciences Rules and Syllabus document.