A Call for More Nurses on Hospital Boards of Directors

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More nurses are needed on hospital boards.Have you ever considered serving on a hospital’s board of directors? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is encouraging nurse leaders to step up to the boardroom and serve. Standing behind its word, the foundation has an initiative to add 10,000 nurses to hospital and health care-related boards by 2020.

Sue Hassmiller, a senior advisor for nursing at the foundation, is encouraging all nurses to “get involved in committees, boards, professional organizations—whatever it takes to ‘lead the change to advance health.’”

Only 37 percent of hospitals had nurses on their boards (versus 75 percent with physicians) and nurses as a whole make up only 5 percent of hospital board members, according to a 2014 study by the American Hospital Association. And with nonprofit hospitals, the percentage of nurses on boards dwindles to 2 percent.

“Nurses have to believe they can make a difference and work hard to prepare themselves for leadership positions.” – Susan Hassmiller

Responsibilities of board members

The role of a board member is to set the goals, direction and policies for an organization, Hassmiller says in an American Nurse Today article. A board is responsible for an organization’s financial health, helps guide its senior-level decisions and advocates on behalf of the communities it serves, she says.

Because nurses work closest with the community the hospital serves, it stands to reason they would have deep knowledge and insights of patients to share with other board members. And, nurses understand the issues concerning nurses and other hospital staff.

Hassmiller says because of this firsthand knowledge of patient, family and community concerns as well as their knowledge of care, they can offer “innovative solutions to improve safety and quality.” They also understand the need for collaboration across health professions and care settings, she says.

Barriers to more nurses on boards

Lawrence Prybil, a professor in Health Care Leadership, points out only 16 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female board members, and the shortage of nurses on boards is most likely a reflection of gender disparity.

Prybil also contends health care executives can be slow to acknowledge the impact of nursing on patient care quality. He says nurses are more often viewed as “mid-level technicians rather than skilled professionals whose impact on patient care is enormous.” So, executives are less likely to consider appointing a nurse to a board position. Another argument Prybil hears from leaders is nurses aren’t fully prepared for a board role.

Hassmiller says “nurses have to believe they can make a difference and work hard to prepare themselves for leadership positions.”

How to be an effective board member

What can you do to bolster your chances of serving on a hospital’s board of directors? Here are some tips recommended by experts:

  • Complete a survey on the American Nurses Foundation website stating your interest in serving on a board. The foundation is developing a database to identify nurses with board experience and who are interesting in serving.
  • Take a class to learn the basics of board service. Both the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Nurses Foundation have education resources available.
  • Gain experience serving on a nonprofit or community organization’s board of directors. Hassmiller suggests volunteering to serve on a committee at your favorite nonprofit organization.
Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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