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As a nurse, you play a critical role at the bedside, but you also can serve a vital function in the far different and potentially unfamiliar setting of the boardroom. In those spaces, you have the chance to influence healthcare standards, practices and policies.
“It is the responsibility of nurses to seek out and serve in roles where they can shape strategies and policies, because through their work in clinical, academic and community settings, they see the implications of decisions,” says Laurie Benson, BSN, executive director, Nurses on Boards Coalition (NOBC). “They’re ideally and uniquely suited to serve on boards that make decisions about policies.” In general, she notes, boards exhibit great receptivity to including nurses and the nursing perspective.
NOBC declares that its mission is to improve the health of communities through the service of nurses on boards and other bodies. Created in 2014 in direct response to the IOM’s 2010 The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health report, NOBC can point to the noteworthy success of having achieved the founders’ key strategy of 10,000 board seats filled by nurses.
Making a difference
Nurses who serve on boards can have a significant impact. A qualitative research study completed by the NOBC Impact of Nurses on Boards Research Work Group and published in The Journal of Nursing Administration concluded that “nurses bring expert healthcare knowledge, expertise, and wisdom along with the values of caring and collaboration to impact board decisions, which may, in turn, influence governance effectiveness and organizational performance. Nurses promote effective board governance by ensuring that the perspectives and needs of all stakeholders are well represented in board discussions, deliberations, and decision-making. Given the high stakes of healthcare, board leaders of health-related organizations cannot afford to miss the opportunity to appoint nurses as decision-making members of governing boards.”
How to start
In deciding to join a board, start with what interests and excites you. “It’s important to get involved in an area that you’re passionate about,” notes Benson. “It’s so important to think about what you care most deeply about, because it does take time to serve. It does take time to get involved and work alongside other key stakeholders to really be in a position to start to make meaningful change.”
You might, for instance, serve on a school board. Or, notes Benson, you could pursue a board seat with an organization that affects health equity, access to care, housing, transportation, or food shortages.
You’ll want to conduct a self-assessment to determine the competencies you have acquired and can offer. “The wonderful thing is that the skills, experience and competencies that nurses build in their careers translate very naturally into a governing, policy-setting environment,” Benson says.
To conduct your self-assessment of competencies, you can start with resources on the NOBC website. Specifically, NOBC offers three models: NOBC Board Competencies Model; NOBC Board Readiness Model; and NOBC Support Roles for Board Success Model.
The Board Competencies Model outlines competencies in three domains: self-leadership; organizational leadership; and civic/professional leadership. These competencies, according to Benson, were identified by conducting over 100 interviews with nurses who serve on boards.
The Board Readiness Model, based on the Benner Novice to Expert paradigm, maps the Board Readiness competencies against different types of boards. The Support Roles for Board Success identifies the different types of support roles that a board member might need, such as a preceptor, mentor, sponsor or coach.
Having joined a board, get to know your board colleagues, says Benson. “Certainly in the first six months, make a concerted effort to reach out to your board colleagues to get to know them and learn from them.”
And while you want to be a good listener, “I also think you need to be bold,” Benson says. “Nurses are humble by our nature. At the same time we need to be bold and taking action that is relevant and meaningful for all those we serve. I wouldn’t sit back. Make your comments succinctly. As nurses do so well, make sure they’re evidence-based and research-driven so that others have good information as they’re considering what path to take forward.”
Seizing the moment
In deciding whether to join a board, Benson recommends that you “don’t wait until it’s convenient for you to serve in these roles.” Certainly, she admits, there are times when you’re required to be with family and home.
“But don’t wait until you feel like you have mastered all the competencies. Don’t wait until it’s a perfect time where your schedule opens up. Say yes when you have an opportunity to serve on a board. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to be either, but take a step forward to raising your leadership voice to make a difference and help achieve equity for all.”