Why should nurses serve on boards of directors? The short answer is that to start with, they’re seriously underrepresented: A 2014 survey by the American Hospital Association found that in the US, while physicians hold an average of one in five board seats, RNs hold only one in twenty. That’s unacceptable.
The longer answer is that for most nurses, a seat on a board of directors represents an opportunity to achieve three things:
- A significant step in their personal leadership
- The valuable addition of the nurse’s voice and perspective to the boardroom
- A significant opportunity to improve the health — and health care — of more people in a broader and more meaningful way.
An RN’s mandate is to contribute to the good of society by transforming care and improving the health of her or his community. Achieving such aims through board service is one of the most direct and influential ways to do this. And while a seat on a hospital board can have a significant and positive effect on that body and that community, nurses just embarking on their board service should be open to a position with any organization where they can make a positive difference in health-related issues. School boards, college boards, community boards — all are potential places of influence.
The Institute of Medicine’s 2011 report The Future of Nursing suggested nurses should be nothing less than full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the US. In its summary, it states:
To be effective in reconceptualized roles, nurses must see policy as something they can shape rather than something that happens to them. Nurses should have a voice in health policy decision making and be engaged in implementation efforts related to health care reform [and] should serve actively on advisory committees, commissions, and boards where policy decisions are made to advance health systems to improve patient care.
This means that accepting positions of influence in the community will allow RNs to:
- Respond to their highest calling in nursing
- Use their leadership to bring a voice, an impact, and an influence on the basic conditions that determine the ability to deliver high quality nursing care
- Increase their professional network within and outside nursing, as well as receive additional education and mentorship
- Expand their understanding of the political climate in state, business, and health systems
- Enhance their ability to access increasingly powerful arenas of influence and potentially increase their career opportunities.
By accepting positions on boards whose strategic decisions serve the vulnerable members of society, the nurse can play an essential role in nothing less than advancing the scope of nursing and reforming health care in the US. For the RN, could anything else be more important?