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Practice Tip of the Week | The Importance of Nurses Serving on Boards

Tuesday, June 16, 2020   (3 Comments)
Posted by: Shanna Howard
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Nurse on board

By Amy McCarthy MSN, RNC-MNN, NE-BC

When you think of a Board of Directors, there may be a couple of things that pop into your mind. Power, people in suits, a board room — the list can go on, but there’s probably one thing you don’t associate the image withnurses.

That’s a problem.

Nurses have been known as America’s most trusted profession for the last 18 years. We stop at nothing to care for those in need, and we play a vital role in creating healthier communities. This fact has been emphasized repeatedly through the COVID-19 pandemic as we have seen nurses at the front lines providing care and comfort for those affected by this virus, in some cases, at the detriment of their own health.

With nursing expertise comes power, but often times, nurses shy away from using it. Changing this mindset needs to start at the very beginning of a nurse’s career — in their entry-level education.

Board service doesn’t have to be intimidating. What nurses must realize is that serving on boards gives them a ticket into directly impacting and changing the environments they live and practice in. Not only that, nurses should understand they are well-qualified for board positions because of the skills they inherently possess. Skills such as communication, human resources, process improvement, planning and emotional intelligence are instrumental in board leadership. 

How does society view nursing?

If nurses are health care experts, why do companies not come directly to them? Prior to COVID-19, the media rarely approached nurses with health care questions. In 1997, a study entitled The Woodhull Study on Nursing and the Media: Healthcare’s Invisible Partner found that nurses were almost invisible when it came to media coverage of health issues. Only four percent of quotes in newspapers and one percent in weekly and industry publications were attributed to nurses.

Fast forward to 2017 — when a second Woodhull study was completed and found that little progress had been made. Quotes were attributed to nurses only two percent of the time and were identified in only four percent of images. Nurses were wholly absent in many stories in the sample despite the relevance of a nursing perspective to the topic.

Due to the way our profession has been presented, many organizations fail to think of nurses when they are looking to fill their open board seats. They fail to see us as the professionals, the leaders and the innovators that we truly are.

How do we change that?

In 2008, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Academy of Medicine  launched a two-year initiative to respond to the need to assess and transform the nursing profession. The NAM appointed a committee that produced an action-oriented report on the future of nursing with 10 recommendations.

Of these 10, the seventh recommendation focused on preparation of nurses to assume leadership positions. But not just limited to positions within the hospital. Community leadership positions. Board seats. Opportunities outside of nursing. From this recommendation came the formation of the Nurses on Boards Coalition.

NOB’s goal was to show that all boards could benefit from the unique perspective of nurses to achieve the goals of improved health and efficient and effective health care systems at the local, state and national levels. Over the last 10 years they have been instrumental in educating nurses on the importance of board service as well as collaborating with organizations across the nation to secure board seats for nurses. As a result of their efforts, over 7,000 nurses have been placed on boards since 2010.

Where Do I Start?

Don’t know where to begin? Start with something you are passionate about. Active in your church? See if you can become involved in serving on their board. Love volunteering? Ask for leadership opportunities at that organization.

The goal is not to serve on the Board of Directors of Microsoft as your first position — it is simply to help build and grow your communities, and the best place to start is within your own neighborhoods. Community boards give you the opportunity to further finesse your board leadership skills and build your portfolio.

The Nurses on Boards website provides resources and alerts for opportunities within your region once you register on the site. TNA members also get notified about local opportunities through the weekly Check Up e-newsletter.

If all nurses would take the opportunity to serve in these roles, think about the healthier communities we could create using the knowledge we gain in our roles every day. In order for us to help our patients we must be present not just at the bedside but also at decision-making tables. We do so much to fight and advocate for our patients daily — we owe it to them and our profession to step out of our comfort zones and create a future where all nurses are the forefront of shaping health care, helping to lead change at the bedside and in the boardrooms.


Administration says...
Posted Thursday, June 18, 2020
Dear Irene, Thank you for sharing your experience. Your town is lucky to have a nurse on the board to advocate for those with disabilities! We’d love to share your story if you’d like to write up your experience. Email Kanaka at if you are interested.
Ellen Martin says...
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Great info - thanks for addressing this important topic!
Irene A. Carrillo says...
Posted Wednesday, June 17, 2020
I joined my town’s Park and Recreation Advisory Committee and am trying to get children’s wheelchair swing and teenager sized changing table in the restroom in our brand new expensive park. This town seems to care mostly about mainly boy sports and golf. I am also a Democrat on this Republican held Board of Director’s of the Chamber of Commerce in my town, not sure I can do much with them but I like that a Democrat is visible there.

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