A recent American Hospital Association survey of more than 1,000 hospital boards found that just five percent of board members were nurses, but there is a campaign happening right now to get more nurses on boards. The Nurses on Boards Coalition is implementing a strategy to bring the experience of nurses to governing boards and to state and national commissions with an interest in health. The goal is to put 10,000 nurses on boards by the year 2020.
To find out why there’s a lack of nurses on boards across the country, I spoke with Carol Bradley, MSN, RN, and CENP. Carol is the senior vice president and chief nursing officer at Legacy Health System in Portland, Oregon. Bradley has 42 years of nursing experience, and has held leadership and board positions since 1980. She also offers advice on what nurses can do to get into these strategic positions.
Martie: What boards have you been on and what inspired you to be part of it?
Carol: My first board experiences were professional nursing organizations, both at a state level in California and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). I found that starting on boards where I had a professional connection was in my sweet spot. I’ve probably been on a nursing professional board since the early 90s, but that has provided me an opportunity to be on other types of boards. I’ve sat on industry boards, such as the Hospital Association of California. I did two terms there, and I’m currently on the Hospital Association Board in Oregon. I have also sat on some community boards and non-profit boards.
Martie: Why do you feel nurses bring unique skills and insight to boards?
Carol: From my perspective, I see nurses having such a unique lens into the social and community needs. I think we understand our communities extremely well. We see the social and economic challenges in our community because we see it in our day to day work. I also think that nurses, just by nature, we’re problem solvers.
Martie: When it comes to the Nurses on Boards coalition goal, what will it take to achieve it?
Carol: In my circle, I do see a lot of nurses who have moved into board positions, but there are other opportunities we haven’t tapped. It’s more likely business, or other industry related boards where a nurse might not be the normal thought of a board search committee. Pushing nurses into those boards is a little more challenging, partly because of the stereotypes such as gender and education that are held by people who don’t really understand nor do they have day-to-day familiarity with what nurse leaders do and what their skill base is.
Martie: What other types of boards should nurses look to join and why?
Carol: I think there are many potential opportunities in industries such as banking and other even for-profit companies and technology companies. You know healthcare seems to be the hot spot these days in terms of companies that want to start serving our industry. Adding nurses to their boards would give them a phenomenal lens into the healthcare industry. I think one advantage is nursing is still predominantly a female profession. Most boards have a severe lack of gender diversity. A recent article in the New York Law Journal found women represented just 17.9 % of Fortune 1000 company directors and 19.7% of Fortune 500 in 2015.
Martie: Why do you think nurses are often put into the box of being ‘clinical’ and not thought of as much as business partners or strategic in nature?
Carol: It is a challenge for us because other industries have very little insight into our roles and the level of responsibility and accountability that we have. We need to own our responsibility to translate that and demonstrate what our abilities are. Some board leaders are naïve about the scale of financial responsibility most of us have and the portion of the workforce that falls under our span of influence. I would also add that nurses can maneuver more easily between governance and operations. With the structure of healthcare, nurse leaders tend to understand the difference. I have frequently worked hard to pull a board out of the weeds and get them to work on running an organization or company and really govern.
Martie: What advice would you give to nurses aspiring to be on boards?
Carol: They need to find someone who is on a board and make connections. I’ve relied heavily on my relationships with colleagues in the past. I think this is an area where you need to go outside your normal network. Many of our CEO colleagues are on boards and/or have frequent interaction with people who are on boards. To me it’s about relationships, networking and being very explicit about what you are seeking and why. Statistics show there is 75% likelihood you’ll find your next job through networking.
Martie: I know Medline University has leadership courses, but is there any additional training to help nurses get on boards?
Carol: There are some great resources out there. There’s an organization called the American Hospital Association’s Great Boards. They have board evaluations and board assessment tools. The Governance Institute has some really strong resources for boards. I think if you have a general working knowledge of governance procedures, I think you can groom yourself into the process by watching how the board functions. And if you get on a new board, I’d recommend that you read the bylaws and know what the bylaws say.
Are you currently sitting on a board, or trying to get on a board? Let us know what the experience is like for you.