Celebrating Four Years of Nurses Leading Change to Advance Health

Oct 6, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Susan Hassmiller

Susan B. Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, directs the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which is implementing recommendations from that report. Hassmiller also is senior adviser for nursing for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Headshot of Susan Hassmiller

This week marks the fourth anniversary of The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, the landmark Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that galvanized the nursing field and partners to participate in health system transformation. Nurses nationwide are heeding the report’s call to prepare for leadership roles at the national, state and community levels. Why?  Simply put, nurses coordinate and provide care across every setting, and they can represent the voices of patients, their families and communities. Nurses are the reality check on committees and in boardrooms.

The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a national initiative led by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AARP to implement recommendations from the future of nursing report, is promoting nursing leadership—and I’m thrilled by our progress.

To date, Action Coalitions report that 268 nurses have been appointed to boards. Virginia has implemented an innovative program to recognize outstanding nurse leaders under age 40, and several other states including Arkansas, Nebraska and Tennessee are offering similar programs. New Jersey has set a goal of placing a nurse leader on every hospital board. Texas has partnered with the Texas Healthcare Trustees to provide its nurses with governance and leadership education to prepare them for board leadership. Even better, other states are fostering nursing leadership by adopting these best practices.

Fundraising is an important aspect of leadership, and state action coalitions have raised more than $10 million so far to advance the future of nursing recommendations—that’s in addition to receiving RWJF financial support!

Next month, the Campaign will recognize 10 emerging national nursing leaders with its Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing awards at our “Leadership and Legacy: The Future Is Now” summit in Phoenix. Each leader will receive a Leadership Development Program scholarship package from the Center for Creative Leadership, funded by RWJF. This interprofessional experience is designed to maximize their leadership potential. The selected leaders will be the future leaders of this Campaign, and the leaders needed to transform health through nursing.

I’m excited that the major national nursing associations recently set the audacious goal of placing 10,000 nurses on boards by 2020. The associations will combine their best practices, including board and leadership development training programs, to place a record number of nurses on boards. Many of the associations have done a stellar job in promoting nursing leadership, and combining resources will ensure that more nurses join influential boards.

As we ramp up efforts to promote nursing leadership, the Campaign needs more nurses to commit to being leaders in their communities and states, and the nation. Nurses need to be represented as decision-makers on hospital and health care boards, public health commissions, community oversight boards, advocacy groups, and other boards. When nurses are not on committees and boards making decisions, others make decisions for them.

I recently asked four leadership experts how nurses can prepare for nurse leadership.  They are Angela McBride, PhD, RN, FAAN, distinguished professor and university dean emerita, Indiana University School of Nursing; Melanie Dreher, RN, PhD, dean emeritus, College of Nursing, Rush University, Chicago, Illinois; Connie Curran, RN, EdD, president, Curran Associates; and Larry Prybil, PhD, Norton professor of health care leadership and associate dean, College of Public Health, University of Kentucky, Lexington.  They said that nurses should:

  1. Have broad knowledge, including an ability to speak about health care, politics, the economy, business and finance.
  2. Develop their expertise, so they can make contributions regarding clinical care, IT, administration or quality improvement methods.
  3. Join community and municipal organizations such as the Rotary or the Economic Club or the Governmental Affairs Group, and be visible within interdisciplinary circles, so other influencers value their expertise. (Individuals in other fields are likely to nominate nurses to board positions.)
  4. Analyze the board to determine what it needs to reach its goals. Nurses should read recent financial and annual reports prior to the interview so they can ask relevant questions and identify areas of the organization in which they can be useful. 
  5. Tell their network they want to be on a board and use their influential contacts to secure a position.
  6. Start small, joining committees within their organizations or local organizations.

Four years ago, the IOM deliberately called on nurses to lead change to advance health.  I’m proud that the nursing field is answering the call for the expressed purpose of improving the health of all people wherever they live, learn, work and play. By engaging in leadership to improve health, nurses are helping to fulfill RWJF’s vision of building a Culture of Health -- to enable all in our society to lead healthy lives, now and for generations to come.

If you are a nurse, I hope you’ll prepare for board—or committee or commission—leadership so that you can be one of the 10,000 nurses serving on boards by 2020. You can contact the co-leads of the state Action Coalition where you live and let them know you are interested in serving. If you’re a leader of a health organization, I urge you to place a nurse on your board to ensure that the perspectives of patients, their families, and the professionals who coordinate and provide care across every setting are included.  

Let’s work together to promote nurse leadership to improve health for all. 

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.