A Business Community Board Role Broadens a Nurse Leader’s Horizons

Oct 7, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Sandra McDermott

This week marks the 4th anniversary of the Institute of Medicine’s future of nursing report. Sandra McDermott, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, is an assistant professor of nursing and the director of health and service related professions at Tarleton State University in Fort Worth, Texas. A member of the Texas Team Action Coalition, which recently launched the Nurses On Board training program, she is a newly appointed member of the board of directors for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce South Area Council.

I have been in my university director position for about six months now, and I knew that before I started teaching classes this fall, I had an opportunity to really get involved in the Fort Worth community. I wanted to get my name out there, because when I do that, I am getting my school’s name out there, too. I started attending Chamber events and enjoyed them, and I realized that the South Area Council is the one that encompasses the hospital district, which is where I want to have a lot of my connections.

If my role is to draw nursing students and build awareness for our nursing programs, then clearly, focusing on the hospital district makes a lot of sense. I had made a strong connection with a South Area Council board member, so I lobbied the Chamber to join the board, and they ultimately added a new spot and appointed me to it, which was very humbling. They did not have a university represented on the Council, and they saw value in having a nurse and an educator join them.

The main campus for my school is about 90 miles away. Everyone knows about our presence there, where there are around 8,600 students. But in Fort Worth, we have around 1,600 students, and the nursing programs are relatively new and very small. I knew I needed to be out in the community as we build up our programs, and what better way to do it than to be at multiple Chamber functions? And as a board member, I knew I could influence a lot more people. In the hospital district, I can go in as not only a nurse and an educator, but a Chamber leader as well. That is a great platform to advocate for my school programs and for wellness and health care as community priorities.

"[Board service] is a great platform to advocate for my school programs and for wellness and health care as community priorities."

You hope you are bringing something to the table that is meaningful to the people you are joining, and I have tried to show that I am driven by passion and compassion, which are things that can be hard to write into a board job description. I have already connected with a fellow board member who does great work with Catholic Charities, and we are encouraging the board to make a bigger investment in scholarships for community residents, and the board has been very supportive.

My background has been very broad, and I have been fortunate enough to have been a nursing administrator at both the VP level and at an associate chief nursing officer level, so I had to have that 30,000-foot view for several years of my career. That has caused me to really look at the big picture, and what I see in the business community, and in my education role, is how people often focus on their own silos. I have never been able to do that as a nurse leader, and that background has been a great match for a board role.

I also serve on the board for an organization called the Dallas Fort Worth Great 100 Nurses, and I was its first board president. The Chamber community, of course, is much different, and I really enjoy interacting with the different kinds of businesses and different kinds of people. The issues are very interesting, and I love broadening my horizons this way. There are so many good things that can happen through my Chamber board service that will benefit my community and my campus, so I am thrilled with this opportunity and eager to see where it takes me.    

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